As I’ve mentioned, I’m not very interested in housework… there always seems so many more interesting and vital things to do… writing, writing, going out, writing, meeting friends, going to the quiz, writing… Everything’s clean in the house, all the clothes washed, ironed and put away, but there is such a muddle of untidiness… oh well, I’ll clear up later, I just have to write this…

Ruth Drew who wrote and broadcast about household matters would have been shocked I think, although she seems as if she was such a lovely person she would have only scolded in a nice way; her book the Happy Housewife, a posthumous collection of her broadcasts and writings from the 1930’s to her death in 1960, is all about being a ‘good’ housewife’ and keeping the household neat, tidy, well-ordered and comfortable. her advice is given with plenty of humour, and actually although obviously in some ways dated, it really is fascinating to see what she suggests as it opens a door on how ordinary people used to live.

In her section on household affairs she writes about ‘do-it-now jobs that are so frequently left undone’. Some of her suggestions are useful now –

  • creaking boards – she explains why they might be creaking, what can be done simply, but suggests consulting a competent handyman or carpenter… and then add about trying to solve the problem yourself with new screws or nails; ‘beware of banging these in inexpertly in case piping beneath is damaged, which could lead to serious trouble…’ How true this is! We had to call the gas-board when my husband hung a picture and put a nail right through an unexpected gas pipe!
  • drawers that stick – rub them down with glasspaper (sandpaper) dust with talcum powder and making sure the piece of furniture is standing on an even floor
  • furniture doors which stick… this, according to Ruth is most frequently caused by ‘a twisted carcase…’ hmmm… she suggests wedges of ‘scraps of rubber flooring, or linoleum… or a wedge made of several thicknesses of cardboard...’
  • washers on taps – she suggests a plumber, although does actually explain how to change one, including taking taps off the basin or bath
  • and squeaky door locks… oil the key, except if it’s a Yale in which case go to s locksmith
  •  a loose hearth tile – we would just buy a tube of cement from a DIY store; Ruth suggests making a thin paste of plaster of paris or Keen’s cement, and gives clear instructions on how to do it

However, some of her suggestions are obsolete because we no longer use such items, have such items, have other ways of solving the problem, are too lazy or idle to go to the trouble, or we can now afford to get a new whatever it is – the whatever-it-is is cheaper, we are wealthier and most of all we have for the most part lost the ‘make do and mend’ mentality.

  • patching lino… lino is coming back into fashion, but if there was a hole most people would replace rather than repair. Ruth’s solution, cut out the worn part then use it as a template to cut a patch.
  • a door which needs stopping… we would buy a new door stop, Ruth suggests an old cotton real painted or stained to match the flooring then fastened to the floor with a long screw.
  • chair legs which scratch the floor – we might stick something on the bottom of a chair leg which was a problem but i doubt if we would use Ruth’s idea, to cut patches ‘from an old felt hat‘… who has a felt hat these days old or new?
  • loose knife handles – if you look in most people’s cutlery drawers I am sure they are full of knives which are made of metal with no bone, wood or other handle… there maybe some plastic or resin handles, but most of those would be attached to the blade with a couple of pins. In Ruth’s day most knives would have handles with the ‘tang’ inserted and glued or cemented in place. She gives detailed instructions on how to replace a loose blade into its handle using a home-made cement of 4 parts powdered resin, 1 part beeswax, 1 part plaster of Paris – now you know, just in case your cutlery has a wobble
  • a cracked lavatory basin – I’m sure she means a wash basin, not a lavatory bowl! ‘Outside the basin, paint a strip about 1 inch wide using best quality white lead paint. While the paint is wet, press on a piece of muslin, covering the crack amply. Allow to dry. Then paint the muslin and apply a second, slightly narrower muslin strip. Paint this in turn. Do not use the basin until the last coat of paint has dried completely.’ First of all, lead paint is not available, but if I was hard up and couldn’t afford a new basin and plumber to fix it, might I not adapt this ‘recipe’?
  • loose broom head – the answer is simple, take of the handle, saw off the end of the stick where the nail has split the wood and refix the broom head… Of course it wouldn’t work with a plastic broom, or our garden broom with a metal ‘stick’… and after a while a new stick might be required as the old one got shorter and shorter…

What strikes me is that many of these ‘odd jobs’ might be thought of as ‘men’s’ jobs… not so for Ruth; a housewife was as capable as anyone else for using tools, paint brushes, and other implements.

I’ll just leave you with this… Trigger’s new broom… or was it Granville’s?


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