Sunday, May 11, 2008

Back To Beeton Basics

Since my “Seven Year Lie” entry, I have made more shocking discoveries. Grey nose hair, a grey chest hair (it all starts with one) and even a grey pubic hair. It’s all over. In a panic I turned to the ever faithful Mrs. Beeton for some help. The woman tells you how to make your own shoe polish for heaven’s sake. Surely she has a failsafe method for turning back the clock. But no.

She did however give me a few good laughs and that is always good for the spirit and therefore the body. For example, did you know that the “good race of servants has died out, at least in England.” Additionally, “domestics no longer know their place because the introduction of cheap silks and cotton has removed the landmarks between the mistress and her maid.” And I thought it was because the riding crop has fallen out of fashion.

Even if you can find a good footman, you have to be careful about how comfortable they get with you in front of guests. A game of cribbage between mistress and servant behind closed doors is one thing, but for them to say “Ma’am you forgot to count his nob” with company present is quite another. Mrs. Beeton, I have a question, what is your guest doing with his nob out in the first place?

And did you know that “breaking glass and china is about the most disagreeable thing that can happen in a family”. Forget theft, adultery, abuse, incest and the like, the destruction of a good platter trumps them all. I like my Denby and Royal Dolton as much as the next person, but come on now.

She also has sound advice for raising kids. Not having any experience on this front, her words seem wise. For example, when teaching a child to walk, you need to switch from one hand to the other to “avoid raising one shoulder higher than the other. This is the only way in which a child should be taught to walk; leading strings and other foolish inventions, which force an infant to make efforts, shoulders and head forward, before it knows how to use its limbs, will only render it feeble and retard its progress.”

There is also advice on identifying and curing ailments in children. Symptoms for worms, “the torment of some children” include “fetid breath, a livid circle under the eyes and picking the nose”. Ummmm, doesn’t that last one mean all kids have worms? One more check in the “reasons not to” column!

Adult patients receive advice from Beeton too. The sick room should be quiet. “No rustling of dresses, nor creaking shoes. The nurse should wear list shoes and her dress should be of soft material that does not rustle. Miss Nightengale denounces crinoline.” Lord Melbourne is also quoted as saying “I would rather have men about me, when ill, than women; it requires very strong health to put up with women.” Strong health and a gin martini Melbourne!

I swear I am not making this next one up. When looking for a wet nurse, “the best evidence of a sound state of health is found in the ruddy tone of skin, the full round and elastic state of the breasts, and especially in the erectile, firm condition of the nipple”. Good Lord, I think I just found every straight man’s dream job – interviewing wet nurses.

One that did NOT make me laugh though, but rather clutch at my throat, was the treatment for teething. If you are “satisfied that the tooth is fully formed, and is out of the socket and under the gum, we advocate lancing the gums. When assured of the above points, the gum should be cut lengthwise from the top of the gum downwards to the tooth.” And I thought going to the dentist was bad!


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