Saturday, 19 July 2008

Returning to my mother's time?

A general view of our inglenook and the Hergom stove and some of my bits and bobs including the big copper pans, cast iron kettle (in use for hot water in winter) and brass preserving pan.

My "indulgence" arrived today, a cheap book from Amazon - one originally published several years back to accompany the tv series, "Frontier House" which I missed. However, I could see through the book how it all panned out between the families. I had this book on long-term loan from a friend and only reluctantly returned it! Now I have my own copy, and hope it will be helpful in the preparation of travelling back in time, away from our current over-reliance on oil, electricity etc - we don't have gas here. In fact we don't even have mains water or drainage. Having our own water supply is a good thing, as we are less reliant upon the powers that be and don't pay water rates. Many farmsteads in our neck of the woods have their own water supply. One of our neighbours has never had an electricity supply and always been off-grid as the cost of connecting electricity to his property was estimated at £14,000 20 years back! They rely on a whacking big generator. Electricity didn't arrive to this area until the 1950s. . . .

I think back to when I was growing up in the 1950s, and we had no fridge, just a zinc meat safe in the larder, and the cheese was always a bit sweaty in the summer, with a dry rind to it, and butter soon went rancid. Mum kept the milk from turning by keeping it cool in a pan of cold water. Shopping was done daily - from necessity - and mum didn't keep a store cupboard as I do. There were four private small grocery shops, a hardware store which also sold wool, childrens' books, toiletries on one side, and a small Co-op within a short walk.

Of course, there was no washing machine either, and we had a "copper" in the corner of the scullery and of course, Monday was washing day. Stuff to be boiled first - sheets and towels, and then progressively through the less heat-tolerant clothing until you ended up with woollens last. Mum had a clip-on mangle which attached to one end of the enamel-topped table in the kitchen.

I've been thinking - how would I cope if we had no oil - if the cost really was SO prohibitive we couldn't afford any central heating? Well, we would have to change our Hergom stove back to solid fuel, so as we no longer have the ratcheted grate for it, we would have to botch up a grate on bricks to support it to the right height. We would have to source a large quantity of seasoned wood or pay the going rate for anthracite. We have about half an acre of our own woodland, plus plenty of streamside and hedgerow trees on our land, which we could harvest for fuel, but would have to wait for it to season. Our current supplies of seasoned wood might just last the winter if it wasn't too bad a one. The kitchen would be dustier, and a big chunk of the day would be taken by cutting up wood for it, to keep the woodshed supply topped-up. It would, however, give me oven cooking again, though a roast would be out of the question unless the stove was seriously stoked up to temperature. It would give us a warm room though, dry clothes (we use two Betty Maids hung from the beams to dry clothes on) and I could cook on and in it. (I currently just make soups and stews on the top). Plus it would supply the hot water and we could boil water on top for tea, washing up etc. We've never had a tumble drier, always the Betty Maids instead. We tend to live in the kitchen throughout the year anyway, just going into the sitting room in the evening to watch tv/do crafts (me) and we have a wood burning stove in there, which would also provide room on top to cook stuff to cut the electricity bill.

Downstairs, where we have another inglenook, even bigger than the one pictured above, we have an old Art Nouveau enamelled stove, which is about to undergo some renovation (mainly a new ash pan soldered to the pretty front of the old one) and have a pipe attached from it to the main flue pipe, a quick clean up and we have a wood/anthracite burner for the bottom kitchen, which was mum's but is now my husband's workshop for his woodworking.

Life wouldn't be so easy, and I would rather have a nice warm house and not the same struggle to keep warm as we experienced when we first moved here 20 years ago, but we would manage, with a few extra layers of clothing! I can remember having to go to bed fully clothed when I was first married (my previous husband) and we had tied accommodation which was so cold and damp.

I will leave you with a quote from the Glenn family, writing in the Frontier House book, which fairly sums it up for me - she was talking of their embarking on the hardship of pioneer living and leaving their past lives behind:

"I just walked by and heard the families talking about the rations, and I understand their anxieties, but what are they thinking? It was not a soft, easy time, it was a struggle, cruel and mean. But it was a good struggle. That's what brings a family together. Families aren't made of good times. They are made out of struggles, hardship, and pain and doing without. There are a lot of things I would have liked to have had. I do not have a sunbonnet, which any sound Southern woman would have brought. But there is a difference between what you want and what you need. In our life we are used to getting what you want."

Those last two sentences say it all for me and how things will probably be in the future. Reports of gas bills increasing by a staggering 66% in the near future must be very frightening for people in modern houses, reliant on gas, and with no fireplaces. There will be a lot of hardship.

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