YOU can imagine my surprise when my husband arrived home with The Homecraft Book by Ann Hathaway. You can imagine his surprise when I told him not to expect any sex for six months. The cheek of some people.
The book, first published in 1945, is described on the back cover as “a compendium of advice across a myriad of subjects for the post-war woman, wife and mother.” That’s ‘loads of tips’ for those of you who don’t have access to a dictionary. It’s the kind of present a man would give to his partner if they had run out of things to fight about. Or so I thought until I started reading it.
If nothing else, this is a handbook for saving the planet. The author has no end of tips on how to re-use or repair to broken items around the house. So no more replacing your kettle just because it starts to make a funny noise. And no more feeling smug about saving the poor polar bears just because you put the odd plastic bag in your recycling bin (when it isn’t raining.)
For instance, did you know the water you used to boil your eggs make a very good insecticide? The author, Ann (a nom-de-plume for Dublin socialite Clare Lloyd) also advises you to use old socks as knee-pads for any job around the house that involves kneeling. I’ll avoid any jokes on that because we don’t want to get a letter in from the bishop.
I enjoyed the page of excellent tips on how to cut down on the amount of soap you use. She doesn’t include the best one, which is of course to go and live in Limerick (I’m not sure they wash at all.)
The general message here is waste not, want not. (She even uses the phrase as the name of a chapter.) For instance, you should never throw out your old clock. Instead, you should leave it near the cooker and set it to the time you put your cake in the oven, so you won’t forget. Or if you are one of the 96% of people who doesn’t bake, set it to the time you phoned Domino’s Pizza so you’ll know when dinner is going to arrive.
There are seven pages of tips on stain-removal. Not one of them says “go out and buy a new carpet.” So you’ll have the price of the book paid back in no time. A mud stain should be treated with a rag dipped in a bowl of strong soda water; any stain surviving that can be removed using a brush dipped in cold tea and a pinch of cream tartar. As long as you can get your hands on cream tartar.
The best way to remove a grease stain from your flannels? Give it a lick. (Saliva is your friend in the war on stains.) It certainly worked a treat in our house the other night. My husband cleaned two towels spotless the other night before he had to stop due a cramp in his tongue. He’d do anything now to get back in my good books.
The author also has handy tips on getting to grips with wine stains. The trick is to dip the stained portion in boiling milk and continue to boil until the job is done. This obviously only works for stains on small items like clothes. I’d better make that clear before readers in Kerry put their back out trying to balance a sofa over a pot of boiling milk.
You’ll need to be well stocked for a clean house. The list of chemicals in this book includes ammonia, iodine, borax and something called formalin. The good news is that a stain doesn’t stand a chance in your place. The bad news is that you might get a visit from UN chemical weapons inspectors. The US has gone to war for less than the contents of your cleaning cupboard. So, say nothing.
The book has a great chapter called ‘Getting Rid of Pests’. Unfortunately she doesn’t include any advice on how to ward off a horny Italian when you are trying to dance with your friends in Crane Lane (they probably didn’t have Tasers in 1945.) She does point out that if you sprinkle your clothes with turpentine, moths won’t go near them. Unfortunately, neither will anything else. Not even a horny Italian in Crane Lane. So be careful how you go.
Did you have a problem with wazzies this year? Next time try some formalin and sugar dissolved in water. It attracts wasps and then kills them in an instant. The book warns this might also kill your dog, so make sure to put it out of reach.
Dirty jewellery? No problem. The best way to clean a diamond ring is to put it in a cup with some eau de cologne. Or if you live on the posh end of the Douglas Road, just make eyes at himself and tell him you’d like a new one. Sure who could blame you?
A chapter called ‘Seasonable Hints’ is just the thing if you want a good old Irish Christmas. There are pages of tips and recipes for Christmas cake with royal icing, turkey, goose and mince pies. I felt tired just reading them. And slightly ashamed that my Christmas planning can be summed up in three sentences – Go into the English Market in Cork. Buy all around you. Have a couple of mojitos afterwards.
The book has a great chapter on beauty. For example, did you know you can remove freckles with a mixture of peroxide, lemon juice, rosewater and glycerine? There’s page after page of such tips for all you women who have been told by the beauty counters in Brown Thomas to stop rocking up looking for a free make-over.
For all the great tips on this book, nothing can match a simple little sentence on page 106: “You’ll learn to keep your youth if you relax.” This was probably easier in 1945 when women weren’t likely to put away four cappuccinos before lunch. It’s hard to relax when every bone in your body is telling you to run down Oliver Plunkett Street roaring “I’m full of coffee” at anyone who will listen. But there is a lot to be said for emptying your mind for five minutes a day. I find watching Celebrity Big Brother is a great help on that front.
The Homecraft Book is a right good read if you want a taste of life in 1940s Ireland. It’s got some great tips on saving that are still relevant today. Particularly if you like to keep your money for an expensive car so you can make your neighbours feel like chronic under-achievers (and who doesn’t, in fairness?)
It might even make a great present for someone coming up to Christmas. Just don’t give it to your wife or girlfriend as a joke. She mightn’t get it. And you won’t be getting it for ages.