Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Ladybird Book of Progress

These fields are on the edge of a new town. The town is growing and people want more homes to live in.

The children who play in these fields will be able to have a proper playground, with clean concrete, instead of mud and grass.

This man is called a town planner. He must design homes that are cheap to build and do not take up too much space.

The man has designed many new buildings for this town. 

He lives in an very old house in another town.

The fields are dug up and an old church from long ago is demolished.

The ground is then flattened so that there will be space for a car park and a row of coffee shops.

To make sure that the ground is hard and the grass cannot grow back, the builders use concrete.

When the concrete is dry, they can begin to make the new homes.

This man is not very good at making walls because he has never done it before. A house with walls like this might fall down.

The man told his foreman that he had built walls in the Slovak Republic, but he was not telling the truth.

Brian is about to hit his hand with a hammer. He will then say that he has had an accident at work.

People who have accidents when they are at work can go home. They can also ask for money.

This is called compensation.

This is Charles. He used to be an investment banker, but had a nervous breakdown. This happens when people are very worried and unhappy.

Charles' wife would like him to be a banker again.

This is Nigel. He has been told that he is not allowed to go near children.

British workers must follow very strict safety rules, but these men are from a country called the Ukraine.

If they have an accident, they will not ask for compensation.

This block of flats will house around one hundred families.

They will also make good homes for old people, as they will not have to worry about looking after a garden.

These flats will be clean and modern. The people who live here will have a lovely view of the town.

Would you like to live in the sky?

There are also new houses. They will be much nicer than the cold, damp homes that were built in olden times.

Instead of dull, plain bricks, the walls will be covered in pretty, tiny stones, called pebbledash.

As the town grows, it will need extra electricity.

This new power station will give people the energy they need and also make new jobs.

The town is big, but it can get even bigger, as there is a lot of countryside.

To-day, many homes are old and draughty. One day, perhaps we will all be lucky enough to live in a bright, clean new town like this one.


Debra said...

Hmmm... let me get out my intellectual scalpel and pick this apart the way I love to do (my daddy was a forensic pathologist, but don't worry, I don't get my kicks just by taking scalpels to Ladybird books. Shakespeare is much more interesting, by the way. A lot less... clean ? organized ? regular ? than the Ladybird progress book.)
Is that a real book that you had between your hands, or.. a compilation ? :-)
I hate the word "clean" now. It has a very fascist sound to it.
Grenoble has a lot of concrete, and more coming every day. In Grenoble, we believe in concrete. (Concrete is a French invention. It figures.)
Quick, go... burn that book before some child gets his mind mangled by it.
Too many children and former children have had their minds mangled by books like that one already.
You wouldn't want to have somebody ORDER this book from you, would you ??
That's what I call a Cornellian dilemma... whether to sell this book to make a buck or not...

Rog said...

This is wonderful stuff Steerforth - you have gift.
It would make a wonderful Christmas book but you may need to put "crap" or "shit" in the title.

Steerforth said...

Debra - The illustrations are mostly from one book, but I added a couple from other Ladybird books. I'd forgotten that concrete was French.

I suppose Le Corbusier's designs worked well in the south of France, but in Britain, concrete just becomes damp and its greyness blends in with the cloudy skies.

I forgive France for inventing concrete. It's also given us more great artists, writers and composers than any other country.

Rog - Funnily enough, I have contributed to a very recent publication with the word 'Crap' in the title. My mother thinks it's rude.

I'll take your advice (should I change Ladybird to Ladyboy for added shock value?).

Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"You'll very soon be sliding down the razor-blade of life..."

joan.kyler said...

Oh my God! It's universal! I was hoping there was someplace on Earth where this sort of thing didn't happen. I refuse to live in a new house, but they creep up all around when your back is turned.

It's happening to me right now in Philadelphia. Two old brick rowhouses 'accidentally collapsed' during 'renovation'. So they cleared away all the old brick and wood and built an ugly box with concrete block using non-English speaking workers who didn't even wear hard hards or breathing masks. And they built it without permits. Welcome to Bangladesh west!

And we call this civilization.

Steerforth said...

Anonymous - It could have been 'Little Boxes' as well.

Joan - It's happening right under our noses and it feels as if we're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. I'm lucky enough to live in a town where there are enough historic buildings to prevent any 'improvements' by people who want to make a quick profit, but I don't know how we can stop this in other areas without resorting to draconian measures. It's very frustrating.

Martin Hodges said...

Excellent post, Steerforth. You don't happen to live between Hurstpierpoint and Henfield, do you?

Steerforth said...

No, I'm slapbang in the middle of Lewes. Have I missed something?

sustainablemum said...

Lord help us all if that is progress! Sadly some people do.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Oh, dear -- how dispiriting -- and how true. Our street has just been "graced" with two new homes directly across from us, where there was only one small house before. They are detached houses, but they are a bit daunting, none the less. However, they are definitely here to stay, so I will have to get used to it. Or move.

Dale said...

Very Tolkien, viz the destruction of the Shire.

At least you don't place all your faith in retreating into a tobacco fug to heal the world's ills, as he did!

Lucy R. Fisher said...

This is a parody by Steerforth, but it happened in real life.

These lovely pictures are from the 60s.

Can I have the painting of the power station?

In the 70s we were told "You can't stand in the way of Progress".

We need more council houses now.

Bollops said...

Brilliant parody, Steerforth, and very, very close in style to the 'What Happens When' series. I don't know if you've come across them before but I think you'd find them interesting. I've posted a few on my Flickr stream:

What Happens When a Bypass is Built:

What Happens When a Valley is Drowned:

What Happens When a River is Cleansed:

At first glance they come across as straight-up propaganda for all the developments that were going on at the time (the late '60s, early '70s) but they do actually look at some of the negative aspects too.

Steerforth said...

Sustainablemum - It's vandalism, by people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Politicians talk about the need to build more houses for a growing population, but why does the population need to grow? I don't want to live in a superconurbation.

Carol - It must be even harder where you are, as the population density is too low to justify building restrictions and there aren't 'conservation' areas with historic buildings. You can find somewhere you like and see it transformed beyond recognition.

Dale - I think humour is a good way of tackling the subject, although I could quite happily spend the rest of my life ranting about it. I feel very angry that so much ugliness has been allowed to creep into our towns and cities.

Lucy - Would you like a high resolution scan of the power station picture?

We certainly need more council houses, but we also need to tackle the causes of the housing shortage too.

Bollops - Thanks - these are fantastic! I haven't seen them before. The one about the drowned valley is heartbreaking and very cleverly written.

Debra said...

I think that you are on the right track with humor.
Sadly enough... I don't have enough humor in me to recognize yours... that is a damning remark on where I come from (not France...).
Humor is the way to go. It also means that you are nourishing your imagination, and we desperately need more of that right now.
I take that back... Publish it.
But for adults only... ;-)

Annabel (gaskella) said...

Another Steerforth classic!

Sam Jordison said...


Steerforth said...

Annabel - Thanks!

Sam - Thanks for the Twitter link.

The Poet Laura-eate said...


Though you could have added. 'But if you don't like the houses in the sky they are only built to last for 50 years and are often demolished after about 20 when people get bored with living in them and sick of the lifts never working and the flat roof constantly leaking. Most new buildings have leaky flat roofs to keep builders in work for many years to come.'
I was certainly shocked to find that our new £120m library building was only designed to last 50 years. We could have almost had that out of a bespoke Portacabin.

the bog logger said...

I really hope you make a book of these one day. I love them!

lividlili said...

I really hope you make a book of these one day! I love them!

Harry Tournemille said...


Steerforth said...

Laura - That is shocking (and disgraceful) that it is designed to last for 50 years. Every new civic building should be built to last for at least 200.

Book logger/Lividlili - Thank you. Glad you like them.

Harry - Thanks.

Little Nell said...

Excellent! I do enjoy your Ladybird books.

Roget said...

Steerforth - I bow to no-one in my admiration of your writing: but something about this one doesn't quite gel. However, before I get to that,you write of France: "It's also given us more great artists, writers and composers than any other country." Has it? Has it really???
As to the New Town theme, how is a Ladybird scenario from the '50s relevant to what's happening today - where in fact very few new houses are being built and the government is desperate to find a way to make building societies lend? And speaking as an old person, the bit about we ancient ones being deprived of our gardens just makes me feel - well - old. Neither it nor the point about high-rise apply today. You even nearly (in a comment) threw in Pete Seeger fer gawd's sake. But all that aside, I did as always enjoy the piece very much.

Steerforth said...

Roget - I stick by my comment about France. Other countries may have surpassed the French in certain fields (we probably have more great writers and in the 19th century, Germany produced more great composers), but across the board, France has produced the greatest number of internationally-acclaimed writers, artists, poets, dramatists and composers. If someone asked me to write 30 names down in under a minute, I could do that without any trouble. But Germany, Italy, Spain etc? I'd struggle.

The relevance of the 1960s Ladybird book to today is that although the recession has thankfully curtailed the number of homes being built, there are alarming rumours that the rules about 'Green Belt' land are going to be relaxed, resulting in more Crawleys.

I don't want to see another building boom. I'd rather see a political solution to the causes of the housing crisis.

I agree, the high-rise part isn't relevant today, but it's a satire on the eternal ineptitude of town planners.

I always enjoy your curmudgeonly comments, but I'm right about France.

Roget said...

Well, Steerforth - I'm still a little puzzled by this all-pervading francophilia. I think your one minute rule is irrelevant to the point and reflects no particular reinforcement of it. I don't want to be called a Little Englander as well as a curmudgeon, but I rather think we (in the UK sense of course), could match the blighters. As for Germany, your appalling ignorance (as I take it to be) of the works of the teutonic masters - I mention at random the Von Scheisskopfs, Vater und Sohn - saddens me greatly.
And as to housing booms and Lebensraum, your rather Richard Wilson-ish "I don't want to live in a superconurbation" comment will come true for you. I have the feeling that Lewes won't be absorbed somehow. As for elsewhere, Crawley is the reason why there won't be any more Crawleys - or indeed any 50-floor residential skyscrapers daan the East End where old geezers like me pine for a rhubarb patch. That error has been made. I think that the answer probably lies in a compromise between new building (there will have to be some) and better use of current stock. But enough from me. I must remember that in Ladybird history, before the expulsion from Edwardian Eden, there was always honey still for tea...and no curmudgeons.

Steerforth said...

Fair enough Roget, I'm chastened by this shameful exposure of my ignorance of the achievements of the Westphalian school. I should have remembered the Von Schiesskofps, having worked for one of their progeny during my last year in bookselling (a rather disagreeable man who stomped around the shop floor, shouting NFTU! Nur ficken tun es!).

In my defence, all I can say is that I know the answer to the Schleswig-Holstein question.

I would vehemently deny being a Francophile (or phobe); just a disinterested observer.

I hope you realise that in my book, curmudgeon is a compliment, as is contrarian.

Dale said...

Steerforth, may I commend to you the delightful and recently published 1913: The Year Before the Storm, by Florien Illies. It should remind you of a lot of the German culture that has hitherto escaped your recall (possibly), and Illies' dry sense of humour is rather a good match for your own.

Not strange at all that both you and Roget should have encountered some of the Von Scheisskopfs' progeny - in my experience a lot of them have ended up in the book trade.

Steerforth said...

Thanks for the recommendation Dale. It looks right up my street.

I certainly wouldn't deny the richness of 19th-20th century German culture. I think France just wins on overall points.

In less than a minute, I can type Balzac, Zola, Maupassant, Flaubert, Stendhal, Sartre, Gide, Genet, Monet, Manet, Pisarro, Renoir, Cezanne, Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saens, Berlioz, Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, Seurat, Faure, Camus, Hugo...time's up!

I'm not sure if I could do that for another country (except Britain, which I know more about).

Roget said...

You forgot Mrs Sartre, Steerforth -Jean-Paul's cleaner, muse and literary equal.
Very much agree with Dale about the Florien Illies book, which oddly enough I've just finished reading.It does indeed come at the year with a largely Britain-free angle, concentrating on Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire in the main. I never quite appreciated before what a nutter Kafka was and I certainly learned more about Rilke than I really wanted to know. Oddly, for such a perceptive writer, the Scheisskopfs, Vater und Sohn, don't figure in the text.

Debra said...

Steerforth, I'm glad that you can come up with all those French names but...
Last time I picked up a Zola novel, I quickly set it down because Zola hates his characters. (I have probably said this before, here...)
France is a beautiful, morose country right now. Deathly morose.
And we are busy sticking fences and putting up uniform skyscrapers and not skyscrapers in order to improve what little green remains in my area, at least.
Very, very depressing.
The problem is rationalization. "Improving" on nature, for example.