but you… was on a loop in my head at the launderette this evening. I don’t really like that song; I never really liked Take That either.
The thing is, or was, or is – I’m not sure – that the ‘you’, that doesn’t seem to change at all, is the launderette. I don’t go to them much, in fact, the last time was the 28th October 2009, so I’m in a good position to notice any drastic (or even minor changes). There aren’t any as far as I can see. As I sat on the thin wooden shelf for bums with the massive tumble driers heating my back, it was as if I was still 14, or 21, or 25, or any other age up to the age I am today. The launderette is the nearest I can get to time travel into the future too – everything changes but you.
The machines look the same as before and they roll round in the same direction as they ever did. I couldn’t say whethere it’s clock or anti though as I don’t pay that much attention – although I should. The smell is timeless and the decor, whatever launderette you find yourself in and wherever that may be, is always that whey-like worn formica yellow, or a wrong blue. There’s no word for the blue, barring wrong. And the word launderette, it’s a womanly word isn’t it? Invented for when washing was women’s work presumably. What would the testosterone-laden version of the word be, I wonder. Two rocks and a river probably. In India, they take your service wash at the launderette down to the ghats, the steps on the river bank. And they suds it and bash it and rinse it, and the children leap in and out of the filthy water, buzzing around the bright saris of the women that wash for a wage. I never saw how they dried it all.
Bunking off school in my teens might involve having a spin in one of those tumble driers, back in the day. A metal cocoon for teenage angst. A few revolutions and a bang on the bonce a great way to put those teenage angsts into perspective. I put my head right in to the drier today, on a mission to rescue clothes at the back of the hot cylindrical void and I wondered if I would still fit into the drum; if I could take a whirl in the drum for old times sake. The thought didn’t last long.
That’s the thing about it, isn’t it? You never quite get on top of the vast laundry mountain.
I think, in fact, if I ever achieved the goal of getting everything clean, dry, folded up (not ironed, I have my limits) at the same time and tried to put it away, that there would be an insufficency of storage space in any case. The youngest child thoughtfully helps out with the problem by keeping a lot of her clothes on the floor, as do I.
I did achieve this state of everythingalwayslaundered nirvana once in my life. It was when I was very due to have my second daughter. I know they go on about the ‘nesting instinct’ as if you were some kind of big fat dormouse, but I didn’t notice that at all with the first, and with the second the ‘instinct’ confined itself to the following activities:
- Manually cleaning the rug in the living room with some mad sudsy concotion in a washing-up bowl
- Doing the laundry like I had some kind of OCD
The ‘instinct’ only lasted a week or so because she was a little overdue in arriving. For those few days I knew the joys of an empty washing basket. For some reason, I had decided that there could be nothing worse, nothing more deleterious to a baby’s health to return home to a pile of washing. So I know that joy, and how I achieved it in a 2nd floor flat in Hackney Wick I shall never know, but as much as I moan about the washing now, I remain glad to have a small garden to hang it out in, even if it stays there all week, and even if it is, as it is now, pouring with rain.
And now I think of it, there is something deeper about the emptiness of the washing basket and its significance for me as a new life prepared to enter the world. It is a nebulous concept, totally in keeping with those hazy days of the last week of pregnancy and almost the inverse of this work by Christian Boltanski, shown in Paris and then again in New York in 2010.
The artist said of the 30 tonnes of old clothes installation pictured below and titled ‘No Man’s Land’:
You can hold onto the clothes, and even the heartbeats of many, many people. But you can’t keep anybody
Click the link to this New York Times piece for more about the installation and artist.