Today I was listening to Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. I am not a daily disciple of Woman's Hour. I don't know why as I usually enjoy it when I do listen. Anyway, today was the start of a week of discussions about the results of a survey on household chores "division of labour". Who does what in the home in the twenty first century, that sort of thing. It has been conducted jointly with Mumsnet, as those who have logged onto my blog via Mumsnet will undoubtedly be aware.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4xsS4Nqzhn21v52xYdMPQqJ/womans-hour-chore-wars will take you to the interactive pages. You can find the programme on BBC iPlayer.
My own division of household labour seems to be fairly typical (me doing most of it, swinging from happy to have the option to be at home with kids to resentment at said kids and their father for taking advantage of me!) and I don't propose to add to the debate which this survey has started. [See today's Guardian, for example.] There will be plenty in the media as the week of programmes progresses.
As usual though, I found myself wondering how the debate would apply in times past. We all know that, for example, marriage in the 1950s meant women mainly giving up work outside the home and devoting themselves to house and family. And before the advent of modern labour saving devices, housewife duties were hard work. I cannot bear to think how I would cope with the washing that my household generates and no washing machine. A day without it, if it has a breakdown, induces near hysteria about the building clothing mountain!
However, the thought that caught me with regard to my own ancestors was my paternal grandmother's entry into British society in the 1940s and 1950s. She, my grandfather and father along with her own mother and her disabled brother arrived from India in 1949. They came from a hot country to a British "summer". But more to the point, they came from a relatively easy lifestyle, with domestic help such as an ayah to look after my toddler father. See the sideways picture above! [I have tried every which way to sort this and have not given up, sorry! Previous readers of my blog will be aware of my dodgy IT skills...]
They were grateful to be away from the rioting and bloodshed in the aftermath of the Partition of India, I'm sure. But it must have been more than daunting to arrive to a small terraced house in Coventry with few belongings and little furniture. No help and no idea of how daily life in a grimy British city went on.
I am sure this is not how my grandmother envisaged married life progressing when she married my grandfather in 1943. Of course, no one who suffers great setbacks in life ever envisages them - or such set backs would never actually happen; our lives would continue exactly as we would wish if we had crystal ball style technology!
I know that my father has memories of using crates to sit on at their first house. I also know that within months of their arrival in the UK, my grandfather was sent abroad to work. He did not return again for almost a year, I believe. So my grandmother set up home in England and learnt how to run it with little help and with a toddler into everything. Little division of labour there!
No washing machine, probably no fridge to start with, no central heating equals a lot of labour. Makes me feel guilty at complaining about my own chores. In fact, perhaps we should wonder how, given the amount of labour-saving devices we have these days, our chores do not seem to have diminished...
My father having been so little at the time and me not having had the presence of mind to ask such questions when my grandmother was alive, I have no idea how she managed for cash. She was always someone who prided herself on keeping up appearances though so I can imagine that she and my father were as well turned out as possible, even if, unbeknownst to neighbours, they were sitting on orange boxes and eating baked beans!
I am proud to think of what they achieved. They followed that well worn immigrant path and managed to establish themselves in a new country and culture. Fairly sure, though, that the division of home labour was non existent!