By Sara Dinnen
The vagaries of semi-rural living. Turned on the gas stove to rustle up a poached egg. No gas. Both bottles are empty which means, ergo, no hot water either.
Phoned the gas supplier, who happens to be 83.7ks away in the nearest city. There ain’t nothing closer.
“Och” said the Scottish man on the other end of the phone. “Bad luck and you should have checked.”
“And,” he added cheerfully, “we can’t get to your place for, och, another two or three days.”
“Days?” I looked at the phone in wonderment, as if that was going to be helpful. “Days?” “Nothing earlier?” “Nooo”, he said “I can only be honest with you.”
Indeed. Now, there are two ways of dealing with this. Laugh. Or cry. So, when in doubt, laugh. Ha ha ha.
The electric jug is getting a workout. First to do the dishes (boil water, add to sink, add the omnipresent cold water). At least the kitchen looks tidy without hot water.
Next, boil another jug load for, yes, the bird bath. Grab a bucket, nearly fill with hot water (two jugs) drag it into the shower, add cold water and stand there to soap up bit by body bit by body bit. Last, wash hair.
And you start to think. This must have been what it was like for our pioneering great grandmothers when they first they first arrived in New Zealand. How many had hot running water? They maybe had a coal fire-place on which to boil water but how laborious was it to washing in a bucket using a scrubbing board or, in fact, wash themselves?
How did Maori get on before the colonists brought electricity to these shores? Did they swim in the stream and lather themselves up with a locally grown herb? Here’s what Te Ara, the government-run history website, had to say:
“Early European settlers either transported water from rivers and lakes to their homes for washing clothes, or did the washing in or near these natural waterways. If servants were employed, they did the washing….”
“Cold piped water was available in the main centres by the 1870s. However, proper laundering required hot water. Gasworks were established in urban areas in the late 1870s but gas-heated water was rare….”
Monday was washday because it took all day and, therefore, only done once a week. In the early 1900s some newspapers reported an American scientist had found more women committed suicide on Monday than any other day of the week. Monday, washday, meant hard, back-breaking and, it seems, heart-breaking work
At Chez Dinnen, gas-heated water isn’t rare in 2017. It’s non-existent. But the electric washing machine uses only cold water so at least the clothes can be washed, on Tuesday and dried on a line under the carport roof, which is tantamount to getting in touch with one’s forebears sans clothes drier.
It was hard to discover through Google what traditional Maori bathing and washing entailed except that anything associated with the body is kept separate from food preparation. So, towels and tables cloths are washed separately from clothing and it’s a no-no to wash babies in the kitchen sink.
There are plenty of contemporary plant-based, Maori-inspired products available, however, to use as soap or health balms which indicate what probably occurred pre-European, even if in more basic form, like, with no packaging and without labels.
So, what does all this mean? First, Thai takeaways for dinner tonight or something done in the microwave. And the second night. It means bucket washing, getting back to ye olde world methods.
It means the opportunity to thank all the women who were born in pre-gas-heated-water times and who lugged buckets of water for just about everything. How on earth did you cope, Nana Dinnen? And, as a widow, bring up two children in pre-social-security days?
I take my hat off to you. And as I’m shedding clothes preparatory to washing from a bucket in a newly-installed shower I can’t enjoy, I stop moaning, start soaping, and thank my good fortune to be born after the invention of electricity and home-supply gas.