The Family Business

My wife, bless her, is making great strides in the business she is starting. She’s moved on from the t-shirt idea, and grown obsessed with chemicals. We are currently bottling and labelling thousands of bottles of room freshener at the coffee table in front of the TV. There’s a barrel full of bath salts in the corner. My house smells like a brothel. There’s even an undercurrent of disinfectant from the hand sanitisers we did last week, for added authenticity.

For those of you who have not been following this blog for a while, my wife fell victim to the wave of electronic readers crippling the book industry, and was retrenched by the publisher she worked for. Instead of trying to find another job in a shrinking industry, she decided to try her hand at producing a line of book related products. Turns out that she’s actually very good at it. Since our whole family has a vested interest in her success, I decided to try and help.Turns out I’m a frikkin’ genius at it.

This of course led to marital strife. When I presented my last line of designs, she didn’t take it very well. The very good are always resentful of the great. Part of any good marriage is the ability to work with your partners frailties. I spent a good few nights wondering about how to move forward (I was sleeping in the car, so I didn’t have TV as a distraction), and I think I know what the problem was. I sprung my ideas on her without warning, and I think she was intimidated by their brilliance. Now that she’s had a few weeks to get used to the idea, I think she’s ready for my help. I think the horse tranquilisers I’ve been adding to her coffee may help as well.

I’ve built up a new portfolio, and I’m ready to present it to her tonight. I’ve decided that the best thing to do will be to make some minor adjustments to her existing products. That way, she can fool herself into thinking that she is the true creative force, and we already have all of the required equipment. In case she needs a last little push, I’m going to ask you guys to fill out a couple of surveys saying that my designs are better. Thanks.

My first move is a master stroke. Instead of “adjusting” one of her existing products, I’m going to suggest a parallel product. She’s produced a hand sanitiser. It’s called “Lady Macbeth’s Out, Damned Spot Hand Sanitiser” (I think it’s a line from a Kenneth Branagh movie. Clever.) Here it is.


I’m sure you spotted the problem immediately. Not? Picture this: Two women are making sandwiches together in the kitchen when one of them spills some mayonnaise on her hand.

Suzie:    “Oh my aching nerves! My hand is all dirty. Whatever am I to do?”

She falls back into a chair and pushes the back of her clean hand to her brow.

Cindy:   “Don’t worry, Suze, try some of this.”

She pulls a small bottle out of her handbag and passes it over.

Suzie:    “Ohmigod that’s so cute! What is it?”

Cindy:   “It’s “Lady Macbeth’s Out Damned Spot Hand Sanitiser”. One spray will wash all your troubles away.”

Suzie:    “Aww. I just love Kenneth Branagh. Where did you get it from- I have to get my hands on some”

That works just fine, doesn’t it? But now picture this: Two burly men appear from under the hood of a pickup truck, covered in dirty black engine grease.

Butch:  “Oh my aching nerves! My hands are all dirty. Whatever am I to do?”

He leans back onto a workbench and holds out his hands.

Bubba:  “Don’t worry, Butch, try some of this.”

He pulls a small bottle out of his man bag and passes it over.

Butch:   “Ohmigod that’s so cute! What is it?”

Bubba: “It’s “Lady Macbeth’s Out Damned Spot Hand Sanitiser”. One spray will wash all your troubles away.”

Butch:   “Aww. I just love Kenneth Branagh. Where did you get it from- I just have to get my hands on some!”





Bubba:  “Did you catch the game on Saturday?”

The problem is clear. “Lady Macbeth’s Out Damned Spot Hand Sanitiser” is for girls. That cuts out half of our market in one fell swoop. Don’t worry. I’ve come up with a parallel design just as appealing to men. Behold!


We’re off to a good start. Now let’s tackle something a little more tricky. Room sprays. The idea here is a great one. Take a famous author or literary character and try to literally distill their essence into a scent that you can spray in your bathroom after some “alone time”. I’m sure it was actually my idea- my wife and I talk a lot and that’s great. Except for the fact that I caught her taking notes the other day.

As always, my wife seemed to battle a little with the execution. Let’s start with the Ernest Hemingway room spray. Here’s my wife’s design.


Her design is very, very good. So how do I make it great? Let’s take a look at the great man himself. What was he most famous for? Sure we all know he was a man’s man, into bullfighting and hunting and cigars and whisky and fishing, but that’s not what made him a great writer. Brevity is what made him a great writer. Short, sharp, unembellished sentences, cutting straight to the heart of the matter. So let’s honour that in our design. Hemingway loved bullfighting. He saw it as a dance between man and beast, a stark ballet of mortality. Two souls enter the bullring, one of them destined to die. Let’s honour that by conjuring up the dust of the arena.


Another triumph! I think I’m hitting my stride. Let’s move on to The Great Gatsby.  Here’s my wife’s design.


Nice. I must confess that the last time I read the book was several decades ago, but I’ve got a pretty good memory. I don’t think my wife has read it for several decades either. And, looking at this, I’m not so sure about her memory. Surely a great writer like Gerald Scott Fitzpatrick wouldn’t write a whole book about cocktails and money. She may be right about the hope part though. I seem to remember the book being about eggs. Not just as a tasty snack, though. As a metaphor. A metaphor for hope. Hope of a brand new chicken. And there’s your design. Bam!


Nailed it! Let’s move on. Here’s the little woman’s next design:


I see an immediate problem. Virginia Woolf is a little obscure. I feel that we need a design that can still appeal to those who aren’t familiar with her. For those of you who fall into that group, Virginia Woolf was famous for two things. Her writing and her career as a long distance swimmer. She loved the sea. The only book of hers I’ve read was about lighthouses. Her life was cut tragically short when she drowned during the first attempted swim of the English Channel by a woman.

So how do I cover all of these things without alienating the illiterati? Tricky, but I’ve managed to pull it off. First of all, let’s take her name out of it. Her face is instantly recognisable to those who love her. It’s also very long. By taking out her name, I honour her and her love of the sea, but also deliver a product with a witty little pun for those who have not yet discovered her:


Rather cleverly, my wife hasn’t limited herself to obscure dead authors. As a book lover, she has had the courage to take on the greatest book of all time; 50 Shades of Grey (the sales figures speak for themselves). Here is her offering:



Brave. But not brave enough. She’s a bit of a prude, and didn’t have the courage to take Google off Safesearch, so she’s ended up with some entry level sketches by some horny high school student. She’s also made a bit of an error of judgement. The book may be an instant classic, but not everyone reads. Sex, however, sells. I’m a bit of a prude myself, but work comes first. After several gruelling hours of searching through porn sights (shame on you, Japan!), I found some images which I think will really sell some pencils! They may be a little crude, but admit it- you want them. You want them real bad.



Right. Let’s move on and never speak of those dirty, dirty pencils again. Let’s talk about bags instead. Shopping bags. This is where it all started, and I’m afraid it shows. This was supposed to be about books. My wife can be very excitable, and when an idea is fresh in her mind she tends to rush in. I think with the bags, she decided to find some vintage illustrations and tie them up with books.

That was the idea. Fell down a bit on the execution though. Instead of telling you, let me show you. Here’s the first:


You can see what’s happened. She found a pretty picture of some little women. So far, so good. And the book part? Forgedaboudit! She’s just labelled the picture with the first thing that came to mind. Guess what that was? I’ve tried to update the language a little, but I think you’ll agree that, while it may be an improvement, this is a rare fail on my part:


You must be hoping that things got better. They didn’t. They got worse. My wife found another pretty picture. Of a ship this time. Bit of a problem though. She somehow managed to save the picture upside down. Did she read “The Dummies Guide to Photoshop” to learn how to fix it? She did not! She just gave it some obscure label to make it look like it was upside down on purpose:


Again, I’ve tried to salvage the situation. I flipped the picture (not rocket science!) so I could take out the “down” part of the label. I took the “water” part out as well (I don’t think anyone thinks it’s an airship, dear), but it’s still just a label. Not my best:


The final bag was a bit of an improvement. She’s Photoshopped a picture of Tolstoy. I think what she was trying to do was to show that the great man retained a youthful exuberance, a boyish blitheness of spirit, despite his advancing years. Epic fail. This time though, the blame lies with me. You see, my wife is a bit spoiled. I work out. I have a luxuriant mat of manly chest hair. She’s clearly just browsed around until she found what she mistook for a boy’s body, and slapped it onto the great man’s head.


Don’t worry. I’ve fixed it:


I’ve even gone one better. I’ve done a series.



And why stop there? Here’s one for the ladies.


And that’s not all! Tom up there sparked a bit of an idea. Why not throw in a bit of a pun, just to bring a smile to peoples’ faces, and really sell the idea?


So there you have it. We make a great team. My wife will keep coming up with good ideas, and I will keep making them great. We might need to work on our timing though. Her designs are already available in some of the local bookshops, and soon you’ll be able, to get them yourself on her website. If you aren’t in South Africa, you’ll be able to get a really great deal. The exchange rate is really favourable, and I can’t see the postage on one of the smaller items coming in at anything more than $500.00. You may as well give them a try while you wait for the good stuff.

My designs should be available quite soon. I’m sure my wife will be arranging to have them produced in bulk this very evening. Just as soon as she comes out of the bathroom. She locked herself in there after I showed her my designs. It’s been a couple of hours and I’m starting to get a bit concerned. Maybe she’s testing out the room sprays.

34 thoughts on “The Family Business

  1. […] who wants to read about a guy trying to build a fire for an entire story? Not me. But a post about cleverly book-titled soaps and other products? Yes, I believe I would love to read […]

  2. You might be a genius, but don’t let that go to your head. I let it go to my ass and now I have to work out three times a week. Seriously, this is good stuff.

  3. This blog should not be read while drinking….anything.

  4. warmginger says:

    Brilliant post. I actually want to buy this stuff – especially the first Tolstoyboy!

  5. Ken Marteney says:

    Laughing out loud over here! Great job. Can’t wait to read the book.

  6. rawview says:

    I love this post…so funny.

  7. Alan Cole says:

    LOVE that you allowed your very own “conversational growth opportunity” to develop. Great blog.

  8. metan says:

    Crikey, I hope that you drive a nice comfy station wagon, you may be spending some time in there, I bet that tent is booby trapped.

    I would never have thought of a brothel smelling like a room full of freshener and bath salts. I am not sure I want to know how you found that out yourself…

    • 23thorns says:

      To supplement my family’s meager income, I used to sell small bottles of hand sanitiser on the street outside Johannesburg’s largest Brothel when I was 5. The ladies would let me in to use the bathroom. It was breathtaking.

      At night, I used to lie awake in the cardboard box I shared with my family and dream of one day owning a house like that. The thick velvet curtains, the stylish pleather couches, the opulent gold spittoons. We’re not quite there yet (Tracy has her own, rather quaint ideas about interior design), but the smell is spot-on.

      And now you’ve left me feeling all nostalgic. Ah, those were the days. We were poor, but we were happy. Except for that one time when we had to eat the cat.

      • metan says:

        Interesting, I would have thought sanitizing only their hands would be the last thing on their mind after their visit.

        Glad to stir up happy memories of your childhood, perhaps you should have snatched one of the gold spittoons one day when you were visiting the bathroom to save having to eat the cat. How did it taste? A friend who lives in Vietnam recently recommended wrapping cat in bacon to make it taste less… catty…

      • 23thorns says:

        I was selling hand sanitiser, but I never asked whether they were using it to sanitise their hands.
        I’ve heard of that recipe. What you do is you stuff the cat with nutmeg, and wrap it in several layers of cured meat (smoked turkey on the inside, bacon on the outside, and whatever else you’ve got in between), and pop it in the oven to bake for a couple of hours.
        While it is baking, prepare a bed of roast potato, onion rings and couscous. When the dish is ready, take it out of the oven, throw away the cat, and serve. Because cat doesn’t taste like chicken.

  9. stillstrange says:

    I do believe your wife has got you beat. She is already selling! Perhaps rather then interfering, you should just create your own line and you can both either go into business together or have competing shops of sorts. Now, that sounds like fun. See, who can sell the most in the least amount of time. It could even become a reality show. Husband and Wife Shops Compete.

  10. Nylabluesmum says:

    Laughing, laughing, laughing….gasping for air!!!!!!!
    This is a good way to suffocate someone…..are you actually the Blogger Assassin??
    Need Oxygen…..STAT!!!!

  11. A Connoisseur of Life says:

    Hysterical. It takes quite a bit for the written word to make me laugh out amigo, and you sure did, several times. Congratulations, you’ve earned a nice shiny gold star in my book. Never stop writing.

    • 23thorns says:

      Wonderful! I must say that this couldn’t have come at a better time- I’m still reeling from the cost of fixing my car, and I need new shoes. Be sure to pop the gold star in a plain brown envelope- the postal service round here has very sticky fingers!

  12. cateberlin says:

    I was reading your words and hearing the voices from The Bugle Podcast, almost an impossibility. The highest compliment I can offer.

    • 23thorns says:

      I don’t know whether to feel honoured or insulted- I Google the Bugle Podcast, but the link was broken. For what it’s worth, I used to read my varsity textbooks in the voice of David attenborough. I passed, but was menaced by a wildebeest during my final exams.

  13. Carrie Sanders says:

    Justin, you are a chop – a funny chop (I’ll give you that) – and I support the divine Mrs S’s endeavours 110% 🙂

  14. becca3416 says:

    Haha! Just saying… be careful with all of those bath salts. I hear they are in high demand, and I don’t want anyone eating your face.

  15. lahgitana says:

    That’s nice that for tonight, you weren’t instead invited to the family car. Yaaay! A step up! However. Please do NOT elucidate about the special dog. Really. Don’t.

  16. *sigh* I’ve made a little creative space for you in which to nurture your “genius”; a family think-tank, if you will. I’ve set up the kids’ tent in the garden. I think that perhaps it’s better if you go straight there after work tonight. I am not cruel and unkind, so I have laid out the yoga mat for your convenience and comfort. I will also leave the “special” dog outside for company and warmth.

    Internet, weep for me that he categorised this in Love!

  17. kelloggs77 says:

    I didn’t think it could get better than the Love and Bacon post. But it did. My stomach hurts from laughing…bacon cures that, right?

  18. I… ah… words fail me.
    STILL laughing though.

  19. Love the story! But I think you should know what, in designing your manly fragrances, you are competing with:

    • 23thorns says:

      I think they’re on to something. And they don’t need to stick to modern military leaders: Ghengis Khan bath salts, Vlad the Impaler moisturiser, Attila the Hun lip balm. It’s marketing gold!

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