Friday, 4 June 2010

Wrinkle Treatment

Shall I tell you what I did last night? I did not get drunk, I did not spend the evening trawling the flesh pots of my local suburb (partly because there are none), I did not enrol in Beginners' Lithuanian classes: I ironed. And I have to admit it's something I don't mind doing (I'd even go so far as to say I like it, if I didn't think that everyone I know would immediately come over with basketsful of the stuff for me to do - 'Well, you did say you liked it; in fact, you put it in writing.')

So I won't go that far. But I will admit that, of all the endless round of futile tasks that come under the heading 'housework', ironing is my favourite (followed by shoe-polishing - and can you believe it, someone I know does ALL the other household chores in her house in exchange for her husband doing the shoe-cleaning? She says she hates shoe-cleaning. She says she actually prefers cleaning the bathroom to shoe-cleaning - that is madness in anyone's book, surely [the bathroom! I mean to say {I think that actually merits one of my allowance of four exclamation marks for the year}])

But what is it about ironing that I find so (relatively - mustn't get carried away here) satisfactory? Early exposure to Mrs Tiggywinkle may be partly to blame. That 'nice hot singey smell', described so well by Beatrix Potter, seeped into my soul before I knew what was happening. And the efficient competence Mrs Tiggywinkle displayed as she took Lucy's pinny and 'ironed it, and goffered it, and shook out the frills' was always going to dazzle me, because I am the sort of person who never was and never will be described as efficient or competent by anyone in connection with any physical task of any kind [I think you always particularly admire the things you can't achieve yourself.])

But it's not just B. Potter that made me find ironing appealing. There's also the fact that, of all the domestic chores, ironing is the only one that doesn't involve:

1) moving from place to place or picking things up (as dusting does);
2) stretching or craning (as cleaning cobwebs from the ceiling and hanging out washing does);
3) crawling about on your hands and knees (as cleaning under the bed or doing the skirting boards does);
4) getting wet and making bleach spots all over your clothing (as cleaning the bathrooms does).
Ironing doesn't involve making any noise either (unlike vacuuming) and this means that you can woolgather or listen to the radio while you do it, (and listening to the radio is just about my all time favourite pastime). Ironing, in short, is what Helen Garner, who is great on the domestic and actually has a scene in her novel The Children's Bach in which one character gives another an iron as a present, ('They came in carrying things: a bunch of flowers, a tin of anzacs, a parcel in brown paper which Mrs Fox handed to Athena. She began to unwrap it. The stickytape popped.
'It's an iron,' said Athena.
She pulled the cardboard and the packing off it and took hold of the pale plastic handle. The cord was brown, flecked with blue, and was tightly wound in a rubber band...
Athena held the iron at arm's length, raised it and lowered it as if to test its weight. 'It's a very good iron,' she said.
'I love to see the creases in their little pyjama pants,' said Mrs Fox.
Dexter took the iron. 'It's so light!' he said. 'How could you make things flat with that? Irons should be heavy.'
The women looked at each other. Athena folded the brown paper and put it away in a drawer.') describes as one of those 'straightforward tasks of love and order that I could perform with ease'(although I have to admit that she is actually describing sheet changing when she uses that phrase [in The Spare Room]).

And there is one other important thing about ironing that makes me find it attractive: it is the kind of work I understand. It has a visible outcome, a tangible effect, it produces solid - if fleeting - results that you can stand back and look at. In my professional life (what a laughable phrase in connection with the muddle of things I've done to earn a living), the jobs where I've had to help produce something you can actually see - a magazine you can hold in your hand at the end of the month, for example, rather than just a set of recommendations or a policy guideline - have always been the ones I've found the most satisfying. I know this is the sign of a feeble non-abstract mind, the kind of thing Descartes ranked as second-rate, but there it is. I am literal minded. And because I am literal-minded, I felt, reaching the end of the long night and looking at the stack of smooth sheets and pillowcases and the line of uncreased shirts I had created from the towering pile of crumpled cloth I'd faced at the outset, an absurd sense of achievement. I knew what I'd done was entirely ephemeral, but it didn't matter - I could see the evidence of my work. It was a visible result of what I'd been up to. I liked that.

(And, if you want more on the subject, [surely not - I don't suppose anyone wanted anything on it at all in the first place] a friend has just told me there's a nice poem about ironing’s special joys
here.)

1 comment:

  1. In our house ironing counts as skilled labour, so falls within my wife's remit. My role is unskilled manual labour - or grunt work, if you like.

    She likes ironing though, you can watch the telly while you're at it.

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