Page 45 Review by Stephen
Rejoice, rejoice! All my Christmas quandaries have been answered once again, in one fell swoop for this is back in print! I do hope no relatives read my reviews.
"No one reads your reviews, Stephen!"
From Posy Simmonds MBE, the creator of LITERARY LIFE, TAMARA DREWE and GEMMA BOVERY, I commend to you without equivocation one great big brick of a book, collecting Britain's best-ever series of self-contained newspaper comic pages. I promise you unfaltering brilliance from cover to cover: a body of work which is both timeless and yet a time capsule of cultural mores as seen in Britain during the 1980s. Improbable, yes; impossible, no - not in the right hands.
Let us take a stroll down any street and eavesdrop on 'Well Known Facts'. From the mouths of babes
"But why can't you walk on the cracks?"
"Because my mum says if you tread on the lines, bears will get you.
"And my mum says if you make a face like that & the wind changes, you'll get stuck like that for ever & ever!
"And my mummy says if you swallow pips like that, an apple tree'll grow out of your mouth & suffocate you to death!
"And my mum says if you pick a guinea pig up by its tail, its eyes drop out
"And my mum said if I'm good, the tooth fairy will put 50p under my pillow."
"Liar Liar! Pants on fire! Nose as long as a Telegraph wire!"
"And my mum says if you unscrew your tummy button, your bottom falls off."
and adults alike
"And my mum says if we have another baby, it'll bring Mike & me together again."
"And my doctor says if I had a more positive attitude to motherhood I wouldn't feel so sick!"
"But my mother said if we stay together, it'll be better for the children
"And my architect friend says if we knock down the front & back, it'll give us more privacy."
"And my husband says if he gave up smoking he'd only eat and then die of a fatty heart
and Peter said if we kept it discreet, Eric wouldn't suspect a thing!"
That, my friends, is the perfect page of Posy Simmonds: searingly well observed, beautifully composed, artfully juxtaposed, and rammed to its riotous rafters with timeless truths, even when they're lies. Like husbands fobbing off their wives with transparent lies about where they are and why they're not home from work on time. God help you, morons.
There will always be children's parties to be endured, full of fun, tears and trauma; family holidays with their preparation, packing and inevitable rain-drenched afternoons; the innuendo-obsessed and overenthusiastic soul of the party; editors bleaching authors' individuality to oblivion in search of commercial conformity; mother-in-laws (and indeed mothers) unsubtly critiquing your house and domestic endeavours; parents judging other people's parental skills via the behaviour of their children; mothers taking on all the worries of their children, their husbands, their own mothers, their babysitters
even their cats!
But Posy presents all these so wittily, so deftly, so mischievously, and with a lot of lateral thinking!
Take 'Lonely Heart', the heartbreaking ballad of Action Man and his Trudi-Doll - such a sad state of affairs! Once she lay up his manly torso at the top of the toy box, as sexy as a supermodel, then she started wearing his clothes, carrying his gun, and "Finally, last week, she moved into a gyro-powered assault craft, with rotating gun turret". Truly their fate was in the tiny hands of playful Gods toying with their lives. "I have now moved in with a duck. It is far from ideal."
There's also an extended sequence involving Stanhope Wright, advertising executive and serial philanderer (hmm, there's always one, isn't there? See TAMARA DREWE), preparing to shoot a soup commercial, and the secretary he ignores in favour of the more flamboyant members of his creative team. Entitled 'True Love' (with a softly arched eyebrow), within Janice Brady wistfully daydreams of the boss she believes will one day notice her - the boss who one party did notice her when she nearly caught him snogging at the Christmas works do, and fobbed her off with a jar of stilton. Oh, the jar of stilton - she carries it around with her everywhere! In her dreams she is the irresistible queen of comicbook romance, Posy adroitly shifting styles to nail the hair, the mascara and then, once scorned, the blonde-haired beau who swoops in to make all around jealous, then carry her off into the sunset once tragedy has struck and she lies dying (in her mind) after a triumphant moment of self-sacrifice, trampled to death by a flock of satanic-eyed sheep sent stampeding by a jar of mint sauce.
Wonderfully ridiculous and yet, if we're honest, once more absolutely true! I love the predatory Stanhope's hooked nose and jutting chin, and the addition of red to the black and white pages works wonders.
The real draw and central stars, however, are ex-nurse and aspiring children's author Wendy Webber and her husband George, a lecturer in Liberal Studies at an unnamed Polytechnic. Here George queues at the student canteen to be served by Marie and prepares a farewell speech in his head. Ah, and the things we dream of saying, but never do and never would!
"As one of the longer-serving lecturers here at the Poly
it is my great pleasure to remind the Staff & students that, after 15 years' survive, Marie is going to New Zealand
and, therefore, things in the canteen can only get better
"I think one can say that, during Marie's despotic reign, never in the field of institutional cooking has so much food been left by so many
I for one will not miss her air of truculence, her fault finding, her inability to give the right change
I won't miss her rudeness, her racism, her petty economies & above all, her congealing food, cooked & served in PURE BILE!"
"Go on! Take it! What d'you think I am??"
Lethal, I'd have thought.
Wendy and George are children of the '60s with children in the '80s, striving to live lives informed by those original ideals while passing them on to their children. Dispelling the taboo of boozums comes back to bite George when on the bus with young Benji, who can't help but speak his little mind! Wendy despairs at the ignorance, petty parental prejudices and outright racism she sees outside the school gates when the scandal of headlice and nits starts doing the rounds. They are dismayed as city dwellers buy up seaside cottages and visit for just three weeks a year. They cater for neighbourly street parties while teenage Belinda, post-punk as you like, scowls at her parents disdainfully, resentfully, critically. Belinda is full of wrong-headed rebellion - a superficial elitist spouting social reform while practising none of it, snapping at her parents' community-orientated offerings like their home-made wine and striding off to drink Pimms instead.
Simmonds' layouts are impeccable: she always manages to pack in far more information on a page than you'd imagine possible whilst clearing the deck off all clutter - no extraneous self-indulgence here. Her characters are never caricatures - not even the boisterous and bulbous-nosed whisky salesman Edmund Heep - but full of humanity and individuality, and I particularly love Wendy Weber's eyes drawn as dots on her glasses. The prevailing fashions and fabrics of the day are nailed, as are the day-to-day details of domestic routine on the early diary pages: appointments, phone numbers, rotas and little money sums. "Yes, yes, yes!" I cried when I saw the table keeping track of which of offspring had encountered which childhood diseases (chicken pox, measles, German measles and mumps) and so grown immunity.
So much here will strike familiar family chords: burst pipes, nativity plays, learning lines for school - the days when banks kept the hours they pleased rather than actually catering for their customers.
On top of that, over-analytical George is a hoot, seeing complex socio-political messages in a simple bourgeois and bucolic fabric pattern. Here an old friend from the sixties is over, hoping to join George on his faculty, and George cannot resist another opportunity for purple pontification:
"Wear a suit by all means, but don't cut your hair! The Dean & the interviewing panel may draw probalistic inferences from your hair
Seen structurally, the pig tails signifies an identification with the North American Indian - giving you a political dimension. And you've got a rubber band round your hair
Rubber is a symbol of the mechano-cultural colonisation, compounded by rape, of the Amazon by Europeans! And your pigtail will link you in the Dean's mind with his interdisciplinary here: Benjamin Franklin."
"But, Dad, the student representatives on the panel will look at his hair & think: Boring, Geriatric old Hippy."
That was indeed Belinda, yes. Her boyfriend Jasper is pretty exasperating too, but also prone to bursts of eloquence which may miss the point but certainly hit the mark. What a way to speak to your in-laws, eh?
"That's a typical remark of you woolly liberals! Look at you! All your soft, frayed, faded, patched, ethnic, woolly, comfortable, old clothes sum up your attitude to life!
"Whenever controversy comes you way, you swaddle it in woolly deference and smother it in a cushion of irreproachable tolerance!
"You bile never bubbles! Your gorge never rises
your blood never boils!
because you sit on the bloody fence. You're
Exit Jasper & Belinda. I leave the last word to Mrs. Weber.
"That Belinda's metallic pants & Dagger heels
Jasper's piranha-teethed zips & crushing boots point to a life of unrestrained aggression? People like that meet violent ends!"
"And what happens to woolly liberals?"
"Ah, woolly liberals! An agonising death
We get moth eaten
Posy Simmonds' CASSANDRA DARKE arrives on November 11th 2018, and it's brand-new, not previously serialised, as others have been, in The Guardian.