House husbands arise, your time has finally come

02:17, Mar 03 2014

I had Beulah's cooked peas for lunch, jazzed up via the Radiation Recipe Book and sandwiched between slices of Kut-Bread. I'd just Zogged the skirtings, having Gry-Moffed them first, so I cleaned myself up with Coal Tar. My work clothes will need Paddy the Wonder Washer, then a wring-out in the Ewbank table mangle.

Yes, it's a busy life for a house-husband, especially one who didn't have the nous to line up a wife to support him before he chucked in his day job.

In a rare repose, I Brylcreemed, made a cup of Horlicks and settled down with a library find, The 1930s Scrapbook, a salute to British brands of that decade.

My path to here began two years earlier when Craig Potton Publishing brought out Selling The Dream, a sumptuous toast to travel posters of our past. Pottons have just added Promoting Prosperity, which celebrates vintage advertising. After I sang its praises to all-and-sundry, a friend steered me to the Scrapbook.

You may scoff at all this as mushy nostalgia, but that's just one of its fine qualities.

In a week when Telecom announced a $20m rebranding to become Spark, we should reflect on the delicate business of getting a label right. Many get it wrong, despite the lessons of history.


Spark could almost be one of the magazines from my 1930s almanac, alongside Buzzer, Sunbeam, Wizard, Bullseye (with free bar of Kreemy Toffee), Jolly, Joker, Funny Wonder, Merry and Bright, Jester and Happy Days.

The tenor of the list is upbeat, and almost quaint to our own senses battered by the grunge that saturates modern media.

Yet we live in a pampered era, while back then Britain was still on its knees from financial collapse and sliding towards another catastrophic war.

Not that advertising is the real world. In ad-land the British housewife was ecstatic at the thought of owning a Ewbank Solent, the self-lifting mangle. "Talk it over with your husband," the pitch urges.

If she was lucky she'd already have a Vactric ("all British-made") to vacuum the carpets.

Spick, Oxydol, Scourine and Konnomy would deal to any residue grime. I can't imagine an attractive model holding a container of Gry-Moff lovingly to her cheek, but there you go.

She probably smells faintly of Hospital Carbolic soap ("guaranteed pure"), although Ballot soap "gets the vote", New Pin sounds spiffing, Honest says what it means, but Lily White taints a good moniker with a tagline of "Curd Soap".

For industrial strength cleanliness, you can always try Clozone, Nubolic and Petabolic.

The 30s siren might flash teeth sparkled by Euthymol toothpaste, toss her hair gleamed courtesy of Cuticura medicated shampoo, and have the dreamy look that only Californian Poppy talcum powder imparts.

We won't even contemplate the joys of Erasmic vanishing cream.

Hubby uses that old standby Brylcreem, touted in the ads by a slicked-up rugby player who fends off rivals as he "gets ahead in any position".

Spare a thought for the poor lad because he was probably raised in Leach's Boys Knitted Suits, graduating to flannel trousers, fair isle waistcoats and Laird Scotch tweed plus-fours.

Wife gets her couture clues from Mab's Fashions, while sipping a Co-op coffee and squirming in a bra made from the nose-cones of artillery shells.

She might dip into The Passing Show mag, whose cover depicts a lifeguard carrying a beach babe, with the sign behind indicating he has carted her thus two miles from the seashore.

For the more salacious, Poppy's Paper leads with a damsel sitting distraught on her bed. "What a man made her do," the overline cries. Life was much calmer in Happy mag.

In the evening, the family gathers round their radio, with the little boys in knitted suits.

The very wealthy had new televisions to salivate over. An anachronism, surely?

Not so. The BBC began TV broadcasts in 1936.

Sets cost a king's ransom. The top-of-the-line His Master's Voice television was 120 guineas.

To put that into perspective, you could buy a swank home in a Kent estate for £395 (or 9s 6d weekly). Using our Nelson regional house median of $380,000, relatively speaking that telly cost $120,000.

With another war brewing, our British forebears prepped themselves for death by smoking furiously. Cigarette companies sponsored anything chic. The collectable cards in the packs featured aircraft, sports players, cars, radio and film stars.

Woodbines were famous, Players Navy Cut and Craven A have survived I believe, but gone are Diving Girl, Pasha, Churchman's, Trawler, Black Cat, Bandmaster and Ardath. You'd be embarrassed asking for a packet of Three Nuns in the dairy.

We are no less perverted in giving cute names to cancer sticks - Smart, Kool, Holiday, Lucky Strike, Freedom and Superslim - and their blatant product placement in movies is just as insidious.

I froth and digress. Can Spark put the spark back into Telecom? Rebranding is a tricky beast, and in my experience, often coincides with the arrival of a new manager. The technical name for such revamps is a POG, or Pee On Gatepost.

Telecom may well need a rev-up, though tossing away such a well-known brand is fraught with danger, as self-appointed experts have observed.

Closer to home, Opera in the Park certainly needs relabelling as Music in the Park to boost attendances and tone down the pomposity. Long may our mega-picnic continue, and last week's was one of the best.

A personal rebranding might even help me to find a proper job. I'll set aside a spare $20 million.

Something exotic, I'm thinking. Dynamic yet trustworthy. I've got it. Henceforth you can call me Magneto-Man. Where's that CV?

PS: Due to a recent incident in Seymour Ave where an acorn almost fell on a passerby, the Nelson City Council has decided to issue helmets to all residents. Please collect yours from the reception desk at Civic House. Bring a recent rates invoice and a copy of your dental records, encased in acorn-proof pouch.