Friday, 4 February 2011

Thoughts on Laundry and Nationhood

One advantage of Australia over the United Kingdom, in my experience (although, in light of the recent 'flood events', as the media insists on calling them, it is possibly not really the moment to notice this) is the speed with which you can get your washing dry - and the lovely smell it has when it's spent a day out in the sunshine. Even that stuff you forgot about that's been sitting in the washing machine since last Tuesday (oh, that's just me, is it - no-one else is that incompetent? I feared as much) and is starting to smell like boils (all right, how I imagine boils might smell - accuracy is everything, I agree) comes out fresh and odourless after a day in the Australian sun.

But before this transforms into some kind of nightmarish advertisement, featuring me grinning maniacally, wearing a frilly sprigged pinafore and holding up a box of all new Omo, I will hand over to Rosemary Dobson. Rather than noticing international differences, she spots the universality of washing in her poem called Folding the Sheets:

Folding the Sheets

You and I will fold the sheets
Advancing towards each other
From Burma, from Lapland,

From India, where the sheets have been washed in the river
and pounded upon stones:
Together we will match the corners.

From China, where women on either side of the river
Have washed their pale cloth in the White Stone Shallows
'Under the shining moon'

We meet as though in the formal steps of a dance
to fold the sheets together, put them to air
In wind, in sun, over bushes, or by the fire.

We stretch and pull from one side, and then the other -
Your turn. Now mine.
We fold them and put them away until they are needed

A wish for all people when they lie down to sleep-
Smooth linen, cool cotton, the fragrance and stir of herbs
and the faint but perceptible scent of sweet, clear water.

(From the sequence, 'Daily Living', published in Collected Poems, 1991)


  1. Flood events: a bit of Googling might find you Florence King's "Gone with the Hurricane Conditions", a rendering of memorable lines from Gone with the Wind into the modern American vernacular

  2. Oh that's made me remember a sketch by the American comic, Shelley Berman, where a government inspector comes along to vet a recording of Old Man River, which eventually becomes Elderly Person River (or possibly even River turns out to be objectionable). I'm going to go and see if I can hunt it down, as well as looking up Florence King. Thank you for reminding me of Shelley Berman, George. I haven't thought of him for decades.

  3. Laundry is my favourite chore. I also like wielding a Swiffer - SO satisfying!

  4. Oh yes, I was saying to some friends on Wednesday night, "what's all this about weather events".

    Anyhow, love the poem ... love the smell of our sheets off the line (and no, you're not the only one to leave the odd wash in the machine longer than you should!)

  5. Nurse - a Swiffer (something medical)?
    Whispering - I like Rosemary Dobson's poetry a lot; I wonder if you ever encountered her husband, Alec Bolton, when you worked at the National Library.

  6. Re your comment on shopping online: what I do Zoe, is only go online when I need something. I don't go online to find something I might like.

    Like at the moment I am looking for a walking frame for my father and need to know about design, etc. Whilst doing that, I found a 'handle' to attach to the wall of my shower recess which will help no end.

    I have been lax of late with my reading. Too much responsibility in the real world. But shall do a MacArthur soon ...

  7. Well you'll be all right then, Julie - it's when you start indulging your flea market hunting instincts via the net that you're in trouble.
    As to the diary, there's not been much going on over there, as my grandfather's been off on a couple of courses, and now he's about to go on leave and he covers that in one entry and a letter.