My mother was a woman of very specific ideas. So far as a washing machine was concerned, her views were steadfast: if it was a question of a choice between can we afford a washing machine and can she buy her seeds, tools and other garden paraphernalia then the machine could definitely wait.
Thus it was that I was brought up to a life in steam, gently poached throughout my pre-adolescent years as my mother boiled and bubbled like a solo Macbeathean witch at her potions. We had pans for boil washes, a separate pan of handkerchiefs – a necessity I failed to grasp until I, too encountered that most viscous of substances – the adult male bogey – and the bath commandeered for sheets, pillow cases and, twice a year, blankets and bed spreads. She used a mangle with the same sweaty, gritted-teeth determination that I now try and do reps in the gym, wearing away the enamel on her incisors as she pushed through the tenth iteration of the press and squeeze. Is it any wonder women, for of course it was women, didn’t need the gym back in the day when housework mimicked Military Style fitness but without the mud and superfluous invective.
It is, of course, no surprise that the first washing machine to appear in our house coincided with Dad’s retirement. ‘You mother wanted it.’ Yes dad, much as the Textiliste wants debentures for the rugby.
By then I was no longer a Hotpoint virgin. On my first day in Hall at Bristol University I was shown the laundry facilities on a whistle stop tour. The other men – it was a male only hall in those days – nodded and moved on. I stared. Those farmers who found the alien space craft in Rockwell couldn’t have been more stunned by this vision of otherwordliness that confronted me that day. I had no clue.
As I recall, to one side of the machine there was a helpful set of instructions, but, as with so much aimed at the adolescent – things don’t change – it was a series of don’ts not a helpful set of how-tos: don’t over load the drum – no indication of what ‘too much’ was either by weight or by item; don’t put in too much powder – what type, where and again what was ‘too much’; don’t leave your washing in the machine – so, how exactly do the clothes get clean if they stay on the outside throughout a programme? Naturally the one useful ‘don’t’ I completely missed: don’t mix the load. I’m not sure I would have got it anyway, but, as a result of having to survive my first term at University with some fine if novel my little pony pink underpants I’ve avoided white undergarments ever since.
Those two machines caused me endless sweaty sessions as, self taught, I jabbed and stabbed at buttons and spun dials in the vaguest hope of achieving a wash. For a period I used the woollens programme and it was weeks before I realised such thing as a spin cycle existed. It was, and it remains, a mystery to me why domestic machines have such a plethora of programmes. The Bristol ones, from those simpler 1970s had maybe ten; the machine we now have can offer you such specialist functions such as a pre wash for self-dying mohair jodhpurs and a 40 degree cotton enema.
Indeed machines are so sophisticated they are even culturally sensitive: these days we have mixed loads: long gone are references to coloured loads, unlike back at Uni. It’s good to know that even during laundry my liberal credentials aren’t being compromised.
I’ve learnt many life lessons through washing:
- you will always lose a sock: like dry cleaning receipts and political hopes they will be eventually return but too late to be any good;
- as with my early experiments in tie-dying underwear, at some point you will leave a yellow duster in a white load: but as with mixing opinionated guests at dinner parties this doesn’t always result in a disaster and sometimes the outcome is, while undoubtedly colourful, oddly satisfying;
- however you organise your bedding something will always lodge on the inside of your duvet cover and only reappear weeks later when it has set into a shape, the nearest approximation of which is a fossilised sheep’s turd; notwithstanding its egregious deformity you will still be elated by the return of your prodigal laundry thus providing further evidence that both the Bible and your Zanussi are full of allegories;
- someone will forget to remove a tissue from a pocket of a pair of jeans: despite your favourite t-shirt now looking like it has become the breeding ground for a shampoo-resistant strain of GM-dandruff, you will brush the bits off and wear it on the fallacious assumption that only the paper has transferred and stuck to your shirt and not what prompted the owner to have the tissue in his or her pocket in the first place, thus providing conclusive evidence that in the hope:experience dialectic, hope will always lose on penalties.
- you will accidentally launder money: for most people this will be one of the three commonest accidental crimes committed by adult males in the UK, the others being (1) thinking you look good on the dance floor and (2) after explaining the bleedin’ bloody obvious to a female colleague, being male.
Cue gratuitous picture of me and the Textiliste dancing in our Uni days. Cool, huh?