Since living on the boat I have got rid of most of my clothes, towels and bedding. I'm pretty certain there is more I could donate to the charity shops, but I don't know what might come in handy one day. I didn't think I would need two duvets, but having two is useful.
Like many people I am sometimes constrained to use a laundrette. During the winter I sometimes use a laundrette's driers if I can't dry wet items otherwise. I have a compact washing machine on the boat which sees regular service and is perfectly adequate for most of my needs, but large items, like duvets, need a larger washing machine. For quite long enough I had put off washing my two duvets (the summer and the winter ones - combined in more extreme cold periods) and my pillow. Colder weather seems to have intruded further into this year than last and I had failed to keep up with this task. Some tasks get to a stage where they can no longer be delayed. This was that stage.
A laundrette is an excellent example of a microcosm. There is nearly always some entertainment to be had or some community interaction, even if the makeup of the community is constantly shifting. Every time I go I find someone with whom I can mardle. If I go on a Sunday evening the other customers are nearly always men out on their own. I experience a mixture of delight and dismay to observe that they all seem to be growing increasingly younger than me. I'm not in the market, and I shall probably never find out, but I suspect there may be pick-up potential and it would make such an interesting study. Being that this trip was during a Friday daytime, though, the only other person in the shop was the woman who works there. Apparently she has pre-defined working hours, although I am never sure what they are. She's the Dot Cotton of the Fens, proprietorial and slightly scary, but if approached with a smile and appropriate deference she is incredibly helpful and takes pride in the service she provides. I was hoping to catch her because I thought her advice on which machines and how much of my expensive, concentrated ecological laundry liquid to use, would be helpful. I had expected to go to the corner shop across the road to get some change, but she was anxious to change my twenty pound note herself. She helpfully advised me on which machine to use - or in this case which two washing machines. I had failed to force the two duvets with their covers, the pillow and the bottom sheet along with sundry items of clothing into the large machine, no matter how much I grunted and tutted. She also explained how not to end up spending more on feeding the machines with pound coins than I needed to and she was very keen to help me reload my grubby laundry. This made me uncomfortable. It is one thing to change one's duvet cover in the privacy of one's own cabin, but to have someone insist on helping remove it in public made me anxious. I didn't know what might be uncovered. Every stain tells a story. In this public setting all I wanted to do was to shove my two duvets in the big machine and not risk being confronted with any proof of human frailty or indiscretion.
Each time I have used this laundrette I have pondered the large handwritten sign above the big washing machine declaring, "NO HORsE BLANKETs". Such is our fenland environment that warnings like this need to be articulated in NO UNCERTAIN TERMs. Yesterday I noticed a helpful addendum. She, for I assume it was she, had added "cat or dog" in a space on the bottom of the notice. I felt some relief that my duvets have been forbidden from acquiring the taint of horse or of dog or cat, even in homeopathic dilutions. As I brandished my bottle of expensive ecological laundry liquid she grabbed it from me, saying, "I'll do that for you." My delight spun on a sixpence to dismay. A bottle of laundry liquid generally lasts me at least a few months. I always measure out carefully one capful per wash-load. I know this must work because I smell the evidence of lightly perfumed country freshness after each wash. Using her professional judgement and expertise she tipped the bottle and generously shared about £5-worth of the precious liquid between the powder encrudded dispensing trays of the two machines. I felt faint.
From the row of smaller machines not already in use, she had selected one in particular. "If you use this one for the smaller items it will finish at the same time as the big one," she explained. Thanking her for her help I watched as she shared nine of my pound coins between the two machines. I sat to watch the show. Watching the laundry pirouette I also became aware of the bright green stuff that seemed to be growing around the inside of the washing machine doors. Once again I was brought face to face with the marvels of natural selection that there is even something that will grow in the hostile environment of a commercial washing machine. I did some sums. £6 plus £3 plus £5. This wash had cost me £14 so far and I had no grasp of how the driers had been adjusted since my last visit. I came to the conclusion a while ago that a single pound coins buys less drying time than it used to. The small machine finished a good ten minutes before the larger one. Maybe her methods of calculating time were as accurate as her methods of measuring capacity. Whether she applied some personal quantum theory or not she clearly approached measurement in a way that differed from my own. I mused upon this, still stinging from the abandon with which she had dosed the machines with liquid. I transferred the contents of the small machine to one of the driers and waited for the duvets to finish. Eventually the duvets completed their own cycle, although during the fourth and final rinse I watched and fretted about the concentration of suds that were still being coaxed from the gyrating cotton and polyester. I was certain that by the fourth rinse I should be seeing only plain water. I anticipated months of allergic reaction alleviated only by the visualisation in horribly graphic detail that on one hot summer night in the very near future I was going to die in Quatermassive terror, suffocated in an attack of bright green, sweat-rehydrated soap suds.
I could not cram all the contents into one drier. As I was coming to the realisation of the futility of continuing my attempts, Fenland Dot emerged from her room at the rear and watched me. I knew that a helpful observation was forthcoming. In the kind of voice reserved for idiots and small children (and possibly elderly men I realised ruefully) she explained that I was going to need two driers. If I persisted in using one drier I would end up pumping in more money and still fail to dry the spun-damp laundry. "Damp items need air and space to circulate, you see." I saw. I redistributed the contents. She dived in to help. The relief that I had earlier washed my smalls on the boat and left them pegged out on the line by the river bank was immediate and almost tangible. Following her advice (and after breaking down further one of my pound coins) I, or rather she, put £2.50 into each machine. New total, £19.
Drying clothes in a laundrette drier is an art, or a science, or possibly arcane magic. Pretending I knew what I was doing I paused the machines every few minutes to rearrange the contents, allowing the heat to work its own magic on all the damp bits. "You do know the clock is still ticking when you pause the machines?" Fenland Dot offered helpfully. I responded that I assumed that would be the case and thanked her again. I wondered, not for the first time I realised, why commercial driers don't change direction, like the Reversamatic my mother used when I was growing up, and tumble clothes in both directions to unwind all the knots they make. Instead I was forced to reach into the drum and stifle yelps of pain as I faffed about trying to rearrange and redistribute searing hot laundry. The drier containing the summer duvet finished within the allotted £2.50. Everything, bar bits of the winter duvet, had also dried in the other tumble drier, so I removed the dry items and put another pound in the slot. I folded my clothes and bedding and waited. New total, £20. However, the laundrette experience is not really what I wanted to comment about.
At some point during the proceedings Fenland Dot emerged from the back room and tossed a magazine on to the window sill. I was curious, but resisted the temptation the see what it was ... for a while. When I gave in and finally picked it up it turned out to be a copy of The Watchtower along with its twin, Awake. I've always avoided reading these in the past, knowing they would probably do little for my blood pressure. This time the curiosity was strong. As I read about the end of the world being nigh and that it was something to anticipate with joy, not fear, I wondered who had generated these assertions, clearly unfounded and certainly untainted by anything resembling evidence. I imagine one is supposed to assume it was Jehovah himself, but in the absence of a byline I couldn't be certain. Perhaps in the same way that the Queen never needs to carry cash, God doesn't need to autograph magazine articles? Whoever, or whatever, had done that smugly irritating thing of quoting verses from the Bible as though everyone else shares the conviction that bible verses alone constitute sufficient evidence for everything. Not for the first time I wondered what it is about this arbitrary collection of politically edited fables, bizarre rules and tales of horror and magic carrying so much power that, in the eyes and minds of many, makes it self-justifying. How is it that quoting Bible verses is seen as some kind of justification for the most absurd ideas? It took me back to the days when I did the same thing. Maybe it is embarrassment at my own gullibility that irritates me so much. Mormons don't just have The Holy Bible as their unimpeachable source of evidence. They also have The Book Of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, church magazines and conference talks delivered by the brethren. There is something to write about each of these and I may get round to it sometime. As teenagers we were encouraged to engage in "scripture chases" - a pointless activity involving the memorisation of scriptures and their locations within the standard works. We were pitted in competition against our peers from other areas to see who had remembered the most pointless information. How is it that I Nephi 3:7 "I will go and do the thing that the Lord hath commanded for I know that the Lord giveth no commandment save he shall prepare a way for them to accomplish that which he hath commanded ..." is still embedded? Did I get it right? Do I win the point? Forty-five years later that crap is still in my head. I sometimes wish that washing the brain clean of unwanted knowledge could be as simple as washing the brain clean of the freedom to think and act for oneself. You just never know what might come in handy one day.