The Good Life
The series chronicles the adventures of three modern Britons who live for a solid year in exactly the manner Victorian and Edwardian farmers once did. From clothing to farming, from cleaning methods to food processing, historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Alex Langlands tough it out in pastoral British settings, old-school style.
Their work is not for the faint of heart. From creating highly caustic quicklime to hand-washing laundry (a multi-day process Ruth eloquently describes as “flippin’ hard work!”), this trio brings historical Britain to life. And while the settings and animals are beyond idyllic and bucolic, it’s the labor behind processes once so strenuous that fascinates me the most (well, that and the clothes-the men’s clothes, really; I just adore nice trousers and vests and a good neckerchief and would gladly step out onto the streets of Asheville any day in such a get-up).
We’ve really got it easy these days. Even when appliances crap out or let us down (we had a run in with our refrigerator recently and had to transfer all of our food into coolers, which we placed outdoors in the snow while the deicing happened and then, today, we had our dryer serviced, as its heating sensor was acting up), we still have the luxury of their use. Pre-electricity, all work was done by hand, or horse. Absolutely back-breaking and bruise-worthy on all fronts, looking at the incredible amount of labor then involved in the most menial of activities makes me so very appreciative to live as we do today.
It’s easy to romanticize the past. I do it all the time. When confronted with it, however, in as explicit as a manner as that witnessed in these two programs, it looses its glossy grass-is-greener veneer. Only the truly wealthy of those times weren’t using the sweat of their brows to just get by. And although many of today’s technologies are considerably more polluting than their predecessors, they afford us a quality of life unimaginable by those living in earlier times.
We have a great deal to be thankful for. We have plenty of progress to be made, of course, in turns of cleaning up our technologies. Despite that, though, we are living in good times, times where labor-saving devices allow us to enjoy leisure and time for logic in vast quantities.
If you ever feel whiney about your current situation, check out this series. You’ll count your modern blessings, while learning valuable lessons from the not-too-distant past.