The other day I was sitting down for coffee with a very knowledgeable person whom I met at a Transition Palo Alto book group meeting. We got to talking about how much we rely on technology, to the point that it’s become invisible to us. He recommended that I watch a couple of videos about TV shows where families are put in a setting of “yesteryear” and then we all get to experience what it was like.
One of the series he recommended was done by the BBC and is called The 1900 House. The producers found an old house near London built around 1900, and they found an adventurous family with four kids willing to live according to the time period, and off they went. It’s really well done.
What I remember most from the series is the challenges that the family had with hot water. At first the vintage wood burning stove wasn’t working well enough to heat water for baths. So not wanting to wash in agua ambiente Anglaise, they just didn’t take baths for a while. And then when the hot water did finally function, they were extremely excited. It made me realize how easy it is to take readily available hot water for granted. And of course for many people in the world, it’s not something they can count on at all.
Another place where hot water came into play was in washing clothes. The mother of the family (since dad was at work, remember this is 1900) talked a lot about how much hard work, and how much time, it took to do the laundry by hand. They had to heat large buckets of water with wood fires, and then do a lot of scrubbing and pressing. Plus the soaps that were available in that era were terrible. By the way, do you know how to make good laundry soap? Neither do I. So next time you see your washing machine, say a quiet thank you.
The water theme continues in the one thing that the family did that was against the rules of the experiment. Imagine after all of the commitment to the show, the knowledge that the cameras are running, what could possible lead mom and daughter to finally break down and go around the rules? Shampoo. Basically there weren’t any good shampoo solutions in 1900, and so after trying numerous home remedies to have more comfortable hair, they finally snapped and went to a local drugstore.
It brings to mind that if you grew up without a luxury like shampoo, you don’t know what you’re missing, but once you’ve had it and gotten used to it, it’s hard to go without. The ladder of convenience and comfort is much easier to climb up than it is to climb down.