Domestic catastrophe

How easy our lives are, how very easy. Compared to people in other places and people in the past in other times, our lives are actually fairly effortless. This might sound very complacent, and I hope I’m not complacent, but it struck me this afternoon as I was mopping up pools of water and struggling with sodden washing that all I was having to contend with was a broken washing machine. The solutions might be expensive but not impossible – washing machine repairs? New washing machine? Give up on washing machines for the moment and use the launderette? Whatever the answer we also have central heating so when the washed clothes don’t dry out on the line then we can dry them indoors. How very fortunate we are, so lucky.

I’ve written before about my mum doing the washing, and my grandmothers before that… they didn’t have washing machines (well, my mum did – she was probably the first generation who did have one as a kitchen essential, but it just washed clothes, she had a mangle and then put them out on the line – no spinner until later, and no twin-tub until much, much later!) So they did not have technology which broke down and didn’t function, but they would have days without end of wet, cold weather, when no washing could be put out to dry… so what did they do? Wash the essentials and dry them round the fire?

One of my grandmothers had a pub and they had outhouses and a big copper to heat water – she had an undercover space for lines to dry clothes and bedding – but in the cold winter that would not necessarily have been very successful so I guess clothes came into the kitchen. Maybe she had a maiden hanging from the ceiling, probably she had clothes horses – but wouldn’t the clothes have smelled of food and cooking? The pub had been rebuilt and there was actually central heating, so maybe the clothes horses were arranged around the radiators in the living quarters upstairs.

My other grandmother didn’t have running water in the house but a pump in the back garden. She came from a fairly middle class family and ended up in fairly humble circumstances (but still with that pretension to being ‘above’ the other villagers who were ‘common’ – so sad that she had been brought up to think this, born in 1888) – how she would have struggled with her four children to keep clean and ‘properly’ dressed. Maybe she had someone who ‘did’ her washing – if so it would have been at the expense of something else because hey were not well off at all.

We have modern light-weight, easy clean fabrics, washing powders and liquids chemically engineered for better cleaning, central heating, launderettes – and there are very few cola fires or industries using solid fuels pumping out smoke and grime so filthy that men changed their collars and cuffs at lunch time before going back to work!

So I guess an engineer will come and repair our machine, and in the meantime we will go to the launderette, sit in comfort reading while the machine does the work, put our clean wet clothes in the dryer, wait for twenty minutes or so, pack up go home and do the ironing!

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