Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness
Saturday nights have been bright again since Strictly returned to our screens – the absolute highlight not being the fit young things, but the utter seriousness being given to learning to dance given by Bill Bailey, partnered by Oti. (with Ranvir and Giovanni delighting too). Bill is clearly trying to show us another side to his personality, not the quirky muso comedian, but someone who is ever the auto-didact – always wanting to learn. Whether he said yes to Strictly as a response to a looming mid-life crisis, or was just really keen to extend himself, (I believe the latter), he’s put in the hours and properly studied each dance too.
When I saw that he had a lockdown book out, I was intrigued. What could Bill Bailey add to the burgeoning field of ‘happiness’ books? (My copy of Derren Brown’s rather thick Happy is still sitting stoically(!) on my shelves.)
Bill’s portrait on the front cover is a little disconcerting. He’s essaying a happy smile, but the colourised eyes make it stare out at you. I decided to take a punt on it, but, and I apologise to all the indie bookshops here, I bought a copy at that website for half price, for Quercus have priced it at £20, which is too steep for a 218 page unjacketed book. (I’m including it under #NovNov as about one third of the pages are illustrations).
As soon as the book arrived, I opened it intending only to read the introduction for now, but I just kept on, chuckling occasionally, smiling a lot, nodding my head in agreement, and definitely feeling happy as I read it.
Bill’s prescription for happiness is to share the things that make him happy with us, be it his coffee ritual in the mornings, playing crazy golf, or the exhilaration that comes from physical challenges like wild swimming. His writing is very much like his comedy in style, conversational, revelling in the english language, but also subtly extracting some essential truths from each topic. He has done his research too, backing up his arguments with mentions of psychological studies and medicine, and countless facts from philosophy, history, popular culture and more – but he doesn’t overdo it. Take this quote from his chapter on music – it is not only chucklesome, but has great language, includes extremes of popular culture, music theory and Tolkien, also family memories…
One of my earliest memories is of hearing my mother singing around the house. She would often accompany songs on the radio. Perry Como’s ‘Magic Moments’ was a favourite. It’s a classic of its genre. How many songs can you say have a whistled refrain and a jaunty bassoon counterpoint? Not many, and certainly not one by the band Slipknot, although Slipknot do feature in another of my vivid musical memories. Standing stageside at Sonisphere Festival in 2011, I watched them whip a rain-soaked crowd into a frenzy. This sonic assault is the music I imagine orcs listen to before going into battle.
Bill’s text is accompanied by his own drawings, and graphics by Joe Magee. Bill’s drawings are pencil sketches, often incorporating a joke; to be honest they’re not great, but that doesn’t really matter, as they are cheerful, have a point and I’m sure he enjoyed doing them. The monochrome graphics often collage pictures of Bill into quirky illustrations which I really liked.
One thing is clear in this book, being outside in nature and enjoying physical pursuits, brings Bill Bailey much happiness in general – something I should do a lot more of – said she, sitting at the computer, looking out at pouring rain!
This is a gentle, heart-warming book that is full of wisdom. I loved it – I can thoroughly recommend it as a Christmas present for the Bill Bailey fans on your list.
I’m going to close with another quote – which was surely written earlier in lockdown – before Strictly came calling. This is in the chapter on ‘Dancing’ – famous last words!!!
When I was a teenager, I had ballroom dancing lessons. There was a dance school across the road from our house and I learned the waltz, the foxtrot and the quickstep. The teacher was a tiny, petite woman with a huge passion for The Dance. It was a marvellous and quite surreal experience to whirl around a dance hall with this ball of terpsichorean energy. Bless her and all those she must have enlightened to her world. I can see the appeal of the foxtrot, the tango and the rhumba, the formal nature of it all, the practised moves, the precision, but it’s not really me. I am more of a free-form mischief dancer, a Loki of the Lindy Hop.
More classic Bill Links!
- The Swan played on cowbells from Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra.
- Bill’s tribute to Kraftwerk from his Part Troll tour.
- Bill and Oti dance Couples choice – Street – to Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang.
Source: Own copy. Pub Quercus – Oct 2020. Hardback, 218 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s (affiliate link, free UK P&P)