I don’t suppose laundry looms large in the lives of children. Most people responsible for dealing with it are just grateful if it makes its way to the laundry basket rather than lying in a heap somewhere.
Growing up in South Africa in the 1950s, while I wasn’t personally involved with doing the laundry (neither was my mother!), I was very aware of all the processes. We had domestic staff and it was much more fun being with the domestic staff in the yard than in the house so I was aware of masses of laundry. There was a courtyard between the kitchen and the outbuilding where the washing machine and ironing board were and, except when the maid tore out into the yard to remove it in advance of a sudden storm, there was always washing on the line.
Most things were washed in a machine and hung out to dry. White sheets and shirts had their final rinse in Reckitts Blue and that, combined with drying in the sun and occasional application of bleach, left them brilliantly white.
The ironing was endless – everything had to be ironed and a woman would come in twice a week to help the maid. In a hot climate clothes were not worn more than once before they were washed and there was an endless cycle of washing, drying, ironing and then all over again. The workload was intense.
Fast forward to small flat in London: no washing machine or dryer. Sheets and towels went to a laundry; everything else was hand-washed with occasional trips to the laundrette – a miserable place. My first visit was sensational and humiliating, as I didn’t know you needed special low-lather washing powder for an automatic machine and watched helplessly as the machine erupted with foam pouring out.
Number one daughter then arrived: I was not prepared for how many times a baby can spew over their clothes and how many nappies you use. Our flat had poor ventilation so the mounds of washing added to the condensation. We could not have a washing machine but we could have a tumble dryer and my life was transformed. I have never looked back – until now.
My tumble dryer died a couple of weeks ago – it was going to cost nearly as much to repair as a new one so, as I write, I am waiting for the new one to be delivered. (Smug note – I didn’t buy an extended warranty and this happened after the extended warranty period would have ended - but six years' lifespan is hardly long!)
I have been hanging clothes to dry for the first time ever - and the scratchy sensation of the towels took me right back to childhood. (However environmentally unsound a tumble dryer might be – the result is a mighty soft towel.) Apart from the deterrent of the inclement weather I don’t have anything set up to hang washing outside so have been hanging things over the banister, from hangers, over radiators and circulating them through the airing cupboard. Items that never need ironing after tumble-drying need ironing now. It is so time-consuming – why would you want to?