Memories Stirred Up By A Visit To My Local Laundrette

LaundromatDay 4 of my self-imposed blog challenge and all continues to go well. I don’t want to congratulate myself too soon but four daily blog posts is more than I’ve done consecutively for a very long while and I confess I am enjoying it. It is also Day for me 430 on 750words.com which means that if I can blog for 430 consecutive days, following that precedent, I will still be blogging in December 2014. Now there’s a goal.

Today is all about packing for my holidays. I have an old and trusted friend coming to house-sit and feed Mitsy and I am preparing the place today for her comfortable stay, which means clean sheets and towels. It didn’t take me long to work out that if I left the bed with clean sheets on it for Jane, then I would need to find a way of washing and drying the second set today otherwise I would return to the choice of two sets of dirty bed linen. Not what you want when you come back from holiday, enthusiastic about sleeping in your own bed again.

All this means there’s only one option to me. Alongside packing and putting petrol in the tank and checking the tyre pressures and leaving the cat’s bowls full up and emptying the dustbins and all the other chores I consider essential before leaving home for just seven days, I am visiting my local laundrette. First of all I thought I would take the whole lot down there to wash and dry and then I remembered I could do all these other chores at home and out and about while doing the washing and just take it all down there to be dried which should save me some time and money.

Although my local laundrette has had a recent makeover and is now somewhat newer and brighter, it is still a funny old thing, the laundrette, isn’t it? When I first lived independently in both Oxford and London in the Seventies, there was a laundrette on every street corner; now they are relatively rare. I don’t think I owned a washing machine for quite a few years and this meant a trip to do my laundry at least once a week. And you would sit in there for hours on end watching your laundry go round, worrying in advance about collecting the right coins in the right denominations for the different machines and to be able to buy washing machine powder from a dispenser.

You would get a good look at your neighbours and their undies and the amateur psychologist in me would have a field day, watching other people. I think this was part of my early training to be non-judgemental (never assume) though I wasn’t nearly as good at that in those days as I am now and I would be the first to say I still have a way to go.

Thinking through my day last night and anticipating a trip to the laundrette put me in mind of all the other things which were commonplace in my younger years but would be just as odd now, such as telephones. I listened to a very funny story on the radio recently in which the show’s correspondent was reminding us how, only a few decades ago, the telephone was a two piece wired instrument which sat in the hall. Everyone in the house shared it, and sometimes you even shared it with your neighbour, a party line that was called. Whoever answered would shout up the stairs – and up the street presumably – for the person who was required to receive the incoming telephone call.

You had to sit in the hall to take your call, often with everyone listening. There were little tables in the hall for the telephone, the telephone directors and a notebook in which we would record important numbers, or sometimes the phone would be wall-mounted. I remember my parents had a cream-coloured wall-mounted telephone in the kitchen and I used to sit on the washing machine for a long call to my friends. Long calls were discouraged, parents were concerned about the size of their telephone bill. And get this, in those days telephones were installed by The Post Office.

When I got my first mobile telephone in the Eighties it was the size of a house brick and just about as heavy. But I loved it, not particularly for the privacy it provided but because I love a gadget. My first computer was also enormous with four separate parts to it – a big box with the workings in it, a big screen, a separate keyboard and a wired mouse. There was no question of taking that into another room with you even, let alone on holiday as I propose to do today.

I remember too the arrival of the fax machine and it taking twenty minutes to send a fax and us all sitting round and watching it transmit! Then the day came when we got our own, always an early adopter me, and it replaced a courier, the post office and the need to driving something round to a client’s office. And then inevitably the day came when I felt I could do without a fax machine altogether as email took over; the fax machine had a relatively short lifespan.

I remember when photocopies were wet and had to be hung up to dry out how we used a telex machine too, to send messages overseas. This involved the painstaking creation of a tickertape with the message encoded in a series of dots, positively antiquated and quite difficult to believe even to me who saw it and learned to work one.

All of this seems laughable. What’s your favourite memory of an outmoded gadget or way of life that is no more?

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