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Meet the Bowlers Ask the Bowlers Interview with Joyce and Hilary

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Ask the Bowlers
We asked you what questions you had for the Bowlers about their experience as "time travelers." After reading the hundreds of questions we received, we forwarded some of the most compelling ones to the Bowler family. Their responses are online and can be found below.

Some of you asked whether or not we we have plans for additional "time travel" television series. We are happy to report that a program called FRONTIER HOUSE -- which will examine 19th-century life in the American West -- is currently in the works. Visit the Web site!

 

The Bowlers Respond

Q: What sort of readjustments did you go through once you got back to your present-day lives? Was there anything you had gotten used to about your 1900 lifestyle, even if you didn't realize it until you got back home?

Paul and Joyce: It took time to adjust to being us again. It was easier for the children -- they just brushed it all aside; but as adults we thought more about the experience. Not being filmed was odd and [so was] not being asked what we felt like on a daily basis. Strangely enough, a lot of how we felt is being mirrored by the leavers from the English BIG BROTHER programme. We did feel like we'd been let out of prison!

 

Q: Are there any aspects of Victorian living you miss since returning to the 20th century? Are there any aspects of Victorian life you think you missed experiencing?

Joyce: Paul misses the apparent lack of pressure and the way we seemed to have more time. I think that this was because we became diurnal -- a posh way of saying that we got up when the sun rose and went to bed when it got dark! Plus, the isolation in our own home made time go slower, i.e. no telephones, radio, TV. We didn't know what was going on around the world, and somehow it didn't seem to matter.

We missed most of what being Victorian was about -- it was just a little glimpse into one lifestyle at the time that we had. Luckily, we missed all the illnesses that were considered part of life's battle then. We missed having other Victorians to talk to.

 

Q: How do you think a Victorian family would react if they had to spend three months living in the year 2000? Basically the reverse of your adventure.

Paul: Good question! We talked about this when we came home. Joyce thinks that a Victorian lady would have fainted with the impact of all those domestic technological advances. They'd have become addicted to things, we think, like e-mail and television! They would have been as tired as we were after 3 months -- so much to take in. Also, we reckon they'd be much fatter from junk food and not so much exercise.

 

Q. This is for each member of the family: What was the first modern thing you used when you went home to your real house?

Bowlers: Paul -- shower. Joyce -- kettle to make a quick cup of tea, opened fridge for cold milk. Kathryn and Hilary -- CD players. Ruth -- turned on all the lights. Joe -- computer games. We think this is correct, although we did all need a good shower, so there was a queue.

 

Q: As the oldest child in my family, I was concerned about Constance. I know I'd have felt so left out if I wasn't involved with this project, as it seems like you all have had this unique, "growing" experience without her. How did she feel throughout, and why exactly did she remain at home?

Constance: I had left home and was enjoying my new job when the rest of the family applied to do 1900 House. I didn't want to do it! I moved back home for three months to mind the house and look after our cats, Topsy and Tansy.

 

Q: What was it like for Constance, with the family away so long? Did they or you write? Or visit? How did you explain to other people about the rest of the family and 1900 House?

Constance: We wrote every week and I visited twice. When I visited, I had to wear 1900 costume. It was horrible. The house was dark and smelt of coal, gas, and candles. Most close friends and family knew what was happening, but nobody got the full impact until the programme went out.

 

Q: Prior to living in the 1900 house, given the chance to choose just one modern convenience to have available to you, what would you have chosen? After spending three months in the house, would your answer now be different?

Joyce: After the event, there is no competition: it has to be detergents and preferably very sophisticated stuff like SHAMPOO and CONDITIONER! Before, I would have liked a washing machine; I knew that it would be hard work. Paul wished for a decent oven. The range would have worked brilliantly on real coal, [but] we had to use smoke-free fuel to comply with the Clean Air Act. We would have liked more regular newspapers too -- stingy production company!

 

Q: What was the hardest thing to adjust to in the 1900 House? What was the strangest appliance you used? What was the best part?

Bowlers: It was hard to adjust to the lack of freedom and choice. We have so much freedom of choice in our modern lives, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to how we spend our free time. Victorians didn't have free time!

The strangest appliance? We can't think of anything strange, although the bannister brush had us flummoxed for three months. We never did work out how to hold it!

The best part was different for all of us, although we all LOVED going to the Players Theatre. Anyone going to visit London must visit The Players. It's under the arches at Charing Cross and is like stepping back in time. We felt really at home as it's the only place in London where you don't look out of place dressed in 1900 clothes!!

 

Q: Your family has a wonderful sense of humor and already seemed to be very close. What have you done to raise such a strong family in modern times?

Joyce and Paul: We don't know! We have always talked a lot to each other and done things together. This gets harder as the children grow older, but allowing them space to be themselves is important. Joyce: I would hate for anyone to think that I have moulded my children! A sense of humour is important to me, and I believe that's what has played a large part in bringing up the family.

 

Q: Joyce, what was the most difficult adjustment you encountered, and did you ever come close to walking out on the project?

Joyce: I found it difficult a lot of the time. I did not want to become a stereotype cartoon cut-out of the woman who lived in the house in 1900. It was hard to be filmed and "do my own thing," especially when all I wanted to do was research in local museums, etc.; this does not make good TV (ask any TV producer)! We had enormous mood swings -- well me, really -- so I came close to leaving once or twice, but something made me see it through. I knew that I would hate myself if I didn't give it my all. By the way, I wasn't miserable all the time and want to set the record straight -- I'm quite funny and lighthearted most of the time!

 

Q: How much research did you do before you went travelling? There are so many antique books from the period; did you spend time getting familiar with the resources and techniques available?

Bowlers:  We were not encouraged to do any research, as the production crew did not want us to appear too clever! We did go to Shugborough Hall, which is the ancestral home of the Lord of Lichfield, to cook, wash, and learn to iron in his magnificent kitchens. Unfortunately for us, it was much grander than our kitchen at Elliscombe Road would be and everything was in perfect working order! The cooking range was huge and worked beautifully. Ours was a cheap version and had been adapted to comply with 1999 health and safety rules. 1900 was not really a year for health and safety in the home!

 

Q: If there was one, which meal did you find was the easiest to prepare in your Victorian kitchen if you wanted 1900 "fast food"?

Bowlers: If the hens were laying well then anything eggy was good, for eggsample (sorry, bad yolk -- I mean joke) -- for example, omelettes or fried egg on toast. If all else failed, then we went to the fish and chip shop.



Q: When Paul went to work was he allowed to read the daily papers?

Paul: No, I wasn't allowed to read the daily papers. I wasn't allowed to use the telephone or computer, either.



Q: I'd like to ask the family if they have made any changes in their modern lives as a result of their experience. Do they feel they've lost a family closeness as a result of re-entering the modern world, and might they be willing to give up something (such as television) to get it back?

Bowlers: We are still close but not perfect; we do argue and fight like normal people.

Joyce: I wanted every modern device known to woman when I left but have calmed down now and realise that I don't need it at all. Paul and I could give up television easily, except for the old films! We are very strict about what our family watch -- we have criteria, which goes like this: "Would we invite these people into our home?" And if the answer is no, then we don't watch it. I could rattle on about this for ages; it's a pet subject of mine!



Q: I was wondering how the children dealt with attending modern school while living in the house. How did they handle the transition between the two worlds, how did their schoolmates treat them, and did they ever bring friends home? Would the friends need to wear period dress as well?

Hilary and Ruth: It was not hard to go back and forwards in and out of modern clothes, but it was hard to explain what we were doing to our friends. We did not have friends visiting.

Kathryn: I had a friend called Sharon who stayed for two nights. She wore Victorian dress and borrowed [clothes] of mine and some of Connie's. Connie had two outfits for when she came to visit. Lots of people wanted to come and see what we were up to.



Q: Apparently, for your family, there were many struggles involved in living in the 1900 world. In particular, operating the various gadgets from that time was a big challenge (such as using the stove, washing clothes, etc.) But did you get the feeling that using these items might not have been as difficult for those who actually lived during that time? After all, they were born and raised during that period, and did not know that there would be better alternatives in the future. In your family's case, you knew what you were missing. So, do you think that this is what caused the frustration that you sometimes felt?

Bowlers: Of course, if you had been born 100 years or more ago, then the gadgets, etc. in the house would have been familiar. For us it was amazing how many things we did recognise and how many we did not. For instance, the can openers were fairly recognisable but one brush was a real puzzle to us. It was designed to clean bannisters -- we never did work out how! A lot of the confusion was caused by us knowing that there was a better alternative or quick fix. We had to try to forget that the year 1999 existed and entrench ourselves in the year 1900. That had weird effects in itself. It made the whole thing seem increasingly real.



Q: Did any of you ever feel uncomfortable with the camera men there all day?

Bowlers: No! The crew were nice company and very supportive. We learnt to ignore them and got used to them. Although [they were] using modern filming equipment, they did turn off their mobile phones and wore carpet slippers.



Q: In 1900, women's main focus was their family and their home. In 2000, many women have careers outside the home, but also have families. Since your return from the 1900 house, do you feel that women are more respected now or then? Which do you respect more, the 1900 woman or the 2000 woman? (This question is for the entire family.)

Bowlers: Each period had different values and women earned respect in different ways. We all feel that the 1900 woman deserves a lot of respect, not least for wearing a corset all day.



Q: Was the housework and the house maintenance so grueling that you were constantly exhausted? If so, did you get to take afternoon naps? Also, did you find that you went to bed earlier, because of less distraction with TV, computer, etc.?

Joyce: It was very tiring physically because the corset didn't aid ease of movement. Everything took a long time and demanded strong biceps. Afternoon naps weren't possible because of time (shopping usually, if [it was] not done [in the] a.m.), and it's near nigh impossible to relax or recline wearing a corset. Kathryn and I did manage a sort of relaxed position but it wasn't comfy for long.

 


Q: For Mr Bowler: What was the reaction of your military peers and others to your wearing 19th-century military atire? How have the customs of the military changed in the last 100 years?

Paul: The Royal Marines were very supportive of the project and allowed me to change jobs over the 3 months. I was attached to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Career Office in London. They were very strict with me; they only allowed me to interview potential candidates for the RN/RM. I wasn't allowed to use telephone or computers. I became a conversation piece; as individuals came in the career office, they were faced with a Quarter Master Sergeant of the Royal Marines Artillery (a good ice-breaker).

 

Q: WO [Warrant Officer] Bowler, how did you blend in your life in The 1900 House and your duties as a Marine?

Paul: I believe the traditions have been handed down through the generations of serving members of the armed forces and have become customs and important traditions which gives the military man a history to be proud of.



Q: Now that you've had a taste of Victorian life, do you think that you could have been happy living in that time? And, if you had the chance to do the experiment again, would you?

Bowlers: If we had time-travelled and not been able to return then I think that we could have managed to be quite happy then. We were starting to get the hang of it after 3 months.

Joyce: I would have been going to rallies in support of women getting the vote and subscribing to the vegetarian magazine. As a family, we agree that we would do it again, although Joe is less keen. If he could pack a jar of peanut butter, I think he'd make a more willing time traveller.



Q: Does the fact that you have experienced the conveniences of modern living continue to inhibit your appreciation of how truly marvelous turn-of-the-century "technology" was to a family of that era?

Bowlers: No, we did realise that people of 1900 would have been jolly proud of everything they had. Victorians were very pleased with themselves in 1900. A book of the year which we had in the house declared as much! We had to forget what was to happen in the next 100 years
.

Thank you for all your questions and interest. Happy historical adventuring!


 

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