Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Can't sleep. It's the middle of the night, or should I say, 4:30 am, just like the old days when I had another packet of papers to read, but I have a dreadful headcold, and tomorrow we begin our trek 1200 miles south, from Philadelphia to Florida. We're hoping for 600 miles today, so I'm hoping a cup of hot tea will ease my head and let me sleep a little, that is before true morning comes.

No internet in sight for the next several days, as far as I know. I've joined a few writing groups online and am learning what "on-line community" means. One site offers readers and the ability to promote your work, but few "readers" leave comments. Another site closed due to pornographic posts, with apologies to all. But I think I may have found a site that offers helpful writerly comments, especially since I got knocked by several readers for overuse of passive voice, a continuing weakness.

Ah. The hot tea is helping. I have an ancient tin of Harry and David Cherry Vanilla dessert tea before me, found in the stores of my mother-in-law, enough for on the road and beyond, for she said I could take it with me.

I was remembering a public television show, perhaps an early version of reality TV for public television. This show put about 30 or 40 people in a rural English mansion for a month or so, and filmed the results. These were ordinary people, recruited from London. I was thinking of one woman, who played the lord's wife. She took her role seriously, even to forbidding her 12 or 13-year-old son from playing with the servant's children. He said, "But, Mom, we're just on a show." Her response, after only a few weeks exposure to the divide between classes so common prior to really recent modern times, was "We must keep ourselves separate. You will be going on to school, and they will not."

So when I'm thinking about the Orkney Islands in the 1840s, how much more engrained and profound the class distinctions must have been, especially when I think that most upper class folk regarded the Scottish as barbarians, barely capable of civilization, having descended from the blue-faced warrior Picts above Hadrian's Wall. These attitudes changed slowly once ideas from the Romantic movement spread. Sir Walter Scott and Rousseau romanticized the noble savage, the primitive, the pure and untouched beauty of nature.

And the poor people ate dried fish, potatoes, and a porridge of oats seasoned with salt, kelp (seaweed) when they were starving, and even less when the potato blight struck. None of Harry and David's dessert tea for them.

Many men (and a few women) emigrated all over the British Empire (Canada, Australia, India), seeking work, and were valued by those leaders of the Industrial Revolution for their sheer ability to work, shaped by the Protestant Ethic and more, the constant threat of starvation.

No comments: