I've only ever kept one book beside my bed before and that was a prayer book. When life got tough I would read the psalms. They are rare, those places and books one can go to knowing someone else understands the trauma life can bring, the despair, the loneliness . . . and can express is so well one can experience solidarity down the millennia.
So . . . that I keep one of the books sent for review beside my bed may seem horribly trivial in comparison. But I do now keep this book beside my bed - because it makes me laugh. And being made to laugh, to be truly happy, is as important as to be 'understood' or to appreciate poetry. (And the psalms are mega-poetry.)
It's . . . oh, this is so embarrassing given the build-up . . . the book is 'Happy Home Outside - Everyday Magic for Outdoor Life' by Charlotte Hedeman Guéniau - but it's so desperately funny that if ever I feel a little 'down' I pick it up and laugh. And it's even more astonishing than that. When worries seem overwhelming (and, sometimes, they do) - I pick it up then too - and laugh. It hasn't failed me yet. I go to favourite pages - and laugh. And I drive friends up the wall by opening it randomly and reading out whatever is there so they can laugh too.
It's a kind of Blue Peter for the wealthy. It's for people who have family, friends or servants (?!) who will carry furniture and carpets from the house, place them in the garden and bring them back in again later. It's for people who just happen to have brightly coloured poles lying around the place so they can make wigwams - upon which they can hang cheerful little rucksacks (pp158-9). Or easy access to pallets to turn into swings (p.102). And big gardens where summer houses can be knocked up and filled with cushions. And houses big enough to project films on . . . and friends who just happen to be expert enough to set up sound systems for your outside cinema (p.155).
And cushions. Cushions everywhere! Which is the nub of it really. For what this boils down to is, in effect, an extended advert for 'Rice' - a chain of shops which sells cushions. So cushions abound. Great piles of them . . .
It's a dream world. The colours are fantastic - as are the ideas . . . Decorate your trees with shopping bags or lampshades . . . Fix spoons into your fly screens (p.23). Tape slogans like 'Yess!' to boxes and consider them to be uplifting thoughts (p.71). Have a pink hose (p31).
It's a world where everything is approached sideways. We are shown how to make curtains for camper-vans by hanging tea-towels on string. Fine. Charlotte's husband gave her a camping van for a wedding present. Well, that's the real issue isn't it? How to find someone who will fall into your arms and give you a camper-van.
And there's a spiritual side . . . Here's one of my favourite quotes.
"To be creative together is almost like meditating. When you focus on crafting you are together in a different way - Sometimes you chat and talk, other moments you enjoy silently."
So what does she suggest you do to reach this measure of companionable stillness? . . . Draw faces on conkers! My own face is breaking into the biggest grin possible while I tell you this. It's brilliant. Unfailing hilarity.
I am not mocking. Most certainly I am not. And I'm not joking about this book being beside my bed. I'm speaking the complete truth when I say it cheers me up and makes me smile. Indeed I'm sure this will have been the intention behind the book - simple and unadulterated fun. (Fun, that is, and buying cushions!) I expect some who buy it will recreate some of the ideas. Even I may be inspired to make tea in a pot on occasions, and carry it into the garden on a tray instead of bunging mugs in the general direction of friends and getting them to carry them out for themselves. Or I might risk pegging plastic mugs on wires to see what they make of it (p.148). But I doubt I'll 'make my heart sing' by putting on boxing gloves (p170) or waste much time painting croquet mallets pastel colours.
Somewhere around the house I have Kaffe Fasset's book 'Glorious Colour - Sources of Inspiration for Knitting and Needlepoint'; a book of wonderfully colourful objects all crammed in and arranged to take one's breath away. I don't know how many people have been inspired to churn out cushions and garments because of it - but I bet there are masses who've carried it home, gazed at its glories and treasured it regardless of their domestic or creative abilities.
I've looked through some other reviews of this one. Some take it as a serious selection of ideas to be followed through. Some think it a bit weak and rushed out - or a coffee table book or . . . But I think it's a right ole laugh and having a right ole laugh is so important to all of our health I say - go and buy it. I don't know how successful it's been as a publication. It's been out for several months and hasn't one review on the UK Amazon. But I like it.
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Happy Home Outside - Everyday Magic for Outdoor Life - published by Jaqui Small and sent me to review by Quarto Books.
The photo credits are to Skovdal&Skovdal. With books like this . . (they are picture books really, aren't they?) those who take the pictures should be right up there on the front cover in BIG letters.