Sunday, 19 July 2015

Ironing a tea-towel

Yesterday evening found me ironing a tea-towel. Just stop and think about that for a moment. Ironing. Ironing a tea-towel. Who does that kind of thing?

Let me try and explain my relationship to ironing. Purchases for my wardrobe are largely made based upon the cleaning and care requirements of the clothes. Does it need dry-cleaning? Not buying. Ponder what it will look like un-ironed... an abomination? Not buying. I do own a lovely pair of linen trousers. When I wear them, I love them, but they're white, and basically at the end of the day that's it, they're straight in the laundry basket. (To be honest, they're usually wrecked by lunchtime, but I draw the line at more than one outfit per day). They get washed. I'm pretty good at washing. And then they either go in a mysterious heap in the spare bedroom, or get hung up. Last time that happened it was TWO YEARS before I wore them again, because that was how long it was before I got the ironing board out again. Seriously, ironing just doesn't feature in my life. LittleBear doesn't know what the iron looks like, or what ironing is, and he's three-and-a-half now.

So how did I find myself ironing a tea-towel? (And pillowcases, and duvet covers. I nearly ironed a duster.)

Let me take you back to 1969. My beloved grandparents bought a holiday cottage in the Lake District. It was initially solely for the use of the family, but was soon being lent out to friends for holidays too. Because you could never quite guarantee who would be there, my grandmother wrote handy little notes, and sellotaped them to the inside of cupboards, and on the top of old biscuit tins, to inform visitors what lay within, and what should be returned. I think some of those little notices are still there. And the ones that have disintegrated have been replaced by similar notices in the hand of GrannyBear, or her sister AuntBear. There was never any question but that one must return all items to their proscribed locations. One must also always, on pain of my grandmother's diapproval, clean the cottage at the end of the holiday.

On one occasion University friends of my parents stayed and did not leave the cottage in an acceptable state at the end of their holiday. That was more or less the death-knell for non-family members being allowed to stay unaccompanied. My grandmother's disapproval was so stark, and so unwavering, that none of us dared ask again (and I don't think I was even born at the time). There now seems to exist an unspoken embargo on others staying there. They Might Not Clean Properly.

So now, we clean the cottage. And I turn into some kind of deranged monster in my insistence that it be clean to the standards of a woman who died thirty-odd years ago. Though my mother holds us all to the same standards. She notices if the skirting boards haven't been washed. Really. I'm not sure I've ever washed the skirting boards at home, but at the cottage? Oh yes. And I dust inside the lamp-shades, and move the fridge to clean underneath it. The kinds of the things that would be just a bit too much like effort at home, are utterly, irrevocably vital at the cottage. And it must all be done in one morning, as we're packing to drive for six hours to get home. No, I don't know why I make it so hard either. But I do know that BrotherBear does the same thing - his wife has complained to me that he goes a bit bonkers in cleaning up and starts doing un-natural things like cleaning behind bookcases.

I'm not entirely sure that the rest of the family has been imbued with the same sense of terror of Granny Disapproving Of Inadequate Cleaning, but my god it's had a lasting effect on me. (In fact given that one of my cousins once asked incredulously whether I genuinely got down on hands and knees to wash the kitchen floor rather than just using a mop, I know that it's perhaps affected one side of the family more than the other.)

What's all this got to do with tea-towels though?

Well... among the many facilities provided for the weary traveller at the cottage are a chest of drawers and an old chest full of tea-towels, towels, sheets, pillow-cases, blankets etc. And being incompetent and disorganised I had not taken any tea-towels, or any pillowcases with us. Go me. So I used the supplies from the cottage, and as is traditional, will pass them to the next visitor to return. But they came out of the drawer crisply ironed, and I cringe inwardly at the thought of returning a white Irish linen tea-towel in anything other than pristine condition. And thus I found myself ironing tea-towels. My family has a lot to answer for.

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