The easiest way to change the wheel…

I promised details of some of the books I bought in Paddington the other weekend. As a warning for the sensitive, this post starts with cars and then gets a little more feminine, but I’ve saved the worst till last.

The first is a guide on car holidays from BP – the artwork is hilariously exuberant, but the advice is sometimes just as enthralling. Note the panel of advice for ladies (a larger version is here), “the easiest way to change the wheel is to find the nearest male”.

BP Holiday Digest

It also helpfully begins its “What to do now you’re bogged” section by telling you everything you probably did wrong to get into that situation.

More advice for ladies comes in the form of the following books on, hem, becoming a woman. The first is You’re a Young Lady Now, a really rather sweet book from Kotex (copyright 1952-3). This copy was printed in Australia, but when my (American) mother saw it she said that it was exactly the same as the one her mother gave her in the ’50s, so we had a nostalgia/feminine bonding session while my father looked on from the sidelines. But… belts? pins? Ladies of my era, be grateful you grew up when you did!

"You're a Young Lady"

Inside, the illustrations are of a cheerful and rather robust girl who doesn’t seem to give up her tomboyish ways altogether in spite of the vicissitudes of impending adulthood. I am intrigued by the perspective in this picture, however. I think it is just so rigorous and yet… something’s missing.

Jeans Girl

However, for all its charm, it does contain such words of wisdom as “You see, many girls imagine they feel worse than they actually do. They get in a dither just by thinking too much about themselves”. (I recently heard PMS explained as follows (I don’t recall where): if men knew that every 27 days someone was going to hit them in the groin with a sledgehammer and there was nothing they could do about it, they would start getting pretty uptight around day 24 too).

Then there is the blue book put out by Modess (“rhymes with Oh Yes”) which contains pictures of girls dancing (not too energetically), riding and washing their hair (not dangerous, but don’t let the water be too hot or cold) and helpfully explains that “one of the main purposes in life of every human being – man or woman – is to create, produce and bring up the next generation”.

Growing Up

But the real horror lies below…

I ask you…

No, don’t answer that. But this picture alone would probably put me off the whole idea.

12 thoughts on “The easiest way to change the wheel…

  1. Sledgehammer! Hee.

    My Mum once explained to her horrified girls what women had to endure in the Old Days. Belts. Eugh.

    We *imagine* we feel worse? Okay: *they* can imagine I didn’t just puke up on them and faint on the classroom floor. Grr.

  2. I LOVE books and materials like this. I love laughing at them, I love shaking my head at them, I love reading the remarks of smart people who read them from the 2008 perspective. (For much, much more like this, visit The Institute of Official Cheer at

    I was very confused when I read Dear God, It’s Me, Margaret as an eleven-year-old because it discussed the belts and hooks and all that. When my mom explained (I’ll never forget that her explanation included a horrified “and you could SEE it, anyone could SEE it under your clothes, and they KNEW!”), I sent a little prayer of thanks skyward for the age of adhesive and/or cardboard applicators.

  3. What a great haul! I remember reading a similar book to your Kotex one but have no idea where it would have been. My mum isn’t a hoarder so it couldn’t have been from her youth. A cousin maybe? Anyway, so cute and scary at the same time! It’s finds like these that make me realise how quickly human society can change.

  4. Yes, Emma – and how it can be different between societies: for example, Crisitunity, I couldn’t find pads in America that were anywhere near as good as in Australia, but we don’t see the applicators here much at all.

    On the other hand, I think society changes more rapidly than attitudes. The horror of people *knowing* remains, just as our amusement at 18thc books of “Advice to Brides” is sometimes echoes by the very brides at whom it was aimed (the Carr girls laughing at such a book before Katy Carr’s wedding).

  5. Oh, and Crisitunity – thanks! I saw the Gallery of Regrettable Foods book in a store a few years ago and could never remember the name.

  6. We share the same somewhat perverse interest in these old books. I have a nice little collection of hardcovers with titles like “Mainly for Wives” and “The Perfect Marriage” and “What Every Teenage Boy Should Know”. I haven’t checked the books shops lately to see what ‘they’ publish now. Maybe it is still as ‘helpful’. Anyway these are perfectly worth a laugh. I remember being taken to a ‘meeting’ at my primary school by my mother where we watched a film (grainy, shaky and very old) that introduced me to the concept of menstruation. Up until that point I had no idea. I’m sure that doctor was in it pointing to the same chart. I don’t think I ever got over the shock. Everyone left at the end politely looking at the floor and not making eye contact. We never even spoke of it the next day.

  7. I’m glad I missed those sessions – I’m told they haven’t become any more comfortable! I was doing distance ed, on a farm, with a mother who was a registered nurse and plenty of encyclopaedias, so I don’t actually remember the first time I was told “the facts”.

    The books, however, are fabulous.

  8. Pingback: vintage books

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