Mass Observations.

12 Mar 2008

Badger waiting for breakfast

This is how Badger observes his kingdom each morning. Sitting on my old radio on the fridge , keeping a close eye on Squirt the fish and ready to leap down as soon as I start making sandwiches just in case something tasty should drop on the floor.

I've been reading "The 1940s House " again and, as always, enjoying it. I would love a DVD of the series but it's not available in Australia. It prompted me to read more about the Mass Observations project in the UK which started recording people's own version of the times in which they lived in 1937 and continued on for until the 1950s only to be revived again in the 1980s. What a marvellous project and so satisfying for those of us who love the minutia of ordinary lives.

I love to read autobiographies, especially those written by women. You may have seen Housewife 49 recently on the TV based on a housewife's observations during the Second World War featuring the lovely Victoria Wood. Anyway I followed a link at the Mass Observation site and found the BBC WWII People's War website which I am looking forward to exploring. If you manage to get a hold of Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45 you will enjoy a marvellous read of one woman's London war and how she was affected by it all. ( It's available through Persephone books who send out a marvellous quarterly magazine if you buy a book from them))

I read a biography last year detailing a woman's life in northern England bringing up her large family through the Depression and WWII right up to her death in the 1970s. Her husband was a drinker and a waistrel ( love that word) and they often lived in poverty but surprisingly the war years were good for them because her husband was in the army and so she got regular money and the rationing meant she got a fair share of the food available after the hard times of the Depression. I found the book so interesting. Can't for the life of me remember what it was called but I guess one day I'll see it at the library again.

I do enjoy novels about ordinary lives too but at the moment I'm loving the way that autobiographies and biographies don't really have a theme, just a life line, the thread that holds it all together is this one person and there doesn't have to be a moral or a lesson learned, it just a life. And now instead of scribbling away in an exercise book or journal people are tapping away and putting it all in blogs. I think though a blog suffers more from self censorship and the knowledge that others may read it so it can't be too soul destroyingly boring. I've been thinking lately about doing a blow by blow of my ordinary days and see just how interesting it would be.

22 Responses to “Mass Observations.”

  1. Dearest Jenny,

    I too, love the simple biographies of ordinary days. My blog, Honey Hill Farm was inspired by just such a book....Letters from HoneyHill, a Woman's View of Homesteading 1914-1922 by Cecilia Hennel Hendricks.

    You would love all the simple discriptions of her days that she recorded in letters that she sent home to her family in Indiana.

    I enjoy the meals she served and the explanation of the layout of her kitchen. She experiences the Flu Epidemic of 1917 and WWI.

    You can find this book on Amazon, both new and used.

    Just thought I would let you know that I don't think these types of books are boring, I think they are wonderful.

    Yours truly,
    Honey Hill Farm

  2. Hello Jenny Wren...I would be very iterested in a blow by blow account of your day. We have similar lives, similar age children, similar craft interests, our difference is I live in Western Australia and you live in Tasmania. I read your blog every day and would love to read even the bits you consider mundane.

  3. Thanks for those titles Jenny. I love to read about others 'ordinary' lives. I'm sure that I would enjoy reading about your days too.

    cheers Lenny

  4. I've heard about Few Eggs and No oranges, unfortunately our local library doesn't have it in stock :(
    I did re-read Farley Mowat's memories of WW11 this past summer, great stuff.

  5. Hi Shan , the book you mention sounds really interesting, something I would definitely enjoy. Thanks.

  6. Hi Julie, I'm so pleased you visit every day. Perhaps you could start a blog too and we could compare our daily routines and adventures.

  7. Hi Lenny, it's been a long time since you have left me a message. I hope your family's return to school has been uneventful and smooth.

  8. Hi Maggie, I haven't heard of the book you mentioned. I'll have to look it up.

  9. Oh yes, the blow-by-blow would be amazing! REAL time blogging.

    We are reading Hard Times and it's an amazing book in that it gives a bit of so many people's stories during the depression of the 30s. Some that were not affected at all and some that even prospered, but the real daily lives of those that did, well, these voices should be heard.

  10. Hi Jenny - you can read the actual diaries in Nella Last's War (Housewife 49). I loved the tv version and the diary is even better.

  11. Hi Lynn, I have the book on order at the library, I'm looking forward to reading it.

  12. Hi Lizz, I have a wonderful book which records the stories of people living in Richmond in inner city Melbourne during the Depression. My dad was a child in Richmond during that time, it is such an interesting book because it tells the ordinary stories.

  13. I would love to read about your ordinary days! I think it would be very interesting. Maybe several of us could do the same and compare. :)

  14. Jenny, Farley Mowat's reflections of WW2 are documented in three main books:
    Born Naked
    And No Birds Sang
    My Father's Son

    in the 50s he went back to Europe with his young wife to revisit the battle fields. That journey is documented in this book:

    he has also written dozens of other books. I think he's a wonderful Canadian author

  15. Hi there, I think you might like Mrs Milburn's Diaries, edited by Peter Donnelly. There are some used copies on Amazon. It's Clare Milburn's diaries from 1939-1945. For some of that time her son, Alan, was a prisoner of war. Mrs Milburn writes about her worries for her son, the war but also her garden, food and clothing coupons and being an Englishwoman the weather.

  16. You might also enjoy the diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh (i.e. Bring Me a Unicorn, which is Anne before and just as she meets Charles Lindbergh); Gift from the Sea is another book she wrote which I recommend to all the women I know! She and Madeline L'Engle are two of my most favorite (what I call) "reflective" authors.

    Warm wishes,


  17. Our library has a copy of Few Eggs and No Oranges, I look forward to reading it! Sadly none of the other titles mentioned were at our library, but one is better than none! I love diaries and day by day accounts and look forward to reading yours.

  18. You can get the dvd series of 1940's House in PAL format from the UK Amazon.

    I'm enjoying reading your blog. Came here from Rhonda's blog. :-)



  19. Hi everyone, thanks for all your lovely book suggestions. I'll add them to my reading list.
    Paula, the problem with buying DVDs from overseas is that they might not play on my DVD player as they have to be for region 4 and I think the UK is region 1 or 2. It's crazy isn't it.

  20. I'm so excited, I found a library in my state that has _Few Eggs and No Oranges_. I remember searching for it when you wrote about it some time ago, but it was not to be found. It is beginning its 250 mile journey to me now. I opted to borrow a newer release with maps included.

  21. Hi Jenny
    I'm glad you're enjoying the Mass Observation site and I think you're right about blogging not being quite the same as diary writing as we do self-censor, for a variety of reasons. I also liked you comments about the biography you read of the poor woman's marriage in the 1930s/40s. What rationing gave England was food equality. Not since before the industrial revolution had working people been so well nourished, and yes, many women felt a new freedom when their waistrel husbands were off fighting!

    My granddad once told me that he used to have to mug his own father every Friday night so that his mother would have enough money to put basic food on the table. He would wait until he got drunk enough for him to be overpowered, but not so drunk that he had spent all his wages in the pub. He would take the money and hide in canal tunnels until his dad passed out. His mother would then have enough money for bread and lard. My heart goes out for my great grandmother, so many of my relatives lived through incredibly tough situations.




Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. I don't always have time to reply but I do read every message you leave.