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Just stuff (things on my mind that aren't to do with writing)

Even a woman can read this


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.

pussy door

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.

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


22 thoughts on “Even a woman can read this

  1. I have a secret stash of Picturegoer magazines….oops, not so secret now…

    Posted by Jools | August 26, 2014, 4:39 pm
  2. Fabulous stuff! I’ve seen some of the Victorian and turn of the previous century adds and they were also priceless. And the illustrations… And very good also to get the right feel if you’ve writing about the period…

    Posted by olganm | August 26, 2014, 10:31 am
  3. O>M>G>

    Posted by Mom | August 26, 2014, 1:05 am
  4. Wonderful stuff! I’ve just re-found the scrape book I kept as a wee kid (hidden in a pile of my late mother’s stuff) – full of pictures of giraffes and elephants cut out of old magazines. I wish I’d kept the whole magazine!

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | August 25, 2014, 7:46 pm
    • My friend Claire is going to cancel her subscription to a very upmarket interiors mag, which she keeps in the bathroom, and put her share of the stack in there instead.

      Posted by elainecanham | August 25, 2014, 8:00 pm
  5. Vintage ads and magazines are surprisingly fun! I wish I could build a bigger bath 😝 maybe you could put up the article and I could print it out and gift it to my husband? 😜

    Posted by Sally | August 25, 2014, 5:54 pm
  6. Very funny. I guess we guys were reading different mags. In fact, seems to me you were reading our stuff and I don’t remember articles in Boys Own about the new fashions in eyeliners and recipes for fondue dips. I do remember the adverts for spy equipment with pics of brainy looking guys with the xray glasses looking at women right through their clothes. I thought it was a swiz I couldn’t afford them.

    Posted by penjedi | August 25, 2014, 4:47 pm
  7. Oh what fun we had! Did you find the North Sea Gas ad?

    Posted by Claire Alexandra Rickards | August 25, 2014, 3:19 pm
  8. It all begs the question, “Do we know where we’re going from whence we came?” 🙂

    Posted by lbwoodgate | August 25, 2014, 2:22 pm
  9. Bliss! I fancy building a yacht in my living room. If only – without the sexism and tastelessness – magazines were like that now. You’d think publishers would have cottoned on to the fact that we’re all making doing and mending these days and need the mags to match.

    Posted by First Night Design | August 25, 2014, 1:37 pm

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