Washed Up

There’s a prompt running over at Irene Walters’ blog that asks for early, first memories. It’s a monthly, aka leisurely, prompt and February looks at

Prompt No 2. First memories of wash day. Was it a ritual in your house. Did you have to play a part. What kind of washing machine did you have? Was it the sole province of the women of the household? What was the style of your clothes line? Any memories of doing the laundry you care to share. I am sure that we are going to find some differences both geographically and generational with this one. Help me prove myself right or show that I am wrong by joining in.

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Mum, circa 1960 – puppies were far more important than a clean kitchen…

Of course, we are talking a classic baby boomer upbringing: so cleaning was mum’s role Only mum wasn’t great at conforming to stereotypes.

First you have to understand my mother was not typical of her time. She had no truck with routine, believed tomorrow too far away to worry about and yesterday too far gone to matter. She had an ambivalent relationship with cleaning, seeing it as an unnecessary constraint on getting the most out of life.

Food was essential, and healthy eating necessary – so clean food preparation areas important – but cottons on a carpet? The created a new pattern. Mud on boots? They were nature’s dubbin. Dust – a food stuff for microbes, spiders were nature’s fly controllers and so on.

So washing happened. She understood expectations –  school shirts and shoes had to be within the limits of whatever arbitrary code was imposed; offices had their own uniform requirements. Mum was no rebel but she was a semi professional subversive – shirt fronts and collars might be ironed but the back and sleeves ignored.

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Sink or strawberry barrel? No contest really.

As I go back to mum’s cluttered and curious kitchen I recall a large zinc pan with handkerchiefs boiling away – the smell was appalling. That is an early wash day memory. A nasal scarring.

She also had a wooden contraption that hung from the kitchen ceiling which dried and aired the clothes if drying outside on her washing line wasn’t possible.

One day in a steamy noise-filled kitchen the rope tieing the airer to the ceiling gave way with a stupendous crash. In the ensuing chaos my mother was in hysterics. Not from fright or anger but laughter as the dog tried to sprint one way and little me went the other, both of us desperate to find, and failing to find, some grip on the shiny skiddy Lino.

Her outside line was somewhat Heath Robinson, with a clothes prop helping ensure the linen didn’t drag on the ground. It was strung across the garden at a height that would catch Dad on his evening wander to check his vegetables.

‘Why Barbs do you insist on setting the clothes’ line at garotte?’

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Amateur dramatics or airing the laundry? Seriously?

For years mum swore she didn’t need or want a washing machine, doing everything in the sink or the awful boil wash on the stove or, in the case of the sheets, in the bath? If dad suggested an outlay for a machine, mum would list other things she would need- a new sewing machine, a set of trowels, a workmate. I guess the first machine appeared sometime in the 1980s after I’d left home and dad must have caught her at a weak moment.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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60 Responses to Washed Up

  1. trifflepudling says:

    I think your mother and my mother must have been twins! She also did only what was necessary, probably around the same time as your mother as we are near in age, and spent her time out at work or doing other things she considered more important than dusting. We had the wooden pulley and the clothesline with the stick propping it up and one day I did indeed run into it when there were no clothes on it and came a cropper. I really thought I was dead as I lay on the grass looking up at the blue sky! My sister and I used to attach our dolls to the pulley and give them rides up and down.
    She was, however, quick to buy a washing machine – a thing called a Keymatic with a red square ‘key’ a bit like a 3.5 floppy disk except thicker, imprinted with white writing which denoted the programmes. It went on for years but finally packed up in the 1990s with some of my father’s undies in it which, when we did eventually get them out, we had to bin because they had gone dark grey and stretched to unbelievable proportions. Hubby couldn’t stop laughing!
    My aunt was much the same but now she’s in her 80s she’s a fanatical washer and cleaner as she can’t bear to think that if she had a fall and people had to come in, they’d think she was a mad/sad old woman who was senile if things didn’t look spot-on. All change.
    Your mum looks fab in her Hedda Gabler-type outfit!

    Liked by 3 people

    • TanGental says:

      I recall a kenwood explosion that covered the kitchen in mayonnaise when her mixer decided to deconstruct itself one day. She was most upset at the wasted ingredients. It’s good to know she wasn’t alone though she did appear to be in deepest darkest Hampshire.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on .

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thanks again Judith

      Liked by 1 person

      • So many times I have included Mum’s ‘Wash Days’ in my books: the top loader, the rubber mangles, the suds, the steam, the clothes horse, the clothes airer – always easier to let down than pull up to the ceiling with the damp clothes on it. The hiss and thump of the iron… There were always rows in our house on those days because Dad didn’t get a ‘proper meal’.Makes me miserable just thinking of Wash Days! I love my automatic!!

        Liked by 3 people

      • TanGental says:

        I know we have it easy now but the benefits so far outweigh anything else. I’m with you 100% even if I still make laundry mistakes in terms of temperatures, overloading, excess soap and mixed loading…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. ellenbest24 says:

    I will write a post for you to see my experience of wash days . Thank you for yours. 😇

    Liked by 2 people

  4. colinandray says:

    My Mum was much the same. “Today” was all that really mattered. I would imagine that going through a war, and living in a prime industrial area (= prime bombing target), would have given her that perspective. How can we get people to adopt something similar, but without going through the destruction and carnage of a war?

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Now that’s a challenge, Colin. Yes I expect there’s somethign there, though mum’s contempories seemed to be universally house proud and they had been through the ‘show’. Perhaps because she had been in London during the war and a lot of them lived their lives in rural Hampshire where we ended up explains the difference in approach.


  5. ellenbest24 says:

    Thank you for this, I posted my memory on wash day past I hope you come and see the differences, England 1960’s washday. http://wp.me/p4CUfR-hV thank you for posting. 😇

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Mary Smith says:

    I still use a pulley in my kitchen for drying clothes when they can’t be hung outside. This winter with the weeks of endless rain it’s been a blessing – though I have to remember to take washing off the pulley before I start cooking. Last night I forgot and all the clothes were permeated with the aroma of Thai chicken curry.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Now that is a splendid image – I managed to leave my son’s first school shirt the colour of turmeric due to a missed duster that went in with it some years back. However I failed to add the scent… Thank you for joining in!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. willowdot21 says:

    Ha! I remember the washing contraption thingmagig hanging from the kitchen ceiling, over the stove. Arrgh health and safety alert!! And the evil boiling saucepan full of God knows what, plus there was a mangle in the garden. Count your fingers!! 🙂 xxxx

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Erica Herd says:

    Your mom sounds lovely. My mom was a clean freak for most of my growing up–vacuumed several times a day–and did laundry in the basement (we eventually got a washer and dryer) in the wee hours of the night.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Judy Martin says:

    I enjoyed reading that. I don’t remember those ceiling contraption things. I remember early on my mum had a twin tub, with giant wooden tongs to pick up the washing from the soapy side and slop it into the spinner bit that was pretty terrifying!
    Your mum sounds a wonderful character, not doing what others expected of her! In those days it must have been pretty tough for her to have been her own person! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. What wonderful memories you have Geoff – always entertaining!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. jan says:

    I’m with your mother! A few years back I wrote about my earliest memories of laundry day – which for my mom and grandmom was always Monday – here’s the post http://bit.ly/1E9GAyJ

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Anabel Marsh says:

    Small girl: Mummy, are you using the washing sheen?
    Mother: Don’t say sheen, say ma-chine.
    Small girl: But Mummy, it’s not ma sheen. It’s YOUR sheen!

    Not sure if I can count this as an actual memory – Mum still has the women’s magazine that paid ten shillings for her letter telling this true story c 1960.

    Liked by 4 people

    • TanGental says:

      Its lovely. I love how children’s logic is flawless. I used to start my weekly stories at primary school. ‘The smorning.’ I remember being upset when people said I was wrong and it should be This morning.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Ali Isaac says:

    I have to agree with her … on everything except for the washing machine. Who would rather wash by hand?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a great memory of a mom who knew what was important to her. ☺ I remember the battle my parents had getting Grandma to get rid of her old wringer washer. She was certain, our clothes would never be as clean again with that new-fangled automatic. She might have been right.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love your Mum Geoff.She had her priorities right except for the washing machine. That would have to be a must for me although I still agitate to buy a twin tub like the one Judy described. I thought it was the best machine as it washed well and being labour intensive it couldn’t be left and forgotten leaving the clothes to go mouldy. Roger refuses despite not being the one to wash.
    Thank you for joining in again and showing that there is a big difference between countries when it comes to drying the clothes. I haven’t seen a kitchen contraption such as you described.
    Loved those puppy pictures.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Pingback: Times Past: Prompt 2 Women’s Work? | Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist)

  17. Norah says:

    Our warm Australian weather meant the washing was usually hung outdoors. Large verandahs or high set houses generally meant there was somewhere outdoors but undercover where washing could be hung on wet days. Often sun showers would suddenly occur and there’d be a mad dash to get the washing in before it got too wet. Often the shower was over before the washing was even partly retrieved. I love the story of the your mum in hysterics and you and the dog scattering in opposite directions. Hilarious!


  18. Great post That stirs so many memories. Here is just one of those I have posted earlier: http://derrickjknight.com/2014/11/19/boiling-hankies/


  19. Lisa Reiter says:

    What a super flash back! I’m looking forward to comparing notes (when I skid in at the deadline, no doubt!) My father was in the RAF and jackets never came off so I know my Mum was the same with the shirts – collars, cuffs and the line of buttons only. And we had a ‘scullery’ which you don’t hear so much about nowadays – with one of those airiers on a pully system that disappeared into a rather high ceiling. Great memory ❤️


  20. merrildsmith says:

    Great post. It’s funny how laundry is something that so many people write about. I’ve done posts on it, too. My mom worked outside the home from the time I was small, so she was not the stereotype 1950s-1960s American wife and mother. We always had a washing machine and dryer, but no schedule for washing days. Perhaps there was a special day when I was young when sheets were washed, but I don’t remember. When my mom was a new mother (with my older brother) in the 1940s, she had to wash her clothes at a laundromat, then bring the wet clothes and baby home, bring everything up to the apartment in Philadelphia, and hang it out on the line with one of those pulleys that I’ve only seen in movies.


  21. I remember my mother boiling the soiled nappies of my baby sister. What I can’t remember is if she used the saucepan for just that Now you’ve got me worried!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thanks for this delightful post. That prompt really inspired you. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Annecdotist says:

    Your mother was a star!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Sherri says:

    Love this Geoff, your Mum sounds like such a wonderful woman, I love her life philosophy. The ironing of the shirts is great…so very different to my dear Granny who ironed everything, with starch, and I’m including knickers and everything…


  25. Charli Mills says:

    Your Mum had the right idea — clean kitchen, the rest can be avoided! She must have enjoyed doing laundry by hand. Great memory! Reading through the comments, I’m thinking American responses are going to be much different in regards to early adoption of machines!

    Liked by 1 person

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