davidn: (skull)
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It was [livejournal.com profile] kjorteo's overly alarming post in response to this prompt that reminded me of an unusual book that somehow appeared in the house one day when I was in school, possibly having been bought from a car boot sale or something. I had no idea if it was at all popular, widely printed or indeed if anyone else would even have heard of it - but I found it immediately on Amazon's second-hand listing (with new ones with prices in excess of $120), so it's now the second book that I've rescued from my past.

Do-It-Yourself Brain Surgery (and other home skills) is an A4-sized 128-page textbook written in 1981 by Stewart Cowley, containing practical and straight-faced instruction on how to undertake manically implausible DIY projects such as building a hydroelectric power station or ocean liner (with a diagram showing how to cut out the portholes using an LP record as a template, so that they're all the same size). It begins with a page entitled "Complete Body Checklist" with a pair of diagrams of the skin and skeleton, so that you can "keep a record of what parts your body should have" before you dive in to any of the advice that it contains.

Moving further from building projects, it also has advice on breeding combat hamsters (You will need: Breeding pens, a little shovel, international arms industry connections), starting a private army, or indeed, home brain surgery. Other chapters cover cloning and cryogenics, with a whole page dedicated to step by step diagrams of welding two ordinary chest freezers together to produce a unit that can be mounted on the wall to display up to three frozen subjects at once, arranged head to toe in the most space-efficient way possible. At this stage it stresses the importance of reconnecting the supply of electricity if the arrangement ever has to be moved, "to avoid the disconcerting sight of the loved one gradually wilting forwards and getting soggy".

If you need to dispose of bodies instead, the chapter on racketeering covers that, detailing the construction of a box "slightly larger than the body to be disposed of", pointing out that fitting drawer handles (available at any hardware shop) at this stage will make transportation much easier later on, and pointing out to take care to mix three parts of sand to one of cement before pouring the concrete into it (making sure it spreads evenly to avoid air pockets).

It's one of the most demented books I've ever read, made all the more so for how earnest its tone is throughout. It has the perfect tone of - something that I've been told is a common thing in British humour - describing these bizarre things in a way that pays no attention at all to their absurdity. To honour the actual request in the writing prompt, the first sentence of the book is the beginning of a page made up to look like a typewritten letter to the reader:

(SHT I REF LH/SC, October 34th)

Dear Do-It-Yourselfer - In the field of DIY, those most deeply committed are a breed apart from their fellows, and it is to them rather than to those who wield an occasional hammer to drive their thumbs into the woodwork that this book is addressed.


As ambitious as its tone seems, this doesn't really get across the scale the book is working with. Slightly later in the same letter, it admits that there may be readers who doubt the wisdom of the projects it contains, and offers advice to those who do:

Accidents can and will happen and it is vital for you to know the basic principles of first aid. Stand in front of a large mirror and take a good look at your body. Notice how many bits of it stick out and familiarize yourself with them all, so that you will be able to make quick checks at periodic intervals to make certain that you are still intact and undamaged. Note also the location of all joints and flexing points, particularly along the arms and legs. If, during the course of a project, you notice that these limbs are bending at other points there is a very good chance that they have broken.

In the case of punctures, cuts or tears in the skin, try to effect temporary repairs as quickly as possible to prevent them becoming worse. The skin plays a vital role in keeping the body together and too severe a rupture in its surface can allow the contents to fall out. You will be amazed at just how much fits inside the human body - once a large proportion has fallen out it can become quite unmanageable and extremely difficult to fit back correctly.


Just out of interest, does it come as a surprise to absolutely anybody that this is the sort of thing that I grew up with?

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