P&G have been making mums’ lives easier since the 1930’s with their brands such as Fairy, Bold, Ariel and Duracell along with beauty and personal care products such as Pantene, Olay and Tampax. I only know the date because they asked me to undertake a challenge based on what life was like for mums in the 1930’s before they started producing the many brands for which they are well known.
P&G are celebrating their 80th birthday this year and they decided to mark it by challenging mums to go back in time and experience life as it was in the 1930’s. The day involved removing all of these modern day products and appliances and living life as a mum would have back then. The only help to get through the normal day with husband and children in tow were to be 1930’s products such as carbolic soap, a wash board, vinegar and lemon juice.
One of my favourite ads from when I was a little girl was the fairy ad – “Now hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face, with mild green Fairy Liquid” (I hope you are singing along) so I romantically thought this challenge would be fun. Warm and fluffy, just like the TV ad. That’s where it all started to go wrong.
To begin, the start of my day was reduced to having a bath (hot water for which had to be boiled on the stove) and washing my normally well-conditioned hair with a bar of soap. It wasn’t a good start. My beauty regime was refined down to cleansing my face with cold cream, applying powder (which smelt just like granny used to smell), rouge (which doubled as blusher and lippy) and a daub of mascara. Hair was left to dry au naturel. No deodorant, no foundation or studio fix, no hair dryer or straightener. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good look. Not at all.
We then proceeded to enjoy porridge and tea made with stove boiled water and tea leaves. This wasn’t too bad at all – we make an effort to eat porridge a few times a week although the kids weren’t too happy that I had commandeered Saturday’s relaxed cereal policy in favour of porridge.
Next up was laundry. Let’s cut to the end and say I now realise why people used to wear the same clothes for days and why bed clothes were changed less than frequently. How any woman - back then - managed to do her household’s washing using a bar of soap and a washboard is beyond me. I carefully selected some not-too-dirty washing from the basket – I sensed that this wasn’t going to be an easy job and was already panicking about my ability to really ‘wash’ the clothes. I wasn’t to be disappointed with my concern. I slopped in the kitchen sink with the slippery soap and lukewarm water and surmised that there is no way, in a zillion years, that I would ever again lament my washing machine not taking a big enough load. It was a shocking task. It was impossible to ring the clothes out properly and the clothes line was sagging in the middle with the weight of them.
I washed the windows with vinegar and water which was fine and the same amount of work that you would put in using a modern spray – the only difference was the house smelt of a chipper for the next week!
The washing up was akin to preparing for a meal in itself as it involved getting the grater out and grating my pink carbolic soap - not to mention heating enough water to cook pasta for a small Italian town - before I could wash up. The crockery and saucepans were cleaned through the process but the film left on them meant they were subsequently washed again in the dishwasher once the task was over.
I found the day exhausting – I seemed to spend a lot of time doing each job but I never felt like I got on top of the housework the way I normally would. My least favourite task was the washing. We have a tonne of washing each week and it would be impossible to get through it all using a washboard, even if I was at home all day, every day – not to mention the effect on your hands.
I really missed the convenience my of normal modern-day products and appliances. I missed my proper getting ready/beauty regime hugely. I answered the front door at one stage during the day and burst into an apology of how I looked to the unsuspecting milkman. He only wanted to be paid but left with a rundown of the P&G challenge as I tried, unconvincingly, to explain why I looked so bad.
We don’t have any small babies in our house anymore but I would dread to think what life was like before disposable nappies like Pampers. *shudder*
By the end of the day, after a long realisation that warm and fluffy wasn’t going to kick in anytime soon, I had an appreciation for the finer things in life which included my dishwasher, washing machine and press under the sink jam packed with cleaning products. I also appreciate the tough jobs that woman back then undertook with natural aplomb each and every day. So Grandma Agnes up in heaven, I salute you. I simply don’t know how you did it.