I’m fascinated by psychology, mental health and self-improvement, but I’ve always felt slightly ambivalent about self-help books – with my attitude generally falling somewhere between intrigued and cynical.
When Neil Hughes first contacted me about his book, he managed to appeal to the former and, as I read Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life: A Guide for Anxious Humans , I realised his writing is informed by a similar self-help cynicism to my own. The result is something endearingly down to earth: Walking on Custard is a self-help book for people who don’t really like self-help books.
Walking on Custard draws deeply on Neil’s life and personality: his experiences of anxiety and self-doubt, his many adventures and misadventures, his cheeky sense of humour, and his loves of physics and sci-fi – and yet, despite this, manages to avoid becoming a book about Neil Hughes.
Hughes’ Guide for Anxious Humans blends accessible physics analogies (including the eponymous non-newtonian custard) with silly fiction, entertaining anecdotes, witty footnotes, thoughtful exercises, shedloads of humour, and an enormous amount of wisdom. All this is peppered throughout by the self-deprecating voices in Neil’s heads, most notably his inner critic, who is both intensely irritating and completely relatable.
(Neil, I have to admit at this point that my own inner critic has been giving me an awful lot of grief about how long it’s taken me to read and review your book – sorry!)
Hughes’ down to earth, sometimes silly, humour and self-deprecation make him an ideal guide through the journey Walking on Custard takes you on; approachable, honest, empathic and human. This isn’t a self-help book written by a self-proclaimed expert, and that’s actually a big part of its strength. It’s well-informed, well-researched (including a ‘Further reading for anyone interested’ section) but it’s also written from the heart, by someone with first-hand experience of everything he describes.
As a guide for anxious humans, Walking on Custard covers a lot of ground – from the big, existential issues like death and the meaning of life, to the more everyday challenges like self-awareness and personal ‘monkeys’, relationships with others, and plenty more besides. At times it’s a bit ‘blokey’, but so many of his experiences and insights struck a chord with me, and it’s clearly a book that has a lot to offer anxious humans everywhere. It’s inspiring without being over-ambitious; challenging without being preachy; insightful without making you cringe (too much!); and funny without being dismissive.
In short, Hughes manages to achieve what many self-help books lack: warmth, humour, and relatablity, but without compromising on wisdom, insight, and practical, useful advice. If nothing else, it’s helped me picture my own anxiety as a giant swimming pool full of custard – and it’s remarkable how much that loosens its hold on you.