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101thingsboyscropped

In 1952, a boy named Christopher, was given this book as an Easter present. I’m quite sure he would have preferred a chocolate egg, but it is unlikely that he received one, as sweet rationing wasn’t lifted until February the next year.

I found this wonderful item in my local antiquarian bookshop today. I’m always delighted to come across such things as they’re social historical gems, telling us far more than how to build a dog kennel or fashion a turbine from empty boot polish tins.

It was published at a time when middle class boys were expected to be productive, useful and “handy”. Many of the projects are mind boggling in their complexity, but are described by the author as “simple”. Were his expectations unrealistic? I suspect not, as from speaking to older male relations I know that they were able to build such things as go-karts and rabbit hutches, with minimal input from their fathers.

How do I know that the book is aimed at more affluent folk?  Well, the jobs within require a “spare room, attic or shed” and access to a full range of woodworking tools, soldering equipment and metalwork tools.

101 Things for a Boy to MakeThe book includes a list of further publications, such as 101 Things for the Handyman To Do, thus indicating that a boy was meant to follow in his father’s footsteps, to fully fledged ‘Handyman’ status. If, in 1952, a boy was expected to knock together a deck-chair, solder a steam boiler out of empty syrup tins, beat a bowl out of copper sheeting and construct an operational ice cream freezer out of a couple of tin drums, then I wonder what feats of handiwork a fully grown male was capable of?

Unfortunately, I don’t own the other books in the series, but there are female versions: 101 Things for Girls to Do and 101 Things for the Housewife to Do. What’s the betting that these things included icing cakes, knitting bed jackets and darning socks?

I have a weakness for old books on household management and one of my favourites is from the 1920s entitled, Everything a Woman Should Know.  It included tips on managing servants, making beef stock, and, perhaps more surprisingly, how to administer a cocaine enema.

It seems that we are helpless and unskilled in comparison to our early twentieth century forebears and this makes me feel a little ashamed.  At least I now have the necessary instructions, should I need to learn how to make a working spring operated machine gun.  Well, you never know when such things may come in handy.

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