Musings of a Grumpy Old Woman as she Muses on Life,the Universe and Everything
Monday, 29 August 2011
Is There Room For A Travelling Bath?
Travelling light, as I've said before, is always difficult, especially when you're heading off in an ancient campervan with limited space. Fortunately campervans, like caravans, are well designed so possessions can be stowed away in the smallest nooks and crannies, but it made me wonder how our ancestors managed when they went trekking across the world - often in great style and comfort.
Back in 1908 Constance Larymore wrote A Resident's Wife in Nigeria, detailing her life in Africa during the Edwardian era. It's packed with advice and includes a chapter on camping, although her experience was a little different to our holiday.
For a start she and her husband appear to have had an army of native servants and 'carriers' to care for them. Secondly they refused to drop their standards: not for them the cheap, plastic mugs, beakers and plates that we used. No, their china crockery included a teapot, milk jug and sugar basin, and they took glass tumblers and and sparklet bottles.
It would be unfair to say they took everything but the kitchen sink (we beat them there since the campervan has its own dear little sink and a water tank) but I am most envious of their tin travelling bath, with cover and strap, containing a wicker lining. I have tried and failed to discover what this was like. Was it a slipper bath? Or just a plain one, similar to those used by poorer folk? And did the wicker lining remain inside when you filled it with water, and if so did it leave marks on your skin while you sat there? Fortunately modern camp sites have excellent showers (the one at Bardsea was very luxurious, with underfloor heating) but a travelling bath sounds so intriguing.
Constance or, to be more precise, her servants, cooked on an open fire but the campervan is fitted with a small cooker (two rings, a grill and an oven with two settings - on or off) which is a definite advantage on camping Edwardian style, even though I used boxes and boxes of matches trying to light it, and for several days (until I got the hang of using it) our food was either burnt or almost raw.
Talking of food, according to Constance 'there is excellent bush-fowl and guinea-fowl shooting to be had' while villages can usually supply sheep and fowls, and she assures us that a mincing machine is 'indispensable' for dealing with meat which is to be eaten only an hour or so after it has been killed. Luckily there are plenty of shops within easy reach of our stopping paces so The Man of the House (unlike me he is a carnivore) was not required to hunt for sustenance.
Fresh eggs, maize, yams, sweet potatoes, fruit and guinea-corn were available from Nigerian villagers but, like us, the Larymores carried food supplies with them: sugar, tea, coffee, milk, jam and biscuits were as essential 100 years ago as they are today. Kerosene and candles were unecessarysince we have Calor gas and an electrical hook-up, and we passed on the lard, flour and baking powder - but the case of whisky sounds attractive, if somewhat heavy and probably prone to breakages. However, we did have a bottle of champagne (a gift, I hasten to add, and not our usual tipple, but very nice indeed, even though we drank it from our plastic beakers, and I doubt Constance would have approved).
Lacking a campervan, she and her husband travelled with two regulation officer's tents, each weighing 80lb - one for eating and daily living, the other for sleeping. They also took two canvas chairs, two armchairs, a table and their clothing was packed into tin uniform boxes, unlike our lightweight, soft canvas bags.
Surprisingly, perhaps, much of her advice still holds good. She recommends carrying stores in specially made wooden boxes, stressing:“It is no use having them larger, as you will only have to leave them half empty, on account of the weight, and things will tumble about and bottles get broken." Despite the cunningly designed storge space in our campervan, The Man of the House was constantly worried about weight and I ended up stuffing tea towels into the gaps between pots, pans, bottles and jars, to stop them rattling about.
She recommends a folding Panama hat, not too dissimilar to my brimmed crochet hat which keeps off both sun and rain at bay and can be scrunched up and stuffed into a bag. And while Constance wiled away her spare time with stitching and sketching I took some crochet and a lengthy Susan Howatch book.
We didn't follow her advice about placing all our clothing for the following day under our pillows each night to keep them dry and easily found. But we agreed with her that when things don't go according to plan, and you're tired, or cold 'a kettle can be boiled in a few minutes... and a cup of tea will make a wonderful difference'.