Monday, 24 August 2009

Labor (and how to save it)

The underkeeper is back to work today, so I can resume my role as 'Head Keeper's wife' which comes with a surprising amount of work and responsibility. The most surprising part for me is that most of it is unpaid. Even if only one of you is officially employed by the estate, all of your family are expected to contribute to it. The degree to which that is expected depends on the estate.

A rule of thumb seems to be that the amount of free labour rises in accordance with the number of titles associated with the family and estate. The longer the ancestral history and more aristocratic the family, the more is expected of you to help carry out the 'history of tradition' that has developed over time on the estate. It may mean organising a harvest supper, or being expected to beat (walk and shoo pheasants over guns) on shoot days. On one estate up North, there is a race that's been held annually for 500 years. The winner is awarded a pair of red socks to be knitted by the gamekeeper's wife. (If that were my job, the award would be the wonkiest pair of ill-fitting socks ever seen in half a century.)

I work the dogs on a shoot day picking up shot game, and I cook lunch for the about 40 workers on shoot days. Both are paid; not princely sums but enough to contribute to the household. I act as unpaid underkeeper, occasionally work in the village cafe, tend our cottage garden and hedges, cut and stack logs for the fire, train dogs, care for any sick and injured animals Mike brings home, dispatch vermin, produce meat for the freezer both livestock or wild, and of course perform the duties that have always been traditionally associated with being a wife which are numerous and seemingly unending.

That's when I'm glad we live in the modern age of labor-saving appliances. At least when they work. In the last 48 hours our heating system has broken (again), the dishwasher has stopped working (again) and the refrigerator no longer gets cold which explained why all our milk was becoming cheese. I'm already nursing an ancient and temperamental clothes dryer. As long as our big chest freezer doesn't give up - we would lose our pretty substantial food reserves.

It's stressful yes, but not life or death as it could have been only a century ago. If the worst happened and all our perishables spoiled, we can go to the grocery store. We're not wholly reliant on successful crops of vegetables or youngstock or fruit harvests. I can look on ebay or freecycle and try to find a replacement fridge (which is today's priority). It's nothing like the experiences my predecessors must have had. I try not to forget that, even when the house is a bit cold, the food is a bit warm and the clothes are drip drying over the wood stove.


Poppy Cottage said...

Might know of a fridge!! I'll ring you in a bit.

Poppy Cottage said...

I love the pic's of the working girls!! Ta for the chutney recipe. :0)

pigeon pease said...

Found your blog via Poppies, whom I've enjoyed, I too live in fear of Mr Fox as I've a nice little flock of hens, fortunately I own a dog (a jack) who has taken a dislike to the furry fiend, though no doubt it'll try and have another go, and love the beetroot recipe will be having ago at that.

Kerry said...

as the lone rep from San Francisco, I am bound by law to advise you to buy a brand new energy efficient refrigerator. Better to have the scrap parts of an inefficient old fridge recycled and save tons of electricity (i.e. carbon emissions)
and money.

Jennifer Montero said...

Better than that- I found a not so old but very small fridge in the barns and it works so I'm using that temporarily. I think our dead fridge may come back to life; when I moved it the motor was clogged with dog hair and I think it was causing the override to cut in and prevent the motor burning out. It's having a rest and I will try it again later. I don't know the energy efficiency ratings of either sadly.

The dishwasher started working again too, using the time honored method of jiggling the knob and turning it on and off repeatedly.

My animals are dying but my machinery is coming back to life. What should I read into that?