March 22nd, 2007

In office chair

A literary prototype

I thought the For Dummies/Complete Idiot's Guide style of book was a recent innovation, but apparently not. I've recently obtained an eighty year old book called The Motor-Car and How it Works, For Those Who Are Devoid of All Mechanical Knowledge by Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon K.C.B., K.C.V.O., D.S.O. with 75 diagrams drawn by Captain A. H. Green.

The preface is very patronising to the reader, for example: "What to the ordinary mechanic 'is as plain as a pikestaff' gives the average lady a headache to look at." The information contained in the rest of the book isn't too bad - it's rather outdated in places, but a lot of the basic information is still relevant, the style is easy to follow, and I learned a few things from it that I didn't know about 1920s automotive technology.

The chapter titled "A Few Hints on Driving" contains four golden rules, three of which are still relevant and common-sense, one of which now seems bizarre. They are (paraphrased): 1. Don't overtake unless you can see enough clear space ahead of you; 2. sound your horn at every junction and listen for a reply; 3. Slow down on corners; 4. Don't undertake. Elsewhere it talks about sounding your horn every time you see a pedestrian crossing the road "to warn them," and sounding your horn when you come up behind a hay wagon so that it will pull over to allow you to pass. According to Sir Bacon, "children and dogs are the real dangers of the road. Road hogs and scorchers are far less dangerous." He doesn't explain what a scorcher is. On the subject of fuel economy he writes, "The saving of a mile or even two miles per gallon of petrol means very little compared with other matters. The difference between 20 and 22 miles to the gallon in a thousand miles works out at eight shillings, at the present price of petrol. Repairs to a defective car will cost many pounds. So do not worry about petrol consumption so much as reliability." Interestingly he refers in one place to the gear lever as a "joy-stick".

This book was published in 1927 by Mills & Boon. It contains an advert for another of Sir Bacon's books: A Simple Guide To Wireless, For All Whose Knowledge of Electricity is Childlike.

Edit: According to this short biography, Sir Bacon had a rather interesting life and career, and served a very important role in the British navy during the first world war.