Category: Uncategorized

Working from Home – the Old Normal

With working at home becoming more and more popular as a result of Covid-19, we’re now wondering whether WFH will become the New Normal – and whether the question “Good day at the office, dear?” will now be consigned to the footnotes of history.

Contrary to what you might think, WFH is, in fact, the Old Normal. Until very recently – as late as the late-eighteenth century, in fact – most people worked from home. There was no such thing as going out to the office, factory or other external site. Any kind of industry – piecework, manual or professional – was carried out at home, blurring the boundaries between personal and business life.

Take merchant banker Gianfrancesco Amidani who lived in sixteenth-century Lombardy and set up his ‘bank’ in a room in his house. Just 12ft by 9ft, Amidani shared the room with his cashier Cornelio,

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In Splendid Isolation

Four weeks into lockdown and you’re finding it difficult to see an upside. Living cheek-to-jowl 24/7 with your partners and family, indulging in orgies of baking, boxsets and boredom, you conclude, is hardly conducive to keeping your spirits up.

But all is not lost. There is a tried-and-tested way to make this work.

History proves that those who have flourished in quarantine – voluntary or otherwise – those who have succeeded in transforming their house-cells into a truly splendid isolation – all had one thing in common.

They were all – by and large – barking mad.

Consider one Xavier de Maistre, a 27-year-old French officer put on six-week house arrest in 1790 for dueling. Admittedly, the room in which he served his sentence was spacious and came with a butler, but what made de Maistre flourish in this situation was that he took a perverse delight in his enforced isolation.

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The Unprivate Privy – Part One

Though visiting historic homes is a favourite leisure activity of the Great British public, what it really wants to know – when it descends on a stately home – is how the owners went to the toilet. Most of us who plead guilty to this are amazed to discover that in the past spending a penny was rarely a private experience.

Take Roman times. Doing your business then was usually a communal affair. Sharing a low wall of three or four holes carved out of the top, once you’d preformed, you’d wipe your arse with a handful of fig leaves. Or, you might opt for a sponge attached to a stick resembling a modern pan scrubber. While patrons sat side by side, trying to ignore the stench, servants kneeling at their master’s feet in an open gutter, would rinse out the soiled sponges. Some even carried theirs with them;

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Are you a ‘Sheddie’?

Now that we no longer have a private closet to which we can decamp to find peace and seclusion from other family members, it seems like the humble shed has jumped in to fit the bill. Worth more than £5 billion to the British economy, over 20 million ‘sheddies’ admit to spending half a year of their lives in their garden haven. Obviously, they’re not put off by the Slavic superstition that sheds are to be feared because an evil witch called Baba Yaga lives inside, and gets her kicks flying around kidnapping children.

To begin with, sheds were clearly gendered – and, according to shedsdirect.net, they still are to a certain extent a dad-den. Around 77% of men claim access to a man-cave; put another way, that’s three-quarters of the British male population. When surveying a prospective home, as many as 62% of male buyers are put off if there’s no shed in the garden.

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Vicars and Tarts

If William Chiffinch – Keeper of His Majesty’s Backstairs – was alive today, he’d have probably sold his story for a king’s ransom. As Charles II’s spymaster and general goafer, Will was privy to a host of salacious secrets which, if they’d been leaked, could have destroyed the monarchy.

In 1660, Charles returned from European exile. His father Charles I had been executed and replaced with Oliver Cromwell’s Puritanical regime. The people were immensely relieved to find the Merrie Monarch on the throne in place of the dour Lord Protectorate, who hated parties and anything closely resembling fun. Everyone sought access to the ebullient Charles who found it difficult to get a moment’s peace. The royal bedchamber was a crowded venue, forcing Charles to decamp to his private closet, guarded and protected by his faithful factotum Will Chiffinch.

Nobody could gain private access to Charles (or his closet) without Chiffinch’s consent.

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Bundling – Love in a Cold Climate

Modern-day dating is fraught with angst for the average teenager, but none of it compares with the traumas of being a loved-up youngster in seventeenth-century Scotland. You’ve found the guy you want to marry but to prove to your parents he’s the one, you and your mate have to submit to a humiliating ordeal known as ‘bundling’.

This is roughy how it went. You invite your boyfriend home to meet your parents. Next thing you know, your mother’s tying you up from feet to waist (and even to the neck) and placing you in a sack. Just to be on the safe side, she gets you to put your legs inside a large stocking tied securely above the knees. You and your bewildered boyfriend get into your family’s best bed – always in the main reception room – where you spend the night under your parents’ watchful eyes.

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