Them were the days!

I can remember no switch-on lights, no running water, wind whistling through the keyholes, cold back and warm front sitting as close as we could get to the small coal fire. Tilly lamps on the table in the kitchen, and jack lanterns fueled with paraffin to move about outside in the dark, which wasn’t done except in dire emergencies.
There was that sense of dissociated time we experience when the power momentarily goes out these days, but this feeling started at nightfall, went on until you fell asleep, and was there in the morning when you got up into a cold, cold dark day during winter. Had to work hard to make sure the beds stayed dry and didn’t get damp, because there was nothing in the rooms to get warmth into them.
1940s and 50s, east coast, rural Scotland, I was very young, but some impressions stick, the ghoulish shadows on the walls thrown by the table lamp, the unwillingness to trek through a dark room to reach the bedroom, only momentarily lit to let me get into bed. Dark was dark, cold was cold, all perfectly normal.
Water for the animals and rough washing was collected in water butts at various points around the roofs. Water to drink came from a well, maybe thirty feet deep and made by hand, dressed stone carefully laid upon dressed stone. It wasn’t very wide, I can’t imagine how anyone got it done. There was a water tank up in the rafters of the wash-house, to collect what was pumped up; the method was to prime a hand pump and after at least an hour of standing there, and two thousand pushes and pulls of the handle, 40 gallons was drawn into the tank, and by gravity feed when the tap was opened, a trickle reached the kitchen sink where it was gathered in basins for use in cooking and personal washing. The used water was not let drain away – remember there were no pipes – it was taken out and given to the plants in the garden in summer, I can’t think what happened to it in the winter. There wasn’t a bathroom till the late 1960s; before that was a closet in the wash-house with the usual ‘Elsie’ can in it, dumped out somewhere in the fields when it got full. (Elsinol was a pungent liquid tar product that was used to deodorise and sanitise the can. So far I haven’t managed to catch up to the history of it on Google.)
Pretty primitive by today’s standards, but we never found it difficult or unpleasant, it was the way it was. Folk made do very well at our farm, other places in the neighbourhood had to live with a great deal less.


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