Saturday, 17 May 2014

1834 Workhouse Diet Reality Check

Feeling exhausted, tongue tied and with burning bowels after three days on the 1834 diet, I had to admit defeat. Here's how events unfolded this week.

Picture the scene: It's the end of Day Three on the 1834 diet. I've eaten only gruel, bread and cheese for three days- with the exception of one meal of boiled meat and veg- and I'm doing a talk on Queen Elizabeth 1st for Thorpe WI.
It's been a busy week so far at work; two days playing an environmentalist for the benefit of Year Eight geography students, a day of WW2 for Year Five and Six kids, an evening of Marie Lloyd for Drayton WI and -oh yes, the small business of being a mum and 'other half'. For the purposes of The Workhouse Diet I've spent a lot of time and effort keeping up with Twitter, Facebook and this blog- all done at home because the wifi at Gressenhall is imaginary. 

Due to the diet, my bowels have turned into something engineers at KitchenAid's liquidising department would be proud of. Ahead of me at this point is another day of WW2, a supportive visit to a theatrical production lots of friends are in, 3 educational sessions about gruel at my son's school and two evenings performing in Gressenhall's Museums At Night murder-mystery. 

I've spent the journey to Thorpe panicking that a) I've somehow brought the wrong costume and they actually wanted Queen Victoria and b) the petrol gauge has been flashing since Dereham and I'm crawling along in first gear due to roadworks. I think I'm running on fumes. Me AND the car, that is. 

By some miracle I arrive on time, with the correct kit, at Thorpe Adult Ed centre to do the talk. Not able to begin until after the allotted time, I wig-up and wait in an entrance hall avoiding curious/disdainful glances of other hall users (and dashing to the loo every so often), for 40 minutes.  

The talk begins. It's going ok, but I just can't seem to find the right words. My usual patter isn't flowing, and I can't instantly recall the usual dates, names and references. I've been doing this talk for six or seven years, so it's not as if I don't know the material intimately. I apologise, gulp down some water and explain about the workhouse diet. Some ladies had seen the EDP article.
We laugh about it and I continue.  I realise the room is beginning to sway a little. I slurp some more water down and carry on, feeling increasingly lightheaded. Somehow or other I lurch to the end of the talk without fainting, but feeling absolutely awful. I nobly refuse tea and biscuits as per The Diet, pack the car (my treasure chest of equipment feeling about twice its normal weight), buy petrol and head home.

On the way I came to the decision that Enough was, on this occasion, Enough. I got home, ate four eccles cakes straight down, and went to bed.

On Thursday I think I became the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I tucked into smoothies, vitamin pills, and masses of dried fruit and nuts. We had pasta bake for tea, and I shared my son's ice-cream at the theatre. On Friday, after force-feeding gruel to ten year-olds I ate through a huge plate of cheesy chips.

Today is Saturday. I've had a lay-in, marmalade on toast, a photo session and a leisurely stroll around my local farm shop to buy lots of fruit and vegetables for the week ahead. I'm about to drive to Gressenhall for the last performance of the murder-mystery and I've pre-ordered a large portion of quiche from the cafe for before the show.

I will eat normally for next week and then it's time for the third and final phase of the project, the 1901 diet. 

In conclusion, I am astonished at how bad I felt on the gruel diet, and how quickly I went downhill. The inmates of Victorian workhouses have my sincerest sympathies. I am so lucky to have never before felt what it is to be malnourished, and so grateful I was able to call an immediate halt to it when it became unbearable. This week has made me painfully aware of the suffering of people in past times and made me think seriously of those who still suffer in the same way today. 

I repeat what said at the end of the 1797 diet:  I'm so lucky to be me, here, now.  

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