Despite not being a lover of housework, I love housework books. The bossier they are, the better. Suggested budgets, methods of cleaning, and daily routines fascinate me. Recently I decided to step out of my normal work-from-home routine and test that of a vintage housewife.
My choice was a daily routine from a book “Understanding Homemaking” by Margaret Picton published by Blackie in 1976. Forty-one years ago is not that long ago. But as I started my own homemaking days in the early 2000s, far enough away to provide contrast.
In chapter twelve a timetable is outlined as “an example of a day in the life of Mrs Brown, who has two young school children”. I have no children, so was thinking this shouldn’t be too taxing, as I already have less work to do than Mrs Brown. I ran my eye down the routine the night before, when I noticed it doesn’t tell you when to wash and get dressed.
Presumably that was to be done before the timetable begins. I set my alarm for 7am but I imagine Mrs Brown’s children would probably wake her earlier than that.
7.30 – 8.45: By the book: Prepare Breakfast. Get family ready for school / work. Take children to school.
7.30 – 8.45: My experience: I am miraculously dressed and in the kitchen. I sneaked out of bed while Mister Deadpan was still asleep, washed and got dressed. I decided to wear my normal sort of outfit, a dress, leggings, jumper and coatigan. I did manage to put the dress on back-to-front the first time round. I am not a morning person. Our normal morning routine features the alarm going off at 7.30 and Mister Deadpan making me a coffee and bringing it up for me to drink in bed. We came to this arrangement after several years of marriage. He brings me coffee – in exchange, it is always my turn to put the rubbish out.
I am supposed to be preparing breakfast. I don’t eat breakfast, unless you count the coffee. Mister Deadpan normally eats a bowl of cereal while looking out of the kitchen window. I decide I should make more of an effort and am contemplating what to make when Mister Deadpan appears. He woke up to find me not in bed and thought there was something seriously wrong. I explain the experiment, suggest I make him some porridge and that he should go do “whatever seventies men did”. He looks pretty happy about this. I cook porridge, think about Jane Eyre having to eat the burnt stuff and keep stirring.
It is 7.40 and the porridge is ready but Mister Deadpan is in the shower. I leave the porridge on the table and make him a packed lunch. I pack him a Roquefort sandwich, the last slice of Christmas cake and some nuts. I make myself a coffee and sit down to drink it with him when he finally appears. He claims the porridge is not cold, and refuses my offer to heat it up in the “science oven”. He looks at the routine I am about to follow. “You are going to bake?” Yes. I’d noticed that too. Baking is more Mister Deadpan’s department. I normally bake once a year, on his birthday. A practice he’s trying to put an end to.
He goes off to work and I start the dishes early. Normally I would put most things in the dishwasher but today I do it by hand. Just as well I started early, my slow morning brain takes forever.
8.50 – 9.15: By the book: Wash the breakfast dishes. Make the beds.
8.50 – 9.15: My experience: When I do wash up by hand I normally leave things to drip dry. Today I use a tea towel, put them all away and clean the sink. Usually when I do housework I listen to an audiobook on my iphone. This doesn’t feel like it fits into my seventies day so I play Abba’s Voulez -vous album on the record player instead. Later I notice this wasn’t released until 1979 so I couldn’t have heard it in 1976.
In the book, there is a “simple way” to make beds outlined with twelve steps. As we slept with a duvet, it is significantly less than twelve steps for me, but I put a bedspread on and the three cushions which are Mister Deadpan’s delight and my loathing.
9.15 – 10.30: By the book: Do the daily cleaning of all the rooms.
9.15 – 10.30: My experience: The daily cleaning outlined in the book is handily listed:
- Hall / Landing / Stairs – Tidy, vacuum carpet if necessary, dust all wooden surfaces.
- Bedrooms – Open the window, vacuum if necessary, tidy all clothes away, dust windowsill, furniture and ornaments.
- Bathroom / Lavatory – Open window, wipe over windowsill, check there is enough soap and toilet paper, put towels straight and toiletries away, brush round the lavatory and flush, rinse out wash basin, wipe over taps, check that bath is clean, dust and sprinkle disinfectant down wash basin, bath and lavatory, wipe floor over with damp cloth.
- Living room / Dining room – Clean the grate and light the fire, dust windowsill, furniture and ornaments, tidy the room, straighten cushions, remove old papers, empty ashtrays, check flowers, vacuum carpet if necessary, dust any surrounds.
- Kitchen – Put all food away, tidy up, empty the kitchen bin, wipe over all working surfaces, wipe over windowsill, mop the floor if necessary.
Max Boyce on the record player. Each room requires “vacuuming if necessary”. Of course it’s necessary. This is another job that is normally Mister Deadpan’s department. I feel proud that I manage to find the Dyson but I can’t seem to get it to stay standing up. It also has an obsession with trying to pull the hair off my head through the nozzle. I begin to vacuum and realise how cluttered my house is. By 9.30 I am hot and itchy and the coatigan and jumper have come off despite the fact it’s January and I have no heating on.
If I’m honest, the dusting, vacuuming and emptying bins in our house happens weekly not daily. Dusting daily seems like there is no chance for the dust to build up, which I suppose is the point. Some things are easier for me than in the book. We have a gas fire, so dusting and lighting it takes no time at all. I put it out straight after though, because I am still too hot. We don’t smoke, so there are no ashtrays to empty. I’m pretty sure the Dyson is better than a seventies vacuum and it makes quick work of our mess. But the dusting is tedious. I find myself shaking a duster outside the bedroom window and wonder if my neighbours will think it’s a cry for help.
I get quite into it though and overrun by 10 minutes before I realise it’s coffee break time. The house is looking spick and span. I am pretty impressed at what I’ve managed to achieve in an hour and a half.
10.30 -10.45: By the book: Coffee break (read the newspaper).
10.40 -10.55: My experience: I don’t have a newspaper because I normally read news articles online. The closest thing I have is a National Trust newsletter so I read that. I discover that one of the carpets in Saltram House weighs fifty stone. Who vacuums that, I wonder?
10.45 -11.30: By the book: Do a weekly cleaning task.
10.55 – 11.30: My experience: James Taylor on the record player. There are nine weekly cleaning tasks listed in the book.
Two of them are a) and b), the others are listed 1-7. This confuses me, and I am confused further that none of them are laundry. I normally do a load of laundry every day but presumably Mrs Brown gets up early on a Monday and does this at four in the morning or something. I plump for window washing as our window cleaner came and did the outsides the other day and it would be nice to clean the insides to match. There are several methods listed, none of which are vinegar, which is my normal choice. I opt for methylated spirits on a damp cloth as we have some left over from camping.
The meths does a great job. It’s quick and not smeary. A paint drip which has been on the conservatory doors for seven years disappears with a little scrub. A delivery man knocks on the door and I sign for a parcel worrying that I smell like meths. Did I mention we have a conservatory? That’s a lot of glass but the meths is so speedy I get through that and every window, mirror and glass door in the house in perfect time.
11.30 -12.00: By the book: Prepare lunch for the family.
11.30 -12.00: My experience: I will be eating lunch alone and bread and cheese and cup a soup is not going to take half an hour to prepare. (Yes, they did have Cup a Soup in the seventies – I checked.) I have been getting all itchy because I haven’t checked my emails, and what if someone has bought something in the shop? I can’t let my customers down! I decide to cheat and have a quick look on my smartphone. I scan down the inbox. No sales, but there is an email from Mister Deadpan headed “What are you doing! They did not have emails in the 70s” I close my phone, feel guilty and prepare lunch.
12.00 – 1.00: By the book: Have lunch. Clear away. See children back to school.
12.00 – 1.00: My experience: I eat lunch, then wash and dry up the dishes. I have some free time so I spend it looking at recipe books and panicking about what to bake.
1.00 – 2.15: By the book: Do some baking. Wash up.
1.00 – 2.15: My experience: I have decided to make bourbon biscuits from a Marguerite Pattern book.
It says ten minutes preparation and ten to fifteen minutes cooking time, so I should be able to fit that into an hour and fifteen surely? I have a real fear of baking. Cooking I am very comfortable with, baking, no. When other people do it, it seems like magic to me, turning goop into food. I follow the instructions but panic when I see the word beat. Does Marguerite mean whisk? She should explain which tool to use for dummies like me.
Miraculously, I get to the stage where you put them in the oven. It says ten to fifteen minutes. I have no idea how to tell if they are done as they are brown when you put them in. The scientist in me makes two batches, cooks one batch for ten minutes and the other for fifteen. While they are cooking I make chocolate butter cream. I wash up as they cool, sandwich them together and dry up all the dishes. The ten minute ones look better than the fifteen minute ones, but I am impressed I managed to make anything edible at all. If you want the recipe and instructions, shout and I’ll blog about it.
2.15 – 3.15: By the book: Free time (spent in the garden or doing dressmaking).
2.15 – 3.15: My experience: It feels mean that neither option for my free time is reading. It is January and it is raining. The garden does not look a very appealing option. I do not have any dressmaking projects on the go at the moment and am reluctant to start one. I get out my mending basket and sewing machine and put on an Elton John record.
By the end of the hour I’ve mended a nightie and a pair of leggings and reinforced all the raggy edges of Mister Deadpan’s favourite sports towel.
3.15 – 4.00: By the book: Plan meals for the following day. Do the shopping. Meet the children from school.
3.15 – 4.00: My experience: I am cooking a complicated meal tomorrow so I dig out the recipe book, take some meat out to defrost and check the larder. I do not have enough eggs. I walk to the corner shop to buy a box. I don’t have any children to meet from school but presumably I would be a bit late if I did as there are quite a few in the corner shop.
4.05 – 4.30: By the book: Unpack shopping. See to the needs of the children.
4.05 – 4.30: My experience: It does not take very long to unpack the eggs and I have no children to see to. I rebel and read a book.
4.30 – 5.00: By the book: Prepare evening meal.
4.30 – 5.00: My experience: I usually enjoy cooking the evening meal but today I feel very reluctant to go into the kitchen. Perhaps because of the baking, perhaps because I’ve already done three lots of washing and drying up today. I menu planned at the beginning of the week and stir fry doesn’t sound very seventies but I’m going to cook it anyway. This is another time I would be listening to my audio book. I put on a Who / Jimi Hendrix album and cheer up a bit while I chop the kale.
5.00 – 6.15: By the book: Have evening meal. Clear the table. Wash the dishes. Watch the news on television.
5.00 – 6.15: My experience: Presumably I’m supposed to eat this meal with just the imaginary children. Mr Brown wouldn’t be home at 5pm I assume. Mister Deadpan will not be home until 5.45 and so I get the stir fry to a point where it can sit staying warm while I wash up again. Once 5.45 hits, he is not home and I am really hungry. We don’t normally eat until seven or so, so the housework has given me an appetite. At 5.55 he arrives home and I make him eat dinner immediately. I’ve made quite a lot of stir fry but we manage to eat it all. We watch the news on the BBC. There is a sad story about baby chimps and I don’t like it. I suppose when you read news online, you pick the things you want to hear about.
Mister Deadpan notices the bourbon biscuits, eats two and says they are delicious. I have no desire to eat one. I wash up and dry the dishes and Mister Deadpan claims he feels weird about me washing up after I have cooked but five minutes later says he could get used to this.
6.15 – 7.30: By the book: See to the children. Games. Bath. Bedtime story.
6.15 – 7.30: My experience: I’m bored of saying I don’t have children. Mister Deadpan and I decide the closest thing is to dig out a board game. He chooses scrabble.
7.30 – 9.45: By the book: Free time (reading, knitting, watching television, attending evening classes, etc.)
7.30 – 9.45: My experience: The scrabble overruns and Mister Deadpan wins by ten points.
Though I am feeling happy because I got to spell the word “tit”. In the bird sense, obviously. I get the knitting out and ask Mister Deadpan to find something seventies to watch on TV. He finds an episode of M.A.S.H. I’ve never watched it before, it seems corny but okay.
We turn over to see Yes Minister which I much prefer but I don’t realise until the next day that this was eighties not seventies. I want to google who did the caricatures but google hasn’t been invented yet. (I’ve now googled, it was Gerald Scarfe.)
9.45 – 10.15: By the book: Prepare light snack. Clear away. Lay the table for breakfast.
9.45 – 10.15: My experience: Mister Deadpan turns down the offer of a snack. I have a glass of milk.
I wash the glass up and dry it and put it away. In the utility room there are now nine dirty cloths and eight sopping wet tea towels. I put a single spoon out ready for Mister Deadpan’s cereal tomorrow.
10.15: By the book: Go to bed.
10.15: My experience: My normal bedtime is about 11.30pm but today I do feel pretty tired. I worry about baby chimps for ten minutes or so and then fall asleep. It’s been a busy day.
Afterwards, Mister Deadpan asks if I would do the day again. Maybe, but I would probably use the dishwasher. Though I think I will start drying up the non-dishwashable things by hand as it does make the kitchen look so much neater when they are put away immediately. I think in my world, tasks seem to take up either fifteen minutes or a whole afternoon. I am enlightened to how much you can get done in an hour and fifteen minutes. In one day I speed-cleaned the whole house, washed all the windows, baked biscuits, mended clothing, knitted, read, cooked dinner, played scrabble, watched one episode of M.A.S.H. and two of Yes Minister, went to the corner shop and listened to five records. I don’t think I could have done it without the records.