ephemeral reading – meet the thomsons!

wanda gretton: The Thomsons at Home – Everyday Life in England (stuttgart, 1951, ernst klett)

Early in the morning the rising sun divides sky and sea and land. Travelling westwards across the North Sea, it reaches the green fields of south-east England. Then, after following the curving band of the River Thames for fifty miles, it comes to another sea which spreads beneath the sky in grey waves of stone. This is London, the largest city in the world. 

In one of its many suburbs with their rows and rows of small houses, in Wembley, in the north-west of London, lives the Thomson family, just one of the million families in London. 

after setting the scene and zooming us in on the location much as google earth does these days, the narrator moves on to describe every day life in the Thomson household.

When Mr.Thomson has finished his tea, he smokes his pipe. The usual thing to smoke in England is a pipe or cigarettes. […] 

Mr.Thomson stretches his legs and begins to feel comfortable. He wears the clothes which most Englishmen like best: flannel trousers and a sports coat. Usually he takes off his tweed jacket and puts on a sleeveless pullover that his wife has knitted for him. 

He stands up to see whether there are any letters for him on the mantlepiece. The postman brings them three times a day and Mrs.Thomson puts them there together with other things which she wants to show him. But there is nothing there today. 

i don’t know why but reading this tanned skinny little volume, stapled, with a slightly stained cardboard cover, i have to smile. mr.thomson wearing tweeds and smoking his pipe in the largest city in the world, where every house is surrounded by a small garden and sports at least one easy-chair, a settee, and a fireplace, his quiet little wife who lays out things to show him like a secretary and tries to keep the children from using americanisms such as “okay,” the boys who play cricket as every english boy does, and of course the children who demand porridge and fried bacon for breakfast –
what is the charm, the attraction here? where are these thomsons now?
turns out a similarly odd image of german family life is permeated through school books in england:
in his article “Lachen ueber einen Guten Witz” teffrey johnson points out, among other examples, anderson’s das schoene deutschland, teil 1 (london, 1970) where familie mueller is presented as the typical german family: herr mueller rules, the children are silent and obey, and all work hard and much. oh and of course they live the tradition of hausmusik where everyone knows how to play at least one instrument and they spend “fun times” making music as a family. 

while the gender roles and hierarchies within the family are similar for the thomsons and the muellers, the thomsons are presented as having a touch of humour and being somewhat creative, while the muellers, well, are obedient to authority mainly and are very much equipped with a militaristic mindset. they are no fun. at all. 

what about you, and your family. or me and mine. are we muellers, thomsons, old mcdonalds? and how would we know? and what would it matter? why make up the typical family when the very need to make it up indicates there is no such thing?
nothing can replace the experiences you gain from traveling to places, visiting, or even living and working there. and many of us have the luxury today that we can actually go ahead and travel almost anywhere. even back in time, with ephemera…

anyway. the little school book on my desk here is aged, it smells musty, and the drawings are wonderfully dated. everyone is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and smiling. except mr.thomson, who is tired from a long day at the office. and to add to that, he got no mail. oh dear.


About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

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