I’ve got to be certifiably weird for this: I am thoroughly enjoying the BBC’s Victorian Farm. I saw it on Brit Box, a television service I subscribe to on Amazon for the price of a cup of coffee. I bought it so I can watch the greatest television show ever of all time hands down the best: The Good Life. Surfing through Brit Box, I saw something called Victorian Farm. I watched the first episode and it caught me: three people with varying skills and expertise who agree to live and work a Victorian farm for a year, using only Victorian tools and methods. It’s a little like winning the lotto and buying a mansion and a garage full of Ferraris in reverse: these folks wear Victorian dress and labor the way farmers did in the days of merry olde England. It looks like the merry is well earned.
At first, I had the back-patting thought that I might gain insight into the daily lives of the characters in many of the books I love: this has Dickens and Tess of the D’Urbervilles written all over it. My excuse for watching is literary, but it’s clear, too, that we – counting everyone I know in this group – know absolutely nothing about how to stay alive. Need milk? Run to the store and get a half-gallon. Don’t worry: the government ensures that it’s safe. For the folks on the farm, it’s a more arduous path. First, you need a miking cow or goat. Make sure your pails and jars are clean and milk the animal. Probably at four in the morning. And that’s for a wee bit. And remember – you need to use it all now. No refrigerators are allowed.
This was the start of the Industrial Revolution, too, and there is a dusty old machine for almost everything, but no electricity or petrol power. Every machine needs a crank or a belt turned by either human and animal, and I’m not sure there is much difference on the farm. Steam had just come into play, so make sure you have lots of water available.
And those machines? I don’t know how anyone made it to marrying age with a full complement of arms, legs, fingers, or hair. A wrong move, and it’s over. Even something like doing the wash took days and involved weird chemicals and lots of boiling water.
I’m Tired and Need a Sunday Off
My wife and I laughed today, watching an episode. It was lunch, and we lolled on the couch, noshing on store-bought croissants stuffed with store-bought cheese and humus, between chores and writing. These people who live on the Victorian Farm? I hope they knew what they were getting into. Their day starts between two and six and ends when they turn off the light. Watching the show, you can see the glory of a Sunday off, set aside for going to church and a family dinner. Except that mom does the dinner and watches the kids while dad sits by the fire to read and have a smoke of his clay pipe.
It’s fascinating as a documentary and will definitely fill in historical and cultural gaps in your reading.