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Filey – Mrs Hunter’s Pattern: Week 4 – 23 May

If anyone asks me why I study history, I tend to stare thoughtfully off into the distance and try to look as much like Gandalf as possible—the Gandalf who stroked his beard a lot and gave wise counsel, I mean, not the one who went skydiving on terrors from the ancient deeps in his dressing gown. I then, rather pompously, go on to say that I want to understand where we came from, and what we can learn from those who went before us. It’s not remotely true, of course. Mostly I study history to learn weird stuff, like the fact that the Ancient Romans allegedly used mouse brains as toothpaste.

Summer Flowers

I like to think that a Roman patriarch would keep a cage of tame mice by the bathroom sink. At bedtime he’d reach in and select one, hold it up to his toothbrush, and give it a firm but gentle squeeze. All over Rome the citizens must have known it was time for bed by the chorus of short, high-pitched squeaks that rang out across the city, thus doing away with the need for clocks to be invented for several hundred years. (Though as advertising slogans go, “breath as a fresh as the inside of a dormouse” feels like it maybe needs work.)

Setting oral hygiene aside for the moment, Judit has come up trumps again, with a very stylish sleeveless slipover in blue. It’s mostly plain, with decoration around the armholes, collar, and a band running all the way down to the welt. And very nice it looks too, bathed in some fine spring sunshine.

Daisy amid the Horsetail

My own gansey project is also making good progress. I’ve just started the underarm gussets, and may even divide for front and back later this week. My only concern is the way the sheer number of cables are pulling it in width-wise. Some pulling-in is to be expected, of course and I tried to compensate from the start by making it half an inch wider per side. It may not be enough, though. If I were Gandalf I’d be stroking my beard thoughtfully.

The Old Lifeboat Shed

And did the Ancient Romans really use mouse brains as toothpaste, even dried into a powder? I rather doubt it. I mean, why use mice anyway, which are not to my knowledge especially renowned for their cranial capacity, even if they do have white teeth? (Bit of a faff getting the tops off them, too, I’d imagine.) I suspect it’s like the urban myth that they used urine as a mouthwash—the Romans, I mean, not the mice. The evidence for that is pretty slim, and it mostly consists of Romans claiming it’s something the barbarians do, to show how uncivilised they are. No, I think the Romans were too smart to use mice in toothpaste, and instead turned to [*checks internet*] ground up bones, ox hooves, pumice, eggshells, bark and, er, charcoal. Oh. On second thoughts, it’s nearly bedtime—just pass me that mouse, will you…?

4 comments to Filey – Mrs Hunter’s Pattern: Week 4 – 23 May

  • =Tamar

    Finely ground bones, hooves, pumice, etc, probably worked pretty well, especially since they would have had to just rub it on with a fingertip, toothbrushes being said to have been invented circa 1800. I’m glad we have moved on to more civilized methods like bicarbonate of soda.
    I wouldn’t worry about the cables pulling in; it’ll stretch…

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I probably should read the ingredients list on my toothpaste tube more closely. On the plus side given what everyone from the Romans to the Victorians used lead for, maybe I should just count myself lucky I live when I do…

  • Dave

    Squeaky clean ?

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