Historians Marvel at the Discovery of a 400-Year-Old “Helpmate’s” Diary

Historians Marvel at the Discovery of a 400-Year-Old “Helpmate’s” Diary

The Thames, they-are-a-changing.

While this startling discovery was not as crown-shattering as that of King Richard III’s bashed skull found beneath a Leicester parking lot in 2012, the unearthing of 23-year-old Mrs. Prudence Goodheart’s diary during excavations at a London Underground Station has antiquarians salivating in their spittoons. Written on durable vellum, the well-preserved journal was found buried in a sealed chamber pot at Charing Cross Station. The diary dates from 1600 and brims with keen insights into the grimy life and murky times of ante incendium London (before the Great Fire of London in 1665). I’ve taken the liberty of translating the journal from Ye Olde English into Ye New English and its archaic syntax has been updated to make it more readable. For example, Prudence’s antiquated entry of June 15th “With thine own beef I do reject thee” has been modernized to read “I think we should see other people.”

 

Mrs. Goodheart’s fascinating catalogue of ancient events arouses the imagination and plucks the mystic chords of memory as we survey her clogs-on-the-ground account of London’s early 17th century life. Those souls consigned to that period had to live this life. We pampered readers 400 years hence are privy to it like a fly on the wall; or perhaps more time-appropriately, like a louse on the scalp. The diary’s unique window on this hoary world animates the sights, smells and customs of the Olde World in ways that make one appreciate the abundant privilege of this age. With its unburnished, firsthand accounts, the journal captures the zeitgeist of the period. It then releases this zeitgeist on its own recognizance and parades it around for everyone to see and enjoy. Who doesn’t love a parade?

 

Do we identify with these historic events through some kind of morphic resonance drawn from the collective unconscious? Or is our interest more prosaic – a simple curiosity in old timey affairs told in the first person? The main take away at this point is that you’re still reading this. And if you continue we will commence on a profitable frolic where I do the driving and you can sit comfortably in the passenger seat, drinking in the countryside and whatever hipster beverage is in your stainless-steel hydration flask. So buckle up and enjoy history’s histrionics. And remember, with me doing the driving, there’ll be one extra air bag in the vehicle. 

Who was Prudence Goodheart (née Prudence Headstone)?

In addition to being a stout and true helpmate to her common law husbandman Geoffrey Goodheart, Prudence possessed an acuteness of observation, a cuteness of face and an opulence of humor. She was ahead of her time and consequently never late for appointments. She was known to be kind to street urchins and hostile to vermin. In other words she allowed people and not parasites to worm their way into her heart. Records indicate she was given a proper education at the prestigious Handmaiden’s School for Bonneted Women. Prudence was well-regarded for having most of her teeth and demonstrating keen verbal dexterity. For example, apropos of nothing, she cleverly and ambiguously noted, “I avoid the Black Death like the plague.” That’s pretty witty for a woman who cooked her family Squirrel Pot Pie at least twice a week.

Prudence also turned the tongue-twisting phrase, “It’s my brother’s cistern’s turn to provide water because my sister’s cistern is dry.” It’s not much, but that was perhaps the apex of drollery for bonneted women in an age when soot was considered a condiment. I wonder how many times a crust of bread would be smeared with soot, given to a hungry street urchin by its baker, and the grateful recipient would say, “My condiments to the chef.” I wonder about a lot of things. Why don’t you take a swig of your sports drink while I get back on the left-hand side of the road. I forgot about that, and you were no help; transfixed while I went on and on about Prudence’s diary. Good thing we were on a lonely stretch of country road.

The Domesday Book (a kind of primitive English census catalogue) for the year 1600 mentions dear Prudence as a loving and common law helpmate to her husbandman Geoffrey Goodheart, who was a dealer in small arms – mostly those of squirrels and raccoons. He also sold animal pelts used in the making of gloves, tea cozies and merkins. Prudence was a woman of average stature for the time: 12 hands at the shoulder and weighing barely 8 stone. “Pru” and “Geoff” as they were known, lived near a row of monasteries on Abbey Road, not far from Penny Lane.     

I’ve taken the liberty of excising, translating and presenting essential entries from Prudence Goodheart’s diary and present them herewith. Wherewith you ask. Herewith I say:

 

Excerpts From the Diary of Prudence Goodheart, Lately Discovered at Charing Cross

Jan 1 – Well it’s out with the Dark Ages and in with the Age of Enlightenment. And if a reduction in beheadings is any indication of the flowering of reason, we’re in for quite a time. The public houses or pubs as the youngsters now call them were jammed with revelers last night. I think pubs should be called Pourhouses because the make you drunk and broke.

Mr. Goodheart and I rang in the new year with tankards of mead and stacks of Hoe Cakes. I must remember to thank the Hoe’s for their cakes.1600 promises to be a dazzling age of books, breakthroughs and betterment instead of soot, suet and slop.

The turn of the century Y1.6K disaster the Pagans worried about never materialized. It came and went and Stonehenge is still standing and remains the infallible gold-standard one can set their sundial to.  

My New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Economic conditions willing, switch from a lichen-based diet to a grain-based diet
  2. Accept the fact that my big toenail may never grow back
  3. Determine once and for all what the hell Auld Lang Syne means
  4. Instead of letting a smile be my umbrella, let an umbrella be my umbrella. I’m tired of getting drenched while grinning.
  5. Accept the fact that my right ring finger may never grow back
  6. Don’t eat anything more than 6 days old – especially if it starts moving again
  7. Accept the fact that my “John Bull Slept Here” tattoo will never come off
  8. Drink water from as far upriver as possible. Relieve myself as far downriver.
  9. Join Jynnyfer Craig’s Weight Gainers and to stick with it till I gain 1 stone.
  10. Except the fact that I don’t want to accept facts, accept the fact that I must. No exceptions.

 

Jan 3 – Our profane Reverend Foulmouth of Falmouth has had the gall to ask if I might be going to Scarborough Fair. And that, if I be willing, would I please secure him some parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – 4 herbs! Such an imposition. Well pray tell, I conveyed to the good reverend I’d be happy to do his bidding, twas he to agree to travel to Bethlehem and purchase me a like amount of frankincense and myrrh. “Harrumph,” I said unto him. Taken aback by my request, Foulmouth lay into me the obscenest expletives and grossest imprecations. I do wish the profane reverend stayed in his hometown of Blandmouth and never ventured to Falmouth. We simply don’t need any more foul mouths or Foulmoths in Falmouth. Now if it was Colin Firth visiting the Firth of Forth, that’s different.  

Jan 11 – It’s a simpler time here on this side of 1600. Universal Health Care has arrived. Unfortunately all conditions anyone suffered from are now known as “preexisting conditions” and therefore nothing is covered. So it is Universal Health Care for all, in that everyone gets treated equally by not being eligible for treatment – except for the aristocracy who are lucky enough to afford a barber to bleed them.

Jan 18 – The third Monday in January is National Dairy Day. Everyone is proclaiming, “Got MILK?” But they misspell it and write “Got MLK?” I’m confused. Seems like something from the future is leaking back to these times. It’s like I have a dream or something.  

Feb 1 – Well we have to celebrate another Anglo-Saxon History Month whether we Like it or not. Alright I get it. They contributed a lot to our fair land, but should they really get credit for “The Rule of Thumb?” memorializing that you can’t hit your wife with any implement thicker than your thumb? Thanks for the welt wishes.

Feb 29 – Leap Day. Great an extra day at the end of February to fight off scurvy, rickets and Uncle Ogden’s busy hands. The Julian calendar sucks. Will the Gregorian calendar ever come? All I hear about is the antiscorbutic properties of citrus fruits. Well I say blimey, these limeys are slimy.

March 14 – Sir Francis Bacon is now calling 3/14 National Pi Day. He’s come full circle. Who is this genius and is it true he is descended of swine?  

March 15 – OK I will try to beware the Ides of March, but what’s an Ide and how doth thou beware of one. Now I can see bewaring the Ida Lupinos or the eyes of potatoes. But Ides of March, I don’t get. Thanks a lot Obama.

March 22 – Springeth hath sprungeth. Yeth. Doth not the equinoth cometh.

March 24 – Middle age is creeping upon me. Been married 6 years to Mr. Goodheart and what does he bring home for our anniversary? – Candles. So I says to him, “Geoff, I’ll have none o’your beeswax.”

March 25 – Once again Millicent’s strained peas were too chunky and I had to issue her a restraining order.

March 29 – My Birthday. Well I was one of the lucky ones. I made it to the ripe old age of 23. Celebrated by going to see Troilus and Cressida at the Globe. Land Sakes that Shakespeare is wordy. He’s going to have to pick it up if he hopes to leave any kind of legacy. Also the 4 farthing 2 quid for a flagon of mead at intermission – unconscionable.

March 32 – Just kidding. It’s actually April 1st – April Fool’s.

April 1 – Lost my head at the Tower of London – just figuratively. April Fools.

April 16 – A band of 4 scruffy lads from Liverpool calling themselves the Termites have invaded London and people are calling it Termitania. Their hits are Hey Druid, I Want to Hold Your Gland and Here Comes the Glum.

April 16 – Forgot to mention this new strain of disease is moving through. I’m avoiding it like the Plague and other diseases. The Queen is recommending face coverings, but only for ugly people. I think she’s just trying to save face.

April 16 – PS: I’m pregnant again. How does this keep happening? Mr. Goodheart says he can’t imagine why…then he bursts out laughing.

April 30 – Indoor plumbing is no bonus if it just sits in a clay pot till you toss it out the window

May 1 – The calendar is way out of whack. We’ve been adding a quarter day every 4 years ever since Jesus was born. That’s 25 extra days folded in. Will the Gregorian Calendar ever arrive?  

May 4 – For some reason all the nerdy Oxford astronomers find it amusing to say, “May the 4th be with you.” 

May 18 – Queen Elizabeth I issued a proclamation calling for a National Day of Fasting. Really unnecessary. Most of us “celebrate” this everyday anyway. How about a National Feasting Day? I’d give thanks to that. She calls herself Queen Elizabeth the 1st. Does that mean there’ll be a Queen Elizabeth the 2nd.

May 22 – Boiled shrubs. Not as bad as I feared and as good for cleaning up the environment as they are for cleaning out the colon. Also lowers our peat moss foot print.

June 13 – Obnoxious cousin Hanford was acting most uncouth at church services. He remonstrated that his behavior was most couth. “No one acts couth. You’re either uncouth or just normal.” I sayeth unto him, “I suppose you find the weather clement as opposed to inclement.”  

June 15 – Mrs. Peckinpaugh gave Mr. Peckinpaugh the bad news today: “With thine own beef I do reject thee.” {“I think we should see other people.”} And it’s no wonder. I’ve seen her “sharing a ladle or two” with Admiral Bowfinger down at her sister’s cistern.

July 2 – My neighbor Eleanor Rigby told me she was going to take something called a “shower.” “Do tell El,” I queried “Where doth thou find a shower in these parts?” “I’m not taking it here,” she explained. “I’m taking a shower in Bath.” To which I replied, “That’s probably a good place for it – a shower in Bath. Well I’m having a party in Yarmouth.” “A party in my mouth,” she shuddered? “No,” I said. “A party in Yarmouth and you’re invited.”    

July 31 – Another dreary dinner of green porridge. When it’s cold it shouldn’t be bubbling on its own. It wouldn’t be so bad, but when the pot was begun 9 days ago, the porridge was yellow. I’m beginning to believe the Reformation would be better served if it skipped our Churches and occurred in our kitchens.

August 7 – And speaking of the Reformation. It appears the Reformation needs some reformation. I think Parson Mather is suffering from End Stage Sermonitis. This past week he and his son both spoke from the pulpit Ex-pantaloons. Stupid britches.

August 13 – In a mixed metaphor of abominable collisions, the English Dept. at Cambridge called for revising the “sin tax” at brothels, gambling dens and pubs. In this way they hope to make the brothels more bare-able, the gambling dens patronized by better bettors and the pubs topped of with larger lager.  

September 7 – At sup tonight, wealthy Uncle Basil pontificated his usual aristocratic drivel: “10,000 years ago everyone was homeless. Now maybe 10% of the population is homeless and suddenly it’s a big deal.”

September 23 – Autumnal Equinox brought out all the crazies tonight. Baying at the moon. Mooning at the Bay. In preparation, carpenters drew from their Woodstock and built a great body in the shape of a man. And then lit a bonfire of this so-called burning man. They do it every year now. It’s become a thing. Heck, when it rains they call it smoldering man.  

October 3 – Madame Tussaud dropped off our candle order today. She’s so creative. One of the candles was in the shape of Queen Elizabeth. Four others were in the shape of the Termites

October 14 – Geoff and I visited an antique store in Ipswich which bewitched us. We were going to visit Worcestershire to sample this new sauce we’d been hearing about, but we switched to Ipswich which ditched Worcestershire. The antique store had an abundance of trinkets and old-fashioned items from bygone days. I’m amazed at how advanced we’ve become as I look down from my 17th Century perch of technological progress – brooms, the wheel and fire. Can you believe it’s 1600 already? What’s next? – canals, toilet paper and something called a pillow. So glad I don’t live in the 1500’s anymore.  

October 22 – Geoffrey and I had a hankering for Cathay food tonight so we went to Madame Fong’s Cathay Restaurant I had the Colonel Tsao’s Chicken (rumor has it the colonel is up for a promotion) and Geoffrey had the One Ton soup. Funny though, 30 minutes after we ate we were hungry again. My fortune cookie presented me with great news: “This is not your year for cholera.” Lucky me. I’ll keep drinking upriver.  

November 15 – Contrarian that I am, I shall forego March’s foreboding and instead beware the Ides of November

November 24 – Happy Thankstaking everyone. Who said one day of income redistribution was a bad thing? This is my favorite holiday where just like Robin Hood did, we take from the rich and give to the poor in a generous fit of Thankstaking.

December 1 – I am heartened by society’s progress in taming our bellicose nature. For example, the interminable 100 Years War was followed by the relatively compact 30 Years War followed by England’s most recent war with the Dutch (which only happened because they were nearby and available) that timed-out at a speedy 9 years. Continental animus is definitely ratcheting down. Wars are shorter in duration and some barely qualify as wars anymore. There was last century’s dust-up with Italy brought on by excessive unprotected sex between our 2 people and became known as the 7-Year Itch. This was followed by the 4-Year Battle of the Water Balloon Catapults, the 3-Year Mexican Standoff, the 2-Year Agree to Disagree and finally the 1-Year I Think We Should See Other Enemies. Very cordial indeed. I like this trend. Soon peace will be breaking out all over and we’ll have time to invent the towel. A Summer of Love would be nice, but I’ll settle for a Summer of Rent Control instead.  

December 7 – I asked the town cartographer, Rand McNally, the best route to Ipswich. He told me to take the Beltway. I said what’s a Beltway. And he said, “About 5 or 6 ounces depending on the thickness of the leather.” I wanted to belt him one. For me this day shall live in infamy.

December 25 – Happy Birthday Jesus. If that’s OK with the Pagans and the widow-atheist Mrs. Starbuck. Everyone’s trying to prevent Christmas. Can’t believe Reverend Foulmouth journeyed all the way to Bethlehem for me. Unfortunately there was a mix up and he brought back Frankenstein and Merv.  

December 31 – And a new day will dawn. For those who stand long, and the forest will echo with laughter. The forest echoing with laughter. Now that is funny. But still…it makes me wonder.

 

 

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