Tuesday, July 24, 2012
If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley
Lucy Worsley dishes on all sorts of activities that went on in the home from medieval time to fairly recently and the thought processes behind them. While we may consider medieval citizens to be a bit on the whiffy side without heavily scented deodorants and body wash they had their standards.
'There is an important social distinction between being afflicted by lice as opposed to fleas. Fleas were almost unavoidable, everyone had them. But to "be lowsie" was an indicator of poor personal hygiene.'
Origins of certain phrases are another fascinating subject and 'getting the wrong end of the stick' possibly came from a time when Romans would use a sponge on the end of a twig to clean their bottoms. Moving right along past the time of putting children to good use by getting them to rip newspaper into strips for toilet paper, I learned that apparently North Americans are 'scrunchers' while Europeans folded. Who knew? The natural progression from toilet paper was to feminine hygiene products. As a woman born in the 1960s I can attest to the continual improvements in this department. It was more than a bit difficult to hide the fact someone in your house was menstruating in the seventies when a box of fifty napkins was so large they took up half of your closet. These days a package of ninety fits in your lunch bag. Actually, with Kotex now marketing their product in neon, young ladies no longer to 'have a little secret', instead they are supposed to shout about it from the shop aisles!
Moving right along into the area of food and spices, the saying "above the salt" comes from being seated according to status. Since salt was kept in the middle of the table should you find yourself between the lord and master and the salt you were considered to be higher on the social ladder. Imagine the sly grins as people glanced at the salt and their guests further down the table. And if some Victorians were boiling their veggies for up to two hours to aid digestion as suggested by Dr Worsley then guests and family would be reaching for the salt just to give their food a bit of flavour.
Not only is it fascinating to learn how people lived throughout the ages but also how we see others through our own set of social mores. While I would be hard pressed to recognize every single piece of formal cutlery on the market I couldn't help glancing at how my daughter's friends would hold their fork and knife when they stayed for dinner. A clear sign as to how important table manners were in their own home. I could be as sniffy as I liked but the truth is that if a barbequed chicken appeared on the table we are as capable as anyone of behaving like we're at a medieval feast..as long as no one is looking.
I soaked up every word, no dipping in and out for me, and highly recommend this delightful book as one of the most entertaining history lessons you will ever have.