Like many mothers who also work outside the home I do the bulk of my laundry at the weekend. As I do I sometimes think of the huge leaps forward we have made in 30 years.
At the top of my childhood house there was a one freezing cold cast iron bath. Getting a bath meant the heating of a full six inches of hot water. Surviving a bath meant stripping off my clothes like they were on fire and diving under the water. And then began the compromises. To keep my face warm my knees had to be above the water. When my knees got too cold I let them in and poked my head out. But that was fatal. Now my hair was wet and, I figured, forming ice, so I scrubbed myself then leapt out. Then I got the towel. One towel. Sort of dried myself, pulled on my night dress and ran downstairs to sit in front of the fire and get my hair inspected for nits. Meanwhile in my bed were two hot water bottles, as bathing was considered a risk for TB. Despite TB being eradicated 10 years before my birth. I loved my mother gently going through my hair as I thawed out and my teeth chattered.
Note – one towel. Singular. Left upstairs for my brother who was next into the same bath.
Laundry was done in a twin tub. Dragged into the kitchen floor, and with the fire going with its cage around it and one clothes horse to dry all the clothes our family possessed. I loved the sound of the water swishing and the smell of Lux and coal tar soap used for heavy stains.
30 years on in a centrally heated house with a plastic bath and two showers, bathing is less a ritual and far more habitual. My kids stand/lie for hours in steaming hot water. And my automatic washing machine has its own musical 1400rpm spin.
And every Saturday morning I spend my “free” time washing. As well as the uniforms, I wash a savage number of towels. At the beginning of the week the lovely fluffy good towels are used. By the end of the week it’s the old cardboardy ones. Few reused. And why so many?
Because my kids baulk at the reuse of a towel. There is no answer to “Am I mean to dry my face on that after he has dried his bum with it” that does not make me sound 100 years old. Invoking the polar bears’ plight cuts no ice whatsoever.
Progress has meant central heating, hot showers, automatic washing machines and Howard Hughes like prima donnas. So I sometimes worry – did we lose something as life became more comfortable? Not on your nelly! Heat, light and convenience is fantastic. Cold baths and scrubbing clothes was terrible! We may not have freedom, but these inventions liberated homes in this land! Although I do wait for the invention that pairs socks automatically…