I was lighting the fire last night and it started me thinking about all the skills and knowledge our quite recent ancestors had that we no longer think we have a need for. We have lost so many skills that were once considered common knowledge and rely so heavily on appliances for our day-to-day comfort that the human race is doomed when Skynet takes over…. joking….mostly… 😉
I keep some wood next to the fireplace in my grandmothers washing copper so I don’t have to go outside at night and brave the nocturnal scurriers in the woodpile. I have been asked what it is and when I say it is a copper I am usually met with a blank look. I suspect that most people under a certain age think we humans went straight from living in caves and bashing our loincloths on rocks, to laundries, hot running water and washing machines. Some people remember them being used, but not many.
When I first got the copper from my Dad the kids asked what it was and how it worked. I got halfway through the explanation before they wandered off, bored. The only thing I have to know is the difference between jeans and t-shirts and smalls and how to measure the washing goo.
Back then washing was such an involved chore, and judging by the sheer volume of articles in the same vein as the one on the right, apparently quite dangerous.
These days the hardest thing is lugging the basket up to the washing line and pegging it out. Although for me the hardest thing is remembering to bring it in before dark, when the damp and spiders move in.
In the time of my coppers heyday my grandmother would have either made her own soap, or bought bars of soap, and then shaved it into flakes. I complain when it’s a rainy day and I can’t hang things on the line to dry (like today). Imagine how much I would whinge if I had to go through all the things they did instead of dumping dirty clothes into the machine and coming back 20 minutes later to find them magically transformed into clean and damp clothes. My Grandmother would have carted wood for the fire to heat the water, carted water to fill the copper stirred the washing with a big stick in the copper over a fire,scrubbed with a scrubbing board, wring by hand (unless they had a mechanical wringer). Rinse, and repeat. Carting water back and forth all day long for washes and rinses and more washes. Exhausting. My Dad even remembers he and his brothers being bathed in it as children, so it really sounds like the copper was seldom cold.
All that effort for just one chore that we consider only slightly annoying today. Now we push the button and walk away knowing the clothes will be clean when we go back to it. Can you imagine all the things needed to be done just to keep a house going for just one week 100 years ago? Bill Bryson, in his wonderful book At Home, makes the point that once people had servants for everything, that they had servants like we have appliances today. I suppose that those people surrounded by servants lived like we do now. There are things that need to be done, but it gets done for you so the knowledge of the doing disappears.
I think we should all try to learn to do something the hard way, appliance free. I’m not telling you to do it that way forever…god no…when my washing machine died recently did I drag the copper out into the garden and start carting water? No. I called a man in to fix it. But when Skynet becomes self-aware and we all have to resort to living in caves again…..