Wednesday, August 22, 2012


On the radio the other day I heard that women wished they had learned some of the domestic skills that their mothers and grandmothers had, like making jam, knitting, sewing on buttons and rustling up a Victoria sponge.

Painting: Waterfront
Surely we've moved on. Except for sewing on a button, no one needs to do any of that unless they want to. And anybody can replace a button. Here's how: thread needle with cotton, tie knot at one end, hold button in place on fabric with thumb and forefinger and poke needle through little holes in button, back and forth, until it stays put. Tie another knot. Cut thread. It's cheaper than buying a new shirt. An alternative is to staple the shirt sleeves together like my uncle Buster did.

As for the rest, I was reminded of my friend Felicity, whose professor had a chat to her before she was married. He asked if she could cook. She said she could, a little. The professor looked worried: had she told her fiancĂ© that? Yes, she confessed.  He pursed his lips: do you think it was wise, Felicity, to tell your husband-to-be that you can cook? I was also reminded of a famous film star (male) who said of a famous film star (female) who had enjoyed a luminous career as a perky but innocent young woman, that he had known her before she became a virgin.  

The lesson is that you can't regain lost virginity and you can't unlearn a skill. If you let on that you can cook, you can't take it back, you end up doing the cooking, and many a woman has rued the day her mother handed her a wooden spoon and a mixing bowl and showed her how.

Making jam, now. That takes hours in a hot, steamy kitchen, and by the time fruit has been stoned, prepared, weighed, boiled, tested and bottled, you won't feel like cleaning up the sticky mess left behind by the process. There are now many excellent jams on the supermarket shelves. That's progress. No one knits unless they actually enjoy doing it, for many reasons. Knitting a jumper, say, takes weeks or even months, the wool is expensive, and knitted garments are widely available, cheaper factory-made, and usually machine-washable. As for Victoria sponges, what's wrong with picking one up at the bakery?  That's progress too.

The reason why hardly anyone does any of those chores now becomes clear: it is easier, quicker and often cheaper to buy stuff.  A haberdashery shop will even sew on a button if you've run out of staples, leaving more time to spend on more interesting pursuits. Which could of course be knitting.

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