Tuesday 29 March 2011

The secret arts of housewifery - 1930's style

Myself and other bloggers were recently asked to take part in a challenge for Procter and Gamble to celebrate their 80th anniversary, and highlight the changing role of motherhood through the decades.

I'll apologise in advance - this promises to be quite a lengthy post but I really hope you'll stick with it and join me on my journey.  I really wanted to do this task justice, for a number of reasons.  It makes such a pleasant change as a blogger to be involved in something challenging and interesting, and the people at P&G couldn't have been more helpful and supportive. I also wanted it to be a learning experience for Ruby and for myself, and to bring about a greater understanding of how our grandmothers daily life would have been.

In exchange for reading this, I promise you will get so see some fairly horrendous pictures of me and my first shaky attempts at vlogging...

Outer Beauty

The first challenge began for me the night before.  People didn't tend to have showers back in the 1930's so I took myself off for a soak in the bath.  This coincided with Earth Hour, so I enjoyed it by candlelight.  Granted, it would have been nice to have some luxurious bubbles and hair products, but I had to make do with the solid bar of plain soap - both to wash myself and my hair.  Washing long hair in the bath is never easy, and after pouring many jugs of water over my head, it still didn't feel clean.

After my bath, I went downstairs where Mr 1930's kindly brushed it for me in front of the fire and I sat there until it was fairly dry.  Then it was time to tackle the rollers!  I'd looked on the internet to find out about thirties hair, and some of the techniques like finger waves and pin curls looked incredibly complicated, so I put the curlers in and hoped for the best!

I slapped on some cold cream, which smelt lovely and was silky soft.  Sadly I hadn't read the notes properly, and used it as a moisturiser rather than to help clean my face, so I did wake up with a bit of an oil slick going on on my skin.

After a frankly shocking night's sleep on my head full of curlers, I washed my face with soap and water, and cleaned my teeth with the pink toothpaste provided.  I actually quite liked the taste (I think it was Euthymol) but I did miss the familiar minty freshness.

Hilda Ogden eat your heart out

Next up was make-up.  Unfortunately my pink ivory face powder and rouge was missing from my pack, so I improvised with my own makeup, using powder, a little black mascara and a lovely dash of scarlet lipstick.  Getting dressed proved tricky. I live in jeans at home, but it was rare for a 1930's lady to wear trousers even, so I opted for a straight skirt, a blouse and some t-bar shoes.

The moment of truth...removing the rollers.  Oh my god! I looked like Shirley Temple (after sticking her fingers in a socket).  Nothing I could do would tame my unruly barnet.  I suspect the curls were too much of a shock for it after a lifetime of straightness, so I opted for a headscarf.  I did consider washing them out, but that would have meant another bath...

Ready, Steady, Cook

First challenge of the day was making a cuppa.  The water was boiled on the stove in a pan, and the tea was made from proper leaves in a teapot.  I really enjoyed this process throughout the day, and drank my tea from a proper cup and saucer.  I'm a tea monster, and usually drink about 10 cups a day, but making tea the old fashioned way meant although I drank considerably less, I enjoyed it more.

Breakfast was a hearty bowl of porridge. Ruby conceded that it smelt nice, but wouldn't be persuaded to try some.  I tried offering all kinds of '1930's alternatives' like boiled egg, bread, even cornflakes were around then, but she finally settled for some fruit.

No sooner had breakfast been consumed and cleared away, than I was thinking about starting lunch.  This was a bit of a theme to the day - it was punctuated and dictated by mealtimes.  The lunch menu suggested butternut squash soup, but I wanted to make bread rolls to go with it, so as soon as the clearing up was done, myself and Ruby got on with making and kneading the bread dough.

The soup tasted amazing, and both myself and Mr 1930's loved it.  Interesting that I would usually have whipped out my blender to make it - I'd never have considered squishing it through a sieve!

The bread rolls came out pretty well too, although we didn't get to eat lunch until about 2pm - clearly I should have started earlier!  Ruby refused the soup, so she had a roll with cheese and Mr 1930's got a jar of Branston pickle out and took delight in telling me it has been 'made from the same recipe since 1922 - Ha!'.

Again, pretty soon after the lunch was cleared away, it was time to think about preparing the dinner.  We were having 'Scotch Hotpot' which took 2 hours to cook in the oven.  I was fairly apprehensive about it as it had beef steak and pork sausages in - I don't think I've ever eaten a casserole with beef and pork in.  The addition of tomatoes as per the recipe didn't do a lot for me either, but I think I'd call it a success - the recipe served 4 and the whole pot was consumed by myself, Mr 1930's and Ruby, along with some green beans.

I might try making this again - but maybe just with pork sausages and apple. At least as it was a slow cook recipe, it allowed me 2 hours to get on with my chores!

It was also nice to all sit down together at the table. We are guilty of not eating together as often as we should.

I don't consider that we eat a lot of convenience foods (if you don't count the odd takeaway and restaurant meal!), but it made me realise that products we don't even consider to be 'convienience' like teabags, sliced bread, instant coffee and spreadable butter can all be done without.

Much as I enjoy cooking, I never cook three meals a day from scratch - breakfast for Ruby is typically a bowl of cereal (I usually do without), lunch would be a sandwich or something-on-toast, and I will cook our evening meal.  Making everything from scratch certainly takes a lot of organisation and planning - something I'm not great at.

It's worth noting, that I didn't feel hungry or snack at all throughout the day, despite probably using up far more calories that I usually do.  Which makes me think I either snack through boredom, or a hearty bowl of Scottish oats really does set you up for the day.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

All this cooking resulted in a lot of washing up.  Sadly, the dishwasher was not an option, not indeed was a generous squirt of Fairy Liquid.  The pots and pans had to be washed in the sink with the dubious assistance of some solid lemon soap and a metal scourer.

It really was an arduous task, and the end result was smeary, greasy dishes.  Ruby liked to help, as she does with anything connected with water.

The vaguely clean dishes were left on the drainer to dry.  After this challenge I've decided I wouldn't want to live without washing-up liquid (or better still, my dishwasher).

Dirty Laundry

Boy was this a fag!  I'll let the video tell you more, but at the end of this I nearly ran out to the outhouse and kissed my washing machine!  Apologies about the over-enthusiastic director!

I only attempted a couple of bits, Lord alone knows how they coped with large items like bedsheets and towels.

How Clean is your House

I'm a bit of a lazy cleaner as it goes - a 'spray and wipe' kinda gal, so I found this challenge really interesting.  I used bicarb to clean the sink and it came up sparkly and gleaming - I even did the fizzy trick with bicarb and vinegar to clean down the plug hole. 

Cleaning the floors was something of a revelation.  I'm ashamed to say I couldn't find my broom anywhere - I always use the hoover, even though we have hard floors throughout downstairs.  So to do the kitchen floor, I was on my hands and knees with the dustpan and brush.  I'd only cleaned the floor the previous morning, and was quite shocked to see the amount of debris I swept up - you don't get to see this when you vacuum so it was a bit of an eye-opener!

Then the floor was mopped in a solution of hot water, lemon juice and bicarb.  I was quite dubious of this - I thought it would leave the floor sticky.  But it absolutely didn't.  It smelt divine and cleaned the grime a treat (bear in mind Mr 1930s had been gardening all day, hence the amount of muck, but still, as I'd only done it the day before, I was amazed at the colour of the water - yuck!)

There are certain cleaning products I wouldn't want to do without, but I'll happily continue using lemon and bicarb to clean my floors.  I must also locate my broom and use that more to sweep the floors than vacuum - although I draw the line at taking my rugs outdoors and whacking them with a carpet-beater!

I ran out of time to clean the windows with vinegar and newspaper, but I'm pretty sure even a 1930's housewife didn't clean them everyday!

There was time for a little light dusting with my favourite ostrich feather duster and that was me done!

Batteries not Included

This was, without a doubt the hardest part of the day!  Trying to keep a toddler entertained without the use of modern-day toys, TV or computer was a real challenge.  At first I thought, no problem, we'll just go out - to the park, to feed the ducks... But in reality there wasn't enough time to do all the chores and go out with her.

The toys that were provided (wooden blocks, a teddy, a yo-yo and a book) didn't hold her imagination for long.  The yo-yo was instantly swung around her head in imminent danger of smashing the window or garroting her, so that was swiftly removed!  The wooden blocks were played with for all of 5 minutes, as was the teddy.  These toys I'm sure would all be fine if I could have sat for hours with her.

So instead, she helped me, and we kept her busy kneading the bread dough, helping with the washing-up, mopping and dusting.  We were also lucky it was a beautiful day so she was in and out of the garden helping Daddy to do the digging - I think they were digging for victory!

We did manage to find some time while the dinner was cooking to read books and play board games, but I think in all honesty she missed her dose of Cbeebies!

She did thoroughly enjoy the day, and loved doing things 'like Nanny did'.  She rushed into nursery the next day and told them that she'd been in 'the olden days' and babbled quite excitedly about all the things we'd done.

All in all, it's been a great experience. I've discovered things I don't want to live without - the computer, washing machine, washing-up liquid, shampoo and showers, and things I probably could manage ok if I used less of - floor cleaner, the hoover, teabags, my electric blender...

I'd like to say a massive thank you to Procter and Gamble for the opportunity, all the materials they sent to do the challenge and the video camera.

Happy Birthday P&G!


  1. What an enjoyable read! I must admit I now want to throw away my mugs and reach out the cups & saucers to drink real tea in! Not so keen on having to revert to washing by hand though!

  2. well done you, reminds me of when i was little and my mum used to let me play 'the dusting game!'. a cunning plan on her part if ever there was one. do give us more details of how you used the bicar/vinigar/lemon etc for cleaning, i'd like to give it a try!

  3. Thank you!!

    For cleaning the floors (I didn't quite follow the instructions - told you I was lazy! But it worked), I put hot/boiling water in mop bucket, sprinkled in 2 tablespoons of bicarb and squeezed juice of half a lemon. Then I put the half lemon in the wringer part so everytime I squeezed the mop, I was squeezing out more lemon juice - genius or what! It worked a treat and I'm going to adopt it now.

    To clean the sink, sprinkle dry bicarb on the sink & drainer. Leave for a minute or two then polish with a damp cloth. Wipe and rinse (and I put a squeeze of lemon on too to make it smell nice!).

    To clean plug hole - sprinkle bicarb down then pour a little vinegar over so it fizzes. Leave to work until fizzing stops then rinse away.


  4. Fab post, sounds like fun but very hard work.
    I applaud you for taking this on, I'm not sure I'd want to!
    I love your mirror in your hallway.

  5. Well Done Lizzie! Fabulous post and really interesting read. I remember my Nan putting her curlers in every night, I loved watching her ritual in the mornings of un-twining every curl. It's only been the last 10 yrs that she hasn't been doing it anymore. I actually think your hair looked fab with your curls and head scarf...very retro x

  6. Thank you! Mel, thanks for the comment on my mirror - I love it too :0)

    Hi The Syders, thanks for reading, I know it's a long one! I actually did quite like my hair once I'd got the scarf on! I may do it again x

  7. I've loved visiting the 1930's posts, you've all had quite a different take on it. Although the laundry seems to have been the common bug bear. I loved your hair too! I was very grateful at the weekend when I was doing my cleaning that I had all my mod cons.

  8. I'm so impressed with your rollers! Looks like you had a good day, despite the hard graft. The Director was quite good too ;-)

  9. I've just written up my post too. I found it really hard!
    Love the rollers and the washboard, my mum has got a glass one like that :)

  10. wow...you look amazing! I sooo love you. What ever you do it's faultless.... Those photos are just fab! Loving the Vlogging too! Very brave!

    Really, really interesting. P&G - Great idea!!

  11. Good on you! I think you look amazing in the 1930s style - it really suits you! All those curls and that vampy red lipstick!!!! x

  12. You did a fab job with your hair, you look very glam! The black and white pics are fab, especially the kitchen one; great fridge.
    I really enjoyed reading this, sounds like you had a great day. Actually, apart from the handwashing and lemon floor cleaner it sounds pretty much like mine ha ha.

    Will Ruby get to play with her feather duster again? :)

  13. Thanks everyone!! Jax - I used to wear scarlet red lipstick every single day. I haven't done it in years and it was good to have it back!!

    Tracey, You're so funny! If you know any nice eligible batchelors - as a 1930's woman I would def want to marry well and be an upstairs girl not a downstairs one!

    Fran, Thanks! Ruby loves to do the 'dustering', sadly, she's not all that effective :0(

  14. Wow! Hats off to you lovely (or should I say head scarf?!)

    I couldn't have done it with my two littlies- I'd have gone bonkers without my blender, my iPhone, my musical toys & my touché éclat!

    Tell you what though- it's made me respect my nannies a whole load more than I did before (and I respected them gazzillions before now!)

    I'm calling my Nanna's today to tell her exactly how wonderful I think they are!

  15. Great post. Can't believe you had a washboard already, you little magpie you! You really seem to have embraced this idea. I love your hair, by the way!

  16. Wonderful post, I take so much for granted, if we didn't have all these labour-saving items there'd be no time for blogging, this post has made me thankful for my free time.

    Your hair looked great, I think I need a little 1930s glamour in my life, perhaps a day in the 1930s wouldn't be so bad after all although I draw the line at the washboard!

  17. This was really interesting to read and well done you glad the day went well.
    Washing by hand actually reminds me of my mil who lives in tunisia and still washes everything by hand .... it always facinates our daughter when she sees her nan with a big bowl of water doing the washing in the courtyard lol
    As for you missing twitter the most hehe i dont think i could go a day without my daily dose of twitter etc :)

  18. Outstanding effort Lizzie! Really impressive. And you do look gorgeous...you could go Back to the Future any day! Well done you! ;)


  19. Blimey! That must have really been an eye-opener. Not sure I'd want to try doing everything 1930s style, although I do use bicarb and vinegar in my plug holes and I clean the windows with vinegar and newspaper. Nothing brings them up as nice as that. I'll have to try the hot water, bicarb and lemon on the floor thing :)

  20. I have to say 1930's style suits you. How come you have your own washboard? are you in a skiffle band? I loved the whole experiance.

  21. Lovely to meet you last night and love your take on the challenge - nice headscarf! :)

  22. Wow, well done. A fantastic post, loved the videos. I think we'll give the floor cleaning a go, sounds great! I tend to use bicarb and vinegar on my bathroom tiles and it works really well (but smells like a chip shop for days afterwards).xx

  23. Fabulous! So lucky that Ruby could help you out - we used to help our mum out with the cleaning too. I can't wait until Leon's old enough for that. For the moment he just takes laundry out of the machine... Which was what I missed the most on this challenge!

  24. Really fascinating! Thoroughly enjoyed hearing about your day. The washboard looked awful though, yay for washing machines and dishwashers! It was interesting to hear about the old cleaning solutions and might try using bicarb and lemon! Seems more environmentally friendly than the usual stuff. Must have taken you forever to complete all of this and type it up! Congrats on the Vlogging, you're v brave, lol!

  25. Lizzie! How fantastic, you even look like a real 1930's sexy mummy in your red lipstick. I loved this post, so detailed and well written and as always, life in the 1930's had children too , always wanting a drink ! ha!
    I LOVE IT! Hope P & G appreciate all the effort you put in.
    I use bicarb, vinegar and lemon a lot these days, I found a wealth of uses for it from my cabbabges and roses book.
    Well done you xxx

  26. What a fascinating post! I think it would be fun to live in 'olden days' (as Ruby says) but it does look like hard work! In spite of your comments to the contrary, I think you look very 30s in your headscarf and apron...

  27. Really loved this post and your videos - well done you in doing the challenge, you do look a bit tired at the end of the day, I was willing you to down the sherry in one and rip off your headscarf and relax! xx