Book Review – How to Cook a Hippopotamus

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The folio book of quaint and curious advice
By Mary McConville

 

Well, how do you cook a hippopotamus? Stick it in a cauldron hippo-bottom-uppermost! Sir Samuel Baker recommended that the hippo should be boiled, or made into a hippo head cheese with vinegar, onions and cayenne pepper. If that doesn’t appeal perhaps you would like a bear bottom, cooked to a turn in hot bacon drippings. These culinary tips were sourced from “Great and Small Game of Africa: An Account of the Distribution, Habits and Natural History of the Sporting Mammals, with Personal Hunting Experiences.

This folio book contains a lot of “quaint and curious” advice but please! Do not try this at home! Even its simple remedy for sleeplessness – eat raw onions – will just give you indigestion and cause “disagreeable eructation’s” (bad burps), “no truly polite person will eat them”.

Politeness is terribly important in a civilised society and this book gives us many useful tips on etiquette. Though most of the advice is sourced from the late 1800s and the early 1900s, it is in tune with our mercenary age and discusses “The Market Value of Good Manners” and “The Importance of Conformity”. We are also told that it is bad manners to pull out your watch in company unasked (I presume that this is a fob watch on a chain), as it implies that you are bored. Perhaps they should update this advice to include mobile phones.

We can also find advice on certain delicate matters such as continence and avoiding strange women. When you have found a lady who is not so much strange as agreeably eccentric this book will tell you “How to Choose a Wife,” “How to Improve the Race” and “How to Amuse Children”.

The mostly military men who dispense these pearls of wisdom will send you out on many an adventure – on a sinking ship, in the Alps and to war. War is one of our most serious problems, especially when advised by these gentlemen. They will send you out to stalk your neighbour or put a bomb in a Nazi occupied post office. They do advise you on that crucially important question “What shall I wear?” Wear socks but not boots, gym shoes are better for clandestine work. In their down time these military men are very aware of the importance of handling the problem of self-abuse in wartime, which they expect to increase enormously. Their solution is the usual: cultivate a healthy mind in a healthy body, go outside and do something else!

Although this book abounds in advice by men for men there are some beauty tips for women too. If a lady has a problem with freckles she can wash her face with a lotion made from lemon juice, vinegar, rose-water and rum, and if that doesn’t work she can still drink it. The Folio Society obviously has a sense of humour, and erudition too. They are assisted here by Ian Pinder, the gentleman who selected all these gems, John Holder, who did the illustrations and Kit Shepherd who put together a slightly twisted index.

 

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