Raising a family off-grid requires very careful planning
Living without mains utilities is not easy. If you have children fine tuning your timetable saves a good deal of grief. Granny Spear Explains how she ran her home to make the best of what time she had.
There’s no doubt in my mind that having electricity is the one thing that would have improved my life. Having mains water would have been fantastic but the ‘lectricity would have been better.
Without the mains water wash day, always a Monday would have still been difficult, but with mains electricity cleaning the house, ironing, and even having a spinner to get the water out of the washing would have saved hours and hours each week. Most of all though it wold have given me more flexibility over the way I did things and when I did them.
Mending for example is very, very difficult in lamplight, as is knitting and crochet with dark colour wools. Because of that these things were best done during natural daylight, and when you have so many other things that take a good deal of time and effort something often gets missed out.
My day started at five in the morning, putting water on to boil for a cup of tea and making packed lunches for Ernie and the children that were at school. If it was wash day I would put a light under the copper that Ernie and the boys had filled the night before…that would be the only main task that day as laundry took so long. Whilst the water was heating, which took a couple of hours I would prepare vegetables and put them in a pan with leftover meal from our Sunday lunch the day before. Potatoes would go in a separate pan as they took less time to cook. That would be our evening meal on a Monday.
The children would bring down their sheets to be washed, whilst they had breakfast, usually a chunk of bread and butter and some cheese, an apple, and a glass of milk. If we had them they would have wheatberries and in the winter I would make porridge if we had oats. Anyway, I would go upstairs and remake the beds whilst they had breakfast. I would have a quick sweep and dust after the beds were made. The rest of Monday was dealing with the laundry.
Ironing day followed the same routine, though the which day I did it varied depending on the weather and how long it took the washing to dry.
Other than washing and ironing days most days I spent at least two hours cleaning the cottage, everything would be swept through towards the back door and then I’d use a dustpan to gather it all up as the sill on the back door was too deep to sweep it right out. The floors would then be mopped. Once a week I would polish the floors, I can’t remember what the stuff was called but you wiped it over the floor and then buffed the floor afterwards. I cheated, I had two spare mops, one for spreading the stuff and a dry one for buffing it off.
My mother-in-law never stopped telling me that the corners of the room didn’t shine very well and that some of the floorboards had slight smears. She told me outright how lazy I was for not getting down on my hands and knees and doing it properly.
It took a full three hours to polish the floors, and that was using my quick mop method, it would have taken two days on my hands and knees, time I just didn’t have.
Each day there was food to be prepared, from scratch. This often meant digging up the potatoes and picking the beans or whatever as well as washing them and preparing them. Food cooked on the range tasted very good, but it took a good deal of time to cook, and forgetting to check it could easily mean a whole meal was ruined, just because it was slow it was no different to a modern cooker in that respect.
If I was making pastry it had to be done in the morning, when the house was cooler, I would then put it out in the scullery where it was cool, until it was time to put the pie in the oven.
Every evening I made bread, two loaves. They were always wholemeal. I would do this after clearing away after our evening meal, often after the children had gone to bed. You can’t concentrate on cooking when the children are chattering and telling you about their day.
Then there was the childrens reading lessons to do, there was only a couple of books at school, everything was done on a slate with chalk so we used to read with the children every night before they went to bed. Youngest first as they got tired quicker and went to bed earlier than the older ones.
Making the bread at night was sensible because the cottage was warm and the dough proved better. It was also fresher for the morning. Whilst they were proving I would make biscuits, the children loved taking them to school in their lunch packs.
I was watching my grandaughter empty her dishwasher yesterday. Washing up was a major job at the cottage. Water had to be boiled first of course. Washing up was done in a strict order, the lightest soiled things first, rather like doing the laundry. I washed up in a small half cider barrel on the dinner table, draining the pots on a folded old sheet. When you’d finished the barrel had to go out through the scullery and was tipped on the veg patch if it wasn’t too greasy, or on the compost heap if it was. Then the barrel was rinsed and tipped upside down in the scullery to dry. Drips didn’t matter in there, it had a granite floor. it could take over an hour start to finish the washing up.
Usually, when I was washing up Ernie and the elder boys would start bring water up from the well in pails. Sundays they would fill the coppers ready for washing on Monday, and after that they would fill the copper so I had a bit extra in the house. This meant I could often avoid having to haul water uphill from the well down the lane.
It would be past ten when the bread came out of the oven. All the children and often Ernie as well would be in bed. I would sit a while, with a cup of cocoa sometimes, but usually just water or milk, thinking about the day and what I had to do tomorrow.
Right before going to bed I would wrap the bread in a clean cloth to keep any flies off.
Sleep came much easier then than it does now, age creeping up I suppose, they say you need less sleep as you get older.
Granny Spear was born in a small cottage in Devon, Southern England in 1925. Married to farm labourer Ernest, she raised her family in the heart of the countryside without any of the amenities we rely on today. Using skills passed down from her mother, who had learned those same skills from her mother, she not only survived but positively thrived living a self-sufficient, off grid lifestyle. Outliving her husband, one of her children and two of her grandchildren she stayed in the cottage until 2003 when a serious fall saw her hospitalized. She now lives with her daughter just four miles from her old home. For her 89th birthday her grandchildren and great grandchildren brought her an iPad, which she instantly rejected until they showed her Angry Birds…After much persuasion she has agreed to share some of her knowledge with us about what she calls the ‘old days’
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