Tag Archives: Bill Bryson

Will trade chutney for toilet paper

What to read when you’re stuck at home: guidebooks for travel through your house.

You know I’m pretty desperate when I resort to cleaning and organizing my house.  But like so many during the Covid-19 pandemic, I’m Corona cleaning. Fortunately, I own two of Marie Kondo’s books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up that had been gathering dust. Too bad just owning the books doesn’t make your house tidy. It seemed like a good time to actually put them to use.

My Tidying Adventure

Kondo books in hand, I set out on an exploratory and organizing journey through my house, ready to ponder what possessions spark joy and which to “thank for their service” as Kondo says, and set free. I started with the pantry cupboard, always an adventure with mysteries and discoveries on each shelf.  I slowly realized that while some people have been acquiring truckloads of toilet paper, I’ve been hoarding chutney

The takeaway here is that if you squirrel away bottles of chutney in different places, you can’t find them when you feel the urge to stew up Indian food. You run out and buy more. Then you don’t make whatever dish you planned on and stash the chutney in yet another location and forget about it. Repeat.  The result: we have a lifetime supply of chutney.

I also discovered several boxes of Chinese Gunpowder Tea.  Let your imagination run wild with its possible uses because I have no idea why we have that.  Most interesting, I found two bags of an exotic Greek herb called Dittany that I received from our tour leader last spring on the island of Crete.  Dittany is in the mint family and grows, according to the package,  650 meters above the village of Anopoli Sfakion. (Extra geography points if you look this up.)  According to the package, “We collect the herb early in the morning to retain all the essential oils and aroma and we dry it naturally.  It is considered tonic, antiseptic, inflammatory and a poultice. It helps the headaches, stomach and skin inflammation.”  

Wanting to verify this, I consulted one of the Internet sites I most trust for medical advice, the Harry Potter Wiki. It says, “Dittany is a magical plant used in Potion-Making. It is a powerful healing herb and restorative. Its use makes fresh skin grow over a wound and after application the wound seems several days old.”

I’m telling you, this is powerful stuff, especially if you need a poultice. Come on folks, a bag of Dittany is certainly worth at least a four-pack of toilet paper.  And chutney? Perhaps Major Grey’s isn’t in huge demand, so I’m hoping for two rolls in trade. We can meet in my driveway and exchange products by tossing them at each other from a safe distance.

Other Reading for In-House Travel

You probably haven’t heard of him, but a fellow named Alexander von Humboldt made an expedition around South America from 1799 to 1804. Before that, he practiced by making an expedition around his bedroom.  It’s in the public domain so you can read the timeless travel story, Journey Around My Bedroom, even though the library is closed.

According to the excellent site, Library Hub, von Humbolt undertook this rather small-scale exploration because he was sentenced to house arrest for something related to a duel. They say, “In the centuries before ankle-monitoring bracelets and the like, the authorities relied on the honor of young noblemen” to stay put. Sounds like the honor system of the current stay-at-home order. Humbolt enjoys the fact that this type of journey costs nothing. And, he points out that bedroom travel is especially great for those who are scared of robbers, precipices, and quagmires.  And who isn’t these days?  His dog and manservant also make appearances just as Duffy and Scott do in my bedroom.

And, don’t miss Hank Azaria’s hilarious play-by-play of making his bed, a substitute for sport announcing these days. It was broadcast on National Public Radio… “going, going, Bed Bath & Beyond!”

At Home with Bill Bryson

My favorite book by author Bill Bryson is the one about his travels in Australia, In a Sunburned Country. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. But you might find another Bryson book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, more appropriate right now. I wrote about it in a previous post. In At Home, he takes an investigative and historical tour through his Victorian home in England.  Seriously, it’s interesting. His house is much more fascinating than my late-60s vintage suburban home in the American Midwest.

But, I’ll bet he doesn’t have as much chutney. 


Already Overwhelmed by the Holidays? Bill Bryson Offers Some Perspective

For anyone who is already burdened by the holidays—the cooking, cleaning, entertaining, putting up with difficult houseguests—I’m offering a bit of perspective.  I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s latest book At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and I must say we don’t have it that bad, no matter how laborious our holidays seem.

In most of his books, Bryson recounts in hilarious fashion his adventures as he treks around places such as Australia, England, Africa, and the Appalachian Trail. But, in At Home, Bryson takes a look around his own house, an old Church of England rectory in Norfolk, England. (Born and raised in Iowa, as we learned in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bryson has been living and working in England for years. He now speaks with a curious British/Des Moines-ish accent.) He takes us on a tour of the house, but it’s not really about the house.  He uses each room as a starting point to look at the development of building materials, inventions such as gas lighting and the telephone, why salt and pepper are always on the table, and countless other investigations.  I haven’t gotten to the “Bedroom” chapter yet, but I can just imagine.

Anyway, his stories of social customs got me thinking about how lucky we are during modern-day holidays compared to our forebears.  You think you have a lot of houseguests?  Be glad you’re not entertaining Queen Elizabeth I.  About 150 of her entourage accompanied her on her visits to noble households around England.  Says Bryson, “Hosts not only had the towering expenditure of feeding, housing, and entertaining an army of spoiled and privileged people but also could expect to experience quite a lot of pilfering and property damage. After the court of Charles II departed from Oxford in about 1660, one of those left behind remarked in an understandably appalled tone how the royal visitors had left “their excrements in every corner, in chimneys, studies, coal-houses, cellars.”

By the end of the Thanksgiving meal, do you feel like a cook and scullery maid rolled into one? In the “Scullery and Larder” chapter, Bryson offers a diary entry from a servant woman named Hannah Cullwick, who recounts her endless days of cooking, cleaning, dishwashing, scrubbing the street and sidewalk in front of the house on her knees, emptying the slops, and on and on.  Funny thing was, the man she called “master” was secretly her husband.

Wish your children or your guests had better manners? Keep in mind that “John Jacob Astor, one of the richest men in American but not evidently the most cultivated, astounded his hosts at one dinner party by leaning over and wiping his hand on the dress of the lady sitting next to him.”

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re in good company. Try to find time to escape to Bill Bryson’s house for a little diversion.