Monday last week was a tough day, our second full day at Kentwell Hall. I got up in the morning when tigerboy woke me around six I think, and had pottered about getting organised. (I say pottered. It’s more of a routemarch to the toilet than a potter, given it’s a good two minutes walk up a hill. Yes, I timed it.) It wasn’t until Small was putting on his hose to go up for breakfast that I realised they’d come apart from front to back and needed mending. We have but one pair, so he was whisked off in mufti to hide away til I could bring them mended.
Which meant once I’d mended them, I had basket, toddler and babe to manage on my own in kirtle and all from little Melford. It’s not a particularly long walk, but it’s long enough when you’re laden down and dressed in heavy clothing. And a kirtle definitely classes as heavy clothing, if you don’t believe me, you should try it. Once I’d retrieved and dressed Small, we made it to where we should be, and I tried to deposit Tigerboy for a nap in the cott. (Not a miss spelling, I’m referring to the bed in the cottage, where he’d slept several hours the day before.) He wouldn’t settle though, and was returned to me just in time to do explosively disastrous things through his nappy, nappy cover, shift and kirtle. Not a major problem in the modern world but rather more difficult if you’re camping (no washing machine) and don’t have an appropriate change of clothes (no second kirtle for reenactment). And while I was trying to work out how to deal with him, I was chased over some details on my own dress, which needed dealing with, but were at the bottom of my immediate pile of problems.
That was the proverbial last straw, and I returned to my place of work and sobbed on someone’s shoulder while holding Tigerboy wrapped in my pinner and a blanket.
All trivial problems in reality, but not easy to solve in the situation I was in. (Solve them I did, after a fashion and with help from friends, but that is a tale for another day.) It all made me think about another story I heard recently.
It was the story of a woman who had injured herself, and couldn’t water her garden. She’s a member of a gardening club, and the thing that I wondered about at the time was if it’s a club, how come the other women didn’t help her, but let her crops fail? It’s the obvious question. The answer is they did, for a few days, but then couldn’t do it any more. Because we aren’t talking about a little lawn and a few flower beds, something pretty and a nice place to sit. We’re talking about something rather larger than an allotment, that has no tap on it, that you have to fetch water for, and water regularly in baking heat.
When every chore is done by hand, when everything you have you must grow or make or barter for yourself and you’ve no one else to help, when you can’t just leap in a car and drive to an easier way of life (like I’ve done this evening because Small and Smallest needed a break). Can you imagine living like that? You wouldn’t be able to take on someone else’s garden as well as your own, you’ve got all on to make ends meet for yourself. And the basket that I’ve been carrying every day that has to have everything in it that I need for myself and four children has given me a little perspective on another world I think. By the time it has a little food in it to keep hungry children going until pottage is called, some items for mending or sewing (all goodly women are always busy with their hands, and with four children there’s always something that needs mending or making), some new nether clouts (clothes for wrapping the rear end of a child!) and diverse clouts for sundry uses, there’s little room for anything else. We’ve no power supply so our technology has travelled back through time and must be cared for but is of little use. There are no light switches in a tent – when the sun goes down we go to bed, when it rises we get up. (Yes, we’ve got torches, but we’re eking out battery life, bear with me here.) It’s a simpler way of life we’re emulating, and lots of what we must do is simpler and harder at the same time. It wakes you up, makes you think about life differently when you can’t just pick up a phone to find out where someone is, or when a toilet trip is a difficult hike through mud and rain.
I never thought that reenactment would teach me things about myself and the wider world around me, but it has. I’m hoping I can share it with you too.