“The end of education is fitness for life”. So began a small but perfectly formed school book I inherited from my maternal grandmother, written by Wilena Hitching, impressively described on the first page as ‘Organiser and Inspectress of Home Management to the Derbyshire County Council; Late Head-Mistress of Meanwood Road Girls’ School, Leeds’. This modest blue volume, scarcely more than a pamphlet, was aimed at preparing young girls for life as mothers and housewives in the 1920s. After half a century of feminism, we might take exception to the notion of girls learning housekeeping in school, instead of tackling more meaty subjects like the chaps. But I have to say that the educationalist in me has always admired the passion with which teachers must have approached the task of training adolescent girls for domestic duties, hardly an easy task at the best of times. So for me, this book is more than just a family artefact. It also represents a philosophy of life, in which pride in thriving children and a well kept home take centre stage. This seems so much richer and more meaningful than the emotionally sterile food technology and textile technology lessons many school pupils experience today. Or the ubiquitous glossy home magazines in which décor changes weekly and rooms are devoid of human beings.
There’s a more important point to all this as well, which makes it even more relevant to present times. What Miss Hitching wasn’t to know when she wrote this book was that around the corner was the Depression of the 1930s, and World War II in the 1940s, something her readers would have to endure as best they could. These days we may live in more affluent times on the surface, in the sense that we nearly all have a TV and central heating, and feel deprived if we have to buy own brand cornflakes, but many of us are experiencing some of the same hardships and uncertainties our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did all those years ago. If you look on parenting websites, for example, you see that some families that were comparatively wealthy until a few months ago are finding that the adults cannot always afford to eat a main meal each day, or whilst tied into expensive car leasing deals, cannot always find enough petrol money to get the breadwinner to work, so have to ring in sick (a desperate solution that can’t be used very often). This group of people has recently been labelled the ‘Secret Poor’ on a TV chat show. Other families may not be experiencing this degree of hardship, but see their income dropping fast in real terms, and need to tighten belts and weather the storm. This blog is designed to help you do that. The idea is that you need to live well, but live simply, and with a certain satisfaction derived from the process. It can be done, as Miss Hitching would surely agree.
What I am doing here is taking the structure of books like this, and updating them for modern times with knowledge I have gleaned through my earlier work as a journalist on women’s magazines and also as an academic. Hence there’s a little bit of Feng Shui woven into the text (being sceptical about the more mystical elements of this, I tend to see it more as applied psychology in the home), as well as some science, some sociology and also some encouragement towards creativity, which should never be overlooked. I have also tried to balance up the need to save money with the sometimes contradictory need to save time as well. In the centre of it all is the philosophy that people count for a lot more than material possessions or perfect homes. I offer it all up in the sincere hope that it brings hope and inspiration to readers in difficult times.