Just an old-fashioned girl

March 19, 2014 § 7 Comments

This morning, at breakfast, a friend and I were discussing how people just don’t seem know how to do basic things anymore. Things our parents seemed to know instinctively how to do (although, of course, someone had to have taught them).

If I think back to my childhood, my dad fixed most of the stuff around the house. He painted walls and window frames. He did the car’s oil change and always seemed to be doing something mysterious with spark plugs. He even made and installed the built-in cupboards in our bedrooms with one of his friends, and did as good a job as any professional carpenter. 

My mom made us clothes, knitted our school jerseys, cooked, baked, used up leftovers and probably clipped the dog’s toenails while we were at school. We had a veggie garden and a compost heap and when the garden chairs that gave us waffle patterns on our bums were looking tatty, we all took a brush and helped to give them a fresh coat of enamel paint.

And the point is not that we lived in some kind of 1950s idyll. Both of my parents worked, and there was no gender discrimination in teaching skills to we three kids – my brother helped around the house; my sister and I helped with home and car maintenance.

But we were raised to think for ourselves, to do for ourselves, to chase the career of our dreams, to study, to question and to improvise where necessary. I can sew, I can knit, I can cook. I can also change a tyre, wire a plug and do very basic woodwork if required. I have lain under a car with my father and seen how an oil change is done (although I’m not sure I could do one today, if I’m honest).

But we don’t live in that kind of society anymore. By and large, if something’s broken, it’s discarded or we call someone else to fix it. I know people who take garments to a tailor because they don’t know how to sew on a button or put up a hem – neither of which is very difficult or time-consuming. Children don’t know how to make a cup of tea. I know one person who calls the electrician when they need to change a lightbulb, which I find a little extreme given that they’re quite capable of standing on a chair or a ladder themselves. We just don’t seem to know how to do anything other than our primary occupations anymore.

So my friend and I, over eggs and coffee this morning, predicted a return to this slightly more old-fashioned way of life, partly because – as a society – we have to get tired of conspicuous consumerism at some point, surely? And partly becuase of the impact of the ever-increasing cost of living.

We’re going to have to grow our own vegetables, change our own lightbulbs and learn some basic home maintenance skills, because we simply can’t afford not to. We may have to eat out less and cook more, fix things instead of replacing them, and waste less in all spheres of life: stop being so helpless and useless and do things for ourselves.

So, call me old-fashioned, but I quite like being someone who knows how to do stuff. And I’m not usually one to hanker for the ‘good old days’, but I think in this instance, we could do with remembering how capable people used to be. I’m glad I was raised that way. I’m glad I know how to do stuff. I’m glad I have skills that save both time and money, and have given me a great deal of satisfaction too. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Good job.


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§ 7 Responses to Just an old-fashioned girl

  • Kit says:

    I think you were lucky to have practical parents. Mine could change a plug and sew on a button, but my Dad was hopeless at DIY or mechanical stuff, so I grew up with all that being done by other people. Except we did all help paint the school swimming pool each spring, which we loved – slopping stinky thick blue paint around all over our wellies!
    I agree that being able to do stuff is very useful – I’m rubbish at sewing but can do buttons and hems in a rudimentary and functional kind of way. Luckily my daughter can work the sewing machine far better than I can, so I’m handing over anything more complicated to her in future.


  • Cindy Erasmus says:

    Oh how I agree with you. I am going to show this to my housemate hopefully she will catch the hint. She also is the type of person that has three or four of a lot of things. To lazy to look for it so buys another one drives me insane. thanks for an insightful blog again sis


  • mariekeates says:

    Our house is still like that. Hubby is the handyman, fixing, building and maintaining,I’m the cook, gardener, cosmetic maker, knitter, sewer. I’d hate it to be any other way. 🙂


  • Di Brown says:

    AND THE WHEEL TURNS…. I think we are heading slowly back towards that way of life. Common sense flew out the window for a few crazy decades, but seems to be making a comeback, been given a new PR spin and marketed as something new. Hopefully it catches on. I suck at cooking, but will never starve if left in the kitchen. My fireman son bakes as well as his girlfriend does, and is a dab hand on my sewing machine. Breaking needles sewing firefighting bags he designs, and other things better suited to a large industrial machine. But, he has the skills. Hope for the future.
    As always, a lovely post, thanks Mandy,


  • Yes, we are a throwaway society. Even before our 2 year contracts on our cellphones are up we are getting the latest and greatest. When I compare my Mini of the 1970s with cars today I realise it is impossible to fix new cars. I can change a tyre …. if I could lift it out the boot.!


  • charliesbird says:

    Yip, common sense is surprisingly uncommon; and the ability to perform tasks like the ones you mention is rare these days. I also know a friend who calls the electrician to change light bulbs – for the record, I know the electrician too and he charges her a fortune for the pleasure, and hates doing the job. I remember when I met Charlie, who is very handy around the house; he was horrified when I did things myself – hung pictures, drilled holes, dug up things in the garden… Incredible really how uncommon these skills are becoming!


  • Trish U says:

    As usual – agree with you 100%! But I’ll give the oil changing a miss. I did once (twice actually) help a boyfriend strip and do something major to his bike engine so maybe….


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