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A Fortnight in 1916: the halfway point

I’m halfway through the Fortnight in 1916 project – 7 days of life in 1916 down, 7 more to go.

What’s going well so far, and what’s been hard?

Things that are better/easier than I expected:

Food:

I really thought the 1916 diet would be a struggle, and was quite worried about some of the dishes, but most of them have been very pleasant surprises.  The emphasis on fish (over mutton and other meat, which was being exported to Britain in large quantities), the wide variety of vegetarian dishes (evidence suggests it was a reasonably popular trend in 1910s NZ), and the reduction in bread (due to its high cost during the war) have helped.  I’ve really been enjoying things like swedes and steamed cauliflower, and  I haven’t been craving fresh greens, nor fruit other than apples, nor seasonings like garlic and ginger that usually feature heavily in my cooking.  There is actually a lot of vegetables – just in slightly different forms.  While the cooking is all quite simple, you are generally using fresh, very good quality ingredients.

Heat:

I was very worried that I’d be hideously cold the whole two weeks, and while I have been exceedingly lucky in that we are having an unprecedentedly warm winter, even on super cold days I’ve been very comfortable.  Between my wool stockings, cotton combinations, a corset, petticoat, wool skirt, cotton corset cover and cotton blouse, and wool cardigan, with hat, coat and gloves for going out, I’m well covered.  In fact, I’ve been so warm that on many days I leave off the cardigan: with my core is so nicely warmed from the corset that I don’t need one.  Even my hands have stayed warm, and miracle of miracles, I haven’t got a single chilblain

Because I’m so well dressed, and so active cooking and doing housework, I’ve been running the heater much less than I usually would in winter, which is quite nice.

Depending on what stockings I’m wearing, there is a strip of skin exposed at the top of my thighs, but it hasn’t felt exposed or cold: the petticoat and skirt provide such nice insulation, and creates a sort of warm tent for my legs.

How comfortable such clothing is in winter certainly explains a lot about New Zealand housing.  When your clothes are doing such a great job insulation isn’t such a priority!

Stockings:

Continuing on the warmth/great clothes theme, I was worried that wool stockings would be extremely itchy, but nope.  Super comfortable!  All my stockings are made from my stocking pattern, and they haven’t annoyed me one bit when worn for 13+ hour stretches.

Shoes:

Wearing ‘proper’ laced, heeled shoes from 9am to 9pm every day of the week sounded like torture (as compared to living in lovely, snuggly, sheepskin booties whenever I am home) , but I haven’t minded at all.  They are low heels, but still.  Heels.  And real shoes.

Things that are worse/harder than I expected:

Wearing a corset all the time.  Sitting in a longline just isn’t fun.  It’s better in a hard chair, but even so, it’s hard to sit and sew or write.  It’s not that it’s uncomfortable on a minute-by-minute basis (and it’s certainly gotten more comfortable as the week went on), it’s that it’s never quite comfortable.

Just wearing all the clothes.  It’s a lot of weight.  It takes energy to just live in them, and everything you do in them takes more energy, and I’m tired all the time.

Getting anything done other than living in 1916.  Between cooking, getting dressed, the effort of moving about, and the lack of desire to sit, it’s almost impossible to get anything else done.  Everything takes so much time and effort.  It’s not that much harder to do the housework, but I don’t get it done, because I’ve spent the whole day cooking breakfast and dinner and walking to the shops and taking a sponge-bath etc.  The 1916 lifestyle really is meant for people living in extended families: there is no point to cooking three courses for two people.  I wonder if some women found that in some ways it was a relief when men went overseas: suddenly they had so much less pressure to cook and present.

Things that I’ve noticed that I didn’t even think of beforehand:

Plastic: It is HARD to live without plastic.  It really makes you appreciate how awesome it is, and worry about how frivolously we use it, and how much needless, disposable, single-use plastic there is, because it’s going to suck when it runs out (trust me.  Living without it is not fun).

Silence & Sound:  your options for music in 1916 Wellington were gramophones, what you could produce yourself, or live music.  I don’t have either of the first two, or the opportunity for the second, so my life has been very silent for the last week.  No background radio or TV, no songs.  Quite a number of the wartime diaries etc that I read as research mention how important a piano was, and that really makes sense.  Without all the aural clutter of modern life, it’s quite startling to me when I do hear it.  Walking into a shop with music playing is suddenly jarring.  Now that I’ve realised how different it is without it, I wonder if it is actually good for us to live with the constant canned, artificial noise.

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