Thursday, October 6, 2011

1985: It felt like the world would freeze

Laundrettes, launder-ettes, launderamas, washeterias: no matter what you call them they're depressing aren't they? They're always the same. Banks of yellow machines, the miniature soap dispenser, binbags of abandoned clothes, the warm/cold feeling you get when you walk through the door, the crazy paving/faux marble flooring, magazine racks full of crumpled back issues of Chat, the grizzled old hen behind the counter and if you're really lucky the smell of dry cleaning fluid. Ghastly, aren't they?

When I moved out of the cosy hall of residence and into a cold house with three other friends with no mod cons whatsoever - in fact, we were lucky there was a bathroom - I often found myself sitting in a thick coat in the launderette watching my smalls go round and round and wondering if there was anything more dispiriting than this.

When I was at boarding school we had to do our own laundry, but it just involved shoving it in then go off and do something else, knowing you were only inches away. I took no care over it. My roommate and I would have everything mixed together. All whites were a lovely shade of used chewing gum. Not that there were too many whites. This was the Eighties after all.

The laundry room was a treasure trove of sorts. If you were lucky you could lay claim to items of clothing that had been hanging around just that bit too long then swear blind they were your own. I got a lovely pair of stonewashed jeans off Jason Charnell, and the denim jacket with the cream cord collar that hung there most of the summer was a gift from God. David Hunter's discarded (clean!) underpants came in useful once too. How did I know they were his? It's boarding school Everything's got name tags.

Doing laundry as a student was a different kettle of fish though. It meant you had to physcially be there. It was too far to drop off and go home again, so it required one to sit there for what seemed like hours on end. I think of chilly March skies and hearing this song on my Walkman, which is appropriate because I always think of it as a cold weather song. That and Matt Bianco's More Than I Can Bear both put me in mind of the spin cycle.

It was grim but it had to be done once in while. The people were scary, all sitting there on a Saturday afternoon buried in Titbits and looking like they might slit your throat as soon as glance at you. I think I went once a month.

Of course, by the end of the year I'd discovered the service wash and though a tiny bit more expensive, fluff and fold was the way forward. Life was never the same again.


  1. Oh yes, been there and got that t-shirt (washed on 40/coloureds, dried on medium then stuffed back into a carrier bag to take home again - all after hoarding 50p and 20p pieces to make up the strange "exact change only" combinations needed). Luckily only for two terms of the second year before we moved into a shared house with a washing machine.

    For my first year in halls there was a laundry room where you could indeed stuff it in and come back later. But with 100 or so others fighting for the same machines you would often come back to find your stuff in a soggy heap in the corner and someone else's going round. Or getting it back to your room to find a mystery bra had arrived in the load!

  2. I remember that the boys at university who didn't live near enough to regularly take bin-bags of washing home to their Mums, all gradually stopped braving the launderettes. This meant that anything that couldn't be hand-washed didn't get washed. Their bedding (and then their rooms) began to smell like hamsters.

  3. Mystery bra - that's your story, Simon...

    I know someone who didn't change their sheets once in two years. He was a right shagger as well. I think they had to be burnt at the end of the term.

  4. GAH!! Reminds me of the malodorous hippy who lived in the room downstairs from me in the second year. He was repellent to most, but was well serviced by a bizarre stream of grubby hippy chicks. I used to dare my friends to go into his room and look at his sheets. They looked like someone had been using them as dustsheets while they did a spot of plastering.

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