Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Toad Hall and the Washerwoman: Part 2


When the Mole is tired of spring cleaning he can afford the luxury of "simply messing about in boats". As he meets up with Ratty, a hamper of food appears from nowhere, filled with "coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinsaladfrenchrollscressandwidgespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater..." and chicken. This is "only what I always take on these little excursions", explains the Rat. When the Mole gets lost in the Wild Wood, he and Ratty land unexpectedly upon Badger. They are kitted out with slippers, dressing gowns and a bed each for the night, and supplied with an ample supper from the "large, firelit kitchen". And later, when Toad Hall is recaptured from the stoats and weasels, the band of warriors look around for something to eat. They are able to lay their hands on "some guava jelly in a glass dish, and a cold chicken, a tongue that had hardly been touched, some trifle, and quite a lot of lobster salad; and in the pantry they came upon a basketful of French rolls and any quantity of cheese, butter and celery".

When Toad is in prison we catch a glimpse of Toad Hall, the stately home of the English landed gentry. The gaoler's daughter has befriended Toad, bringing him tea and toast, and listening to his life story.

"She tripped away, and presently returned with a fresh trayful; and Toad, pitching into the toast with avidity, his spirits quite restored to their usual level, told her about the boat-house, and the fish-pond, and the old walled kitchen garden; and about the pig-styes, and the stables, and the pigeon-house, and the hen-house; and about the dairy, and the wash-house, and the china-cupboards, and the linen-presses (she liked that bit especially); and about the banqueting hall, and the fun they had there when the other animals were gathered' round the table and Toad was at his best, singing songs, telling stories, carrying on generally. Then she wanted to know about his animal-friends, and was very interested in all he had to tell her about them and how they lived, and what they did to pass their time. Of course, she did not say she was fond of animals as pets, because she had the sense to see that Toad would be extremely offended. When she said good night, having filled his water-jug and shaken up his straw for him, Toad was very much the same sanguine, self-satisfied animal as he had been of old."

When the girl introduces her plan to help Toad escape, telling him of her aunt who is a washerwoman, he comforts her, saying "never mind; think no more about it. I have several aunts who ought to be washerwomen".

In 1908, when Wind in the Willows was written, an army of servants supplied middle class households and their guests with their everyday needs. Those who had enough money to employ servants were looked up to with respect. As always, money spoke volumes. Generally, however, although those who had to seek employment as servants tended to be socially inferior, good work was respected by all. In total, more people were employed as domestic service during the 19th century than were employed in the mills, factories, offices and mines. The question now arises - are we better off now that we must give service to the vast worldwide corporate Machine than when we ran large households directly from the land, using our common cultural heritage? Are we not increasingly confined to our 'little boxes', powerless to determine and design our own food, clothing, shelter, education or even medicine? To face the facts, we are dependent upon foods from vast, chemically-saturated fields, factory-farmed animals, all processed, packaged, transported and accounted financially by a mass of waged and salaried employees who have no say in the processes of production and the conditions of their work. Even those of us who fight free to some extent, rely completely on that vast army to keep the corporate show as a whole on the road.

In her forthcoming book, Re-defining Rich, Shannon Hayes quotes Wendell Berry:

“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: ‘Love. They must do

it for love.’”

If we want to apply ourselves, body and soul, to creating a world where ecological sustainability, social justice, family, and community life all are vibrant and in balance, we ned to take heed of Shannon Hayes and other present-day lateral thinkers.

For more on this theme see ESSAYS\YEA Page of .

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