Stocking Up on a Good Joke or Two; 1.from Chore to Chortle: Martin's Guide Question, Miss Mills. Should You Acquire a Substantial Amount of Sir Pauls Assets, Would You Make a Lonely Old Bachelor Extremely Happy?

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Matthew

PICKING my way through this year's seasonal crop of humour and giftware, I suspect that an awful lot of it is destined to languish, unread and unloved, on bedside tables in spare rooms alongside similar volumes from previous years. Or, worse, on lavatory shelves.

However, here are some that deserve to be given much more than a brief Christmas Day glance beginning with Can't Be Arsed: 1001 Things Not To Do Before You Die (Portico, o9.95) by Richard Wilson the executive producer of Have I Got News For You, no less.

For those who, like me, can't face going anywhere much or doing anything that requires undue effort, this well-aimed, gloriously scornful blast against must-see destinations and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that turn out to be dangerous, too far away or ruined by gap-year students will be right up their street.

Little escapes Wilson's disdain. The Pyramids 'are right next to the unsightly urban sprawl of Cairo'; the Taj Mahal 'conveniently masks the Yamuna River behind it, into which is dumped 57per cent of New Delhi's waste'; and Tuscany is 'full of Panama-hatted twerps from Hampstead'. Most places, as he rightly says, look better on television.

Among other non-wish list thrills he rubbishes are bungee-jumping (injuries include rope burn, dislocations, eye traumas and uterine prolapse); reading War And Peace ('way, way too long'); and having an affair 'the very definition of the phrase 'more trouble than it's worth'.

Unlike this very funny book.

Wilson would almost certainly have some sharp words to say about Elspeth Thompson's The Wonderful Weekend Book (John Murray, o12.99) dedicated as it is to suggesting ways of making best use of those precious two days, rediscovering the simple pleasures of life and generally recharging the batteries.

Mrs Thompson quotes Albert Schweitzer: 'Do not let Sunday be taken from you. If your soul has no Sunday, it is an orphan.' It's hard to imagine the Nobel Laureate making chutney, collecting pebbles on a beach, hiring a camper van or mixing the perfect Bloody Mary. .

or mixing the perfect Bloody Mary.

But who knows? What better way to contemplate civilisation and ethics than in a long bubble bath, or lighting a wood fire, or flying a kite? Or to hone one's musical skills by learning the ukulele? A NYONE picking up How To Get Things Really Flat: A Man's Guide To Ironing, Dusting And Other Household Arts (Short Books, o12.99) by Andrew Martin could be forgiven for expecting rib-tickling chapters of accidents by a domestic incompetent. Which goes to show you should never judge a book by its jacket.

Self-deprecating it certainly is, and exchanges with his wife and others on such subjects as drying woollens, folding a shirt after ironing and replacing the filters on a vacuum cleaner will get big laughs.

But Martin takes humdrum tasks such as washing-up very seriously indeed. In fact, he positively revels in his skills. 'A man washing up secretly imagines himself to be the head surgeon in an operating theatre.

He is entitled to bark out peremptory orders: "Right! I'm ready for the pudding things now!"' Mark Crick also has words of advice on how to tackle easy household tasks such as putting up a shelf and replacing a light switch but through the mouths of some of the world's greatest writers. In Sartre's Sink (Granta, o10.99) you will find handy tips on hanging wallpaper by Hemingway, on bleeding a radiator by Emily Bronti, on tiling a bathroom by Dostoevsky and, most useful of all, on unblocking a sink by Jean-Paul Sartre.

Complete with enthusiastic but totally unhelpful illustrations.

For light relief after all that housework, dip into the Wrinklies' Joke Book (Prion, o9.99), which is packed with rueful quotations and jokes: 'You know you're getting old when you do the hokey-cokey, put your left hip out and it stays out. …