Have you ever seen that Laurel and Hardy film where Ollie is getting married and Stan buys a jigsaw puzzle? He’s supposed to be the best man, but he can’t tear himself away from the puzzle, and everybody who is sent to get him winds up doing the puzzle as well.
It was like that with me and stack of 1960s DIY magazines yesterday. We went, en famille, to an enormous car boot sale, and Claire, a friend of ours, came along too. Everything was going quite normally (I had just bought a leopard print telephone) when I spotted the February 1964 issue of Homemaker (monthly, price 1/6) on top of a whole crate of magazines.
Of course, I had to have a look. Who wouldn’t be drawn by a feature on how to make lovelier net curtains? Or, (in the March 1967 issue of Practical Decorating and Building) a week-by-week guide to building your own four-bedroom house with garage and full central heating?
Claire came up. She let her Clarice Cliffe inspired marquetry picture and brass cat letter holder slide unnoticed to the ground as she found the ‘Put your feet up special’ 1969 Homemaker magazine, complete with instructions for a super settee that even a woman can build.
In the end, because it is simply not car boot etiquette to sit down by someone else’s stall and start reading, we bought the entire crate of magazines and took them home and spread them over the kitchen table. Steve, who had been planning on frying some sausages, picked one up, and was immediately consumed by the article (inspired by Mr MF Ryder of Manchester) entitled If you want a king size bath – build one. Another friend of ours dropped by. She had only come to give William a birthday present. But one glimpse of a feature on the decorative allure of timber cladding and she was lost. ‘It’s just like our living room when I was a kid,’ she said. ‘Isn’t it awful?’
‘There’s an advert here for a pussy door,’ said Claire.
I think I read nearly every issue, and I loved every one. But it wasn’t just because of the casual sexism and appalling taste and marvellous naivete. I felt, as reader, increasingly drawn into a world of possibility; instead of being told to go out and buy stuff, which is what so many magazines seem to do now, I was being shown how to make my life more comfortable for myself. And, when I had finished building a yacht in my living room, and sprucing up my net curtains; how to add a bit of sparkle to my existence by drinking wine (it’s everybody’s cup of tea), by going abroad for my holidays or signing up for an organised excursion to Paris (visits to a nightclub will, of course, cost extra).
I loved the whole innocent, enthusiastic approach, the adverts that gave you lots to read (as exemplified by the two-column closely typed ad for the fabulous Crofton chip-faced concrete garage), the underplayed headlines (other interesting features, p. 23) and the readers’ letters (there is a spoon in my kitchen drawer that I have used for levering off a bicycle tyre, repointing walls, stirring distemper and refilling pin cushions – FS Weston, Watford, Herts.).
So for my next post, how about full instructions on how to make a unit that turns your bedhead into a whole feature wall? Anyone? Even a woman can build it, you know.