Rose embroidered hoodie for 4 year old – a late Christmas present

Roses on a sweatshirt for little girl aged 4 (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

My grandchildren should receive their Christmas presents from us tomorrow – not quite a month after Christmas! (That’s the sweater in the last post plus this hoodie.) The children should wear them straightaway, and wear them lots, as not having measured them for 6 months, I’ve had to make judgments about how much they’ve grown in that time and it’s so easy to get this wrong!

Storm Christophe has caused lots of flooding across the UK generally and in lower lying areas of our own county, Gloucestershire, in particular. We have been fortunate to have missed the really heavy rain and somewhat miraculously both yesterday and today have even been sunny and pleasant. In fact the last couple of days have been the epitome of good drying weather, so what could I do but gather up bulky items like towels and bedlinen and push them into the washing machine ready for a spell of line drying. There’s nothing like well blown household linen as you take it off the line, dry but not stiff and smelling of the outdoors, rather than crumpled from a few hours spent on a downstairs’ radiator and smelling ever so slightly of the fish you had for dinner.

Roses on a sweatshirt for little girl aged 4 (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

It’s odd that even in the 21st century household clothes drying should still be such a problem. Utility rooms are an excellent idea but few of us can afford a house of the size to merit one. Some friends have converted basements to rough approximations of one but these are often approached by rickety staircases, have low ceilings and are not exactly spacious. Others in old houses have former sculleries for washing machines and dog baskets but these always seem to feel a bit too cold and damp already before you even think of adding wet washing. My daughter has made use of the area under the steps up to the front door for the washing machine but drying has to be done elsewhere. In the UK larger houses built on new estates may include utility rooms but the smaller houses on the bulk of these estates are really quite small and counter intuitively can be built to lower specifications than those for social housing! Before we married and after he had retired from being a priest in charge of a parish and the vicarage that came with it, my husband lived in a tiny house on a new estate in Monmouth. Ostensibly 3 bedroomed, only one bedroom was big enough to have a wardrobe and in none of them could you have a standard double bed with access to both sides of the bed! The kitchen was more generously sized but at the expense of the living room in  which only the smallest of sofas would fit. (A nearby neighbour, in a slightly bigger house, would do her ironing in the garage –  in her underwear and with the garage door open – a bit disconcerting for a retired vicar! )

Roses on a sweatshirt for little girl aged 4 (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

When I lived in a 6 bedroomed house in Chiswick, if I couldn’t use the washing line in the garden, the drying problem was solved by bedecking my great beast of a four oven Aga and a good long kitchen radiator with swathes of wet household linen and clothing, which it has to be said dried in no time at all. Nearby was a proper airing cupboard with a boiler and shelves above –  things dried were folded up and aired in the airing cupboard and then, theoretically once every day, the cupboard could be emptied and things distributed to peoples’s rooms. It was quite time consuming with 3 adults and 4 children and for it to work you had to keep the up the rhythm of items moving from one place to the next or logjams would occur and the production line would foul up. Our Aga had a particularly long towel rail just right for drying (and basically ironing) a super king duvet cover – bliss! Adding lodgers to the mix was interesting. One lodger was very partial to wearing thongs and I have it in mind that I once dried 70 thongs in one go – the Aga looking more like an Indian elephant decked out in all its finery than a stalwart domestic appliance. (I think I must be exaggerating – surely no one person has anything like 70 pairs of knickers.) At the other end of the scale, one of our Japanese students, a middle aged woman studying English at a nearby college, liked those items of underwear called bodies – or even worse teddies –  and I could only dry 3 of these at the time, the hobs being too hot for the lycra fabric.  Of course, if you had people round, washing schedules were very carefully choreographed or postponed.

Roses on a sweatshirt for little girl aged 4 (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Then I think back to my childhood and remember the washing, let alone the drying being such a labour. When I was very little I have clear memories of my mother boiling sheets, towels and whites in a coal fired copper in the back garden on a Monday morning. It would put her in a very bad mood (and I don’t blame her). As the mangle removed very little water from wet things, you were completely reliant on a good breeze to get things dry enough to bring into the house. Advent of the single tub washing machine, with pop up mangle, still left you with the drying problem, so it was only some time after 1962 when the Servis Twin Tub machine appeared in our kitchen that our lives noticeably changed. A splendid giant in white enamel with pale blue Art Deco control panel it looked like a space age machine worthy of the children’s Science Fiction puppet TV programme Fireball XL 5 (also 1962 the invention of Gerry Anderson who went on to greater fame with Thunderbirds). The tumble drier spun at a mighty 2,000 rpm (most machines today spin at 1,200 rpms  many think higher rpms make little difference) which meant less time needed for sheets on the line. As I think by this time we also had central heating, wash day miseries soon became past memories.  I think we still stuck to Mondays for washing as the machine had to be pulled out from under the kitchen worktop,  a bi-forked hose hooked up to the taps for water while a waste water pipe hooked over the sink. For several reasons, mainly aesthetic, I loved this machine. My parents must have had an automatic washing machine  after I went to university.

Roses on a sweatshirt for little girl aged 4 (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

The Hoover Keymatic was the first automatic washing machine I remember. Working in Oxford after university  there, I lived in a flat in a house belonging to Salter’s Boatyard just off the towpath down from Folly Bridge. One of my flat mates had academic parents living in Oxford and as they upgraded their washing machine, we got their old one which was great. A front loader – very novel to me at the time – the Hoover Keymatic was distinctive with a big swollen belly that pushed forward at angle. The key of its name took the form of a thick plastic square, very like bars of Ritter chocolate. Each side of the square produced a different washing cycle according to which way you inserted the key into the machine. So, not very automatic and  in fact a bit limiting as I’m not sure you could ever just spin some hand washed clothes, for instance. The key was probably a bit of a gimmick. Like my mum’s old Servis, you still had to fix a hose to taps and loop the waste pipe over a sink. But, where the Servis just connected to the taps with a simple rubber hose, the Hoover’s came with hoses with metal straps you tightened with a screw driver once on the tap … and that is where things one day went very wrong for me. Screw heads become worn and get progressively more difficult to tighten. I pushed too hard and my hand with the screw driver shot away from the screw and up … into my eye – happening so quickly I didn’t realise what I’d done. I must have made some sort of groaning  and I left the room. A flat mate was in the bathroom next to the kitchen so, hearing the noise he came out, but the afternoon radio play  was on and suggesting itself as source of the racket, he returned to the bathroom. Well, at some point he and I met up and mercifully I remember little until being examined in the Oxford Eye Hospital and asked when I last ate.  A general anaesthetic later I woke up to find I was the proud possessor of 14 of the neatest little black stitches across the bottom of my eyeball. There are more unglamorous things in life than black eye patches. Forty plus years later my wounded eye has served me well. The arrival of the plumbed in washing machine is I believe one of mankind’s greatest advances!

I shall, however, never call a washing machine truly automatic until it sorts, loads, washes, dries and fold clothes before returning them to their appointed storage site.

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  1. ceci
    Posted January 23, 2021 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Yikes what a frightening story about the injury to your eye! So glad there has been a happy ending.

    Our current house originally had 3 tiny bedrooms; two have been combined to make a bed/sitting type room for my mom, and one is now the laundry room, quite delightful if we can resist the temptation to shove clutter in there.

    Did you perhaps see Dr. Biden’s embroidered evening dress and coat? Quite lovely and it made me think of your work.


    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 24, 2021 at 12:10 am | Permalink

      Well done fitting both a room for you mum and a utility room into what you say are tiny bedrooms. You must all be very organised, even though you say temptation to fill the utility room with clutter burns strong. I think most of us tend to colonise any space we see available!
      I did see Dr Biden’s embroidered evening dress and coat and thought they looked wonderful. Clever of her to have a flower embroidered for each state – just as it was such a lovely idea of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex to have her wedding veil embroidered with a different flower for each Commonwealth country. I googled Dr Biden’s outfit for a better look. All that was written about it describes the dress and coat as being embroidered. I’m not sure they were hand embroidered – close ups looked like the work may have been machine embroidered but with details added by hand. I’d love to know. I thought her blue tweed outfit was lovely too, though I did feel she could have done with a few more buttons to fasten!
      Nice of you to say you saw the inauguration outfit and thought of me.

  2. Posted January 23, 2021 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I still have my Grandmama’s mangle, which she specifically left to me because it so fascinated me when I was a little girl. I’ve not used it for a while, because it was too heavy for me to move after I developed a back problem, but I simply cannot bring myself to get rid of it!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 24, 2021 at 12:18 am | Permalink

      We love the idea of you inheriting a mangle, Rachel. What a practical girl!
      I don’t think I’ve seen mangle for 60 years, except in a National Trust house!
      Hardly a post goes by without you commenting on how you have something similar packed away, unable to get rid of it – one day it’s a much loved sweater, the next it’s a well remembered mangle. What a lot of memories you must have tucked away into drawers, or silent in the dark corners of your garage.

      • Posted January 31, 2021 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        You write so evocatively, it always brings something to mind!

        • Mary Addison
          Posted January 31, 2021 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          I think that’s one of the nicest things anyone could say. Thank you, Rachel.

  3. Doreen B
    Posted January 23, 2021 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Oh how I agree with every single word – I am frequently heard muttering “any architect designing a house without a utility room should be struck off”! Your post today brought back memories of returning home from school hoping to get warm by the fire only to find the fire guard strewn with wet washing! I remember the Hoover Keymatic well, especially the time mine broke down in the early Seventies when my daughter was twelve months old and still in nappies – for some reason the engineer came and went away, never to return, leaving me to wash everything by hand and rely on my next door neighbour for the use of her spin dryer. Despite pleas to Hoover I was left high and dry for several weeks until in desperation I wrote to Adam Raphael at The Guardian for his help. Miraculously he managed to get it sorted very quickly earning my utmost gratitude! I could go on but won’t – your post says it all. Perhaps there should be more female architects and washing machine designers!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 24, 2021 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      I’m right with you and the sentiments in your first sentence and your last as well, not to mention pretty much everything else in between!
      Good to hear that someone else remembers that funny old Hoover Keymatic!
      I remember Adam Raphael very clearly. He had such a calm and thoughtful demeanour that I understand how you thought you might put your trust in him. Even more impressive is the fact that he not only responded to your call for help but actually had some success. Most heart warming! Thank you for telling me.

  4. Amara Bray
    Posted January 25, 2021 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    Your stories as well as the stories in the comments are just delightful today– I love these glimpses into people’s lives.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 25, 2021 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Well, thank you Amara. It is always good to hear that you enjoy what I write.
      I often write thinking about my grandchildren reading the blog in years to come and getting an idea of how quickly the way we live changes in the course of not that many years. (Just in case the blog becomes inaccessible in future, my husband has diligently printed out the posts, so there should still be a record of what I’ve written.)

  5. Ann Collins
    Posted January 26, 2021 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    So is the reason dryers are not popular in the UK is because the older homes have no space for them? Other than in childhood, when we would sometimes hang sheets out to dry so they would smell good, I’ve lived with a dryer inside the house. Because we had 12 people living in our home including grandparents we had two washers and two dryers (all in the basement). Also, in some towns it’s illegal to have wash lines outside! I can only imagine the inconvenience of drying clothes considering the amount of rain you get.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 27, 2021 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Anne, an interesting question.
      It’s certainly true many homes don’t have space for a separate tumble drier. You can get washers that tumble dry but you usually have to reduce the load to be dried, so that means smaller wash loads or a pile of washing waiting for the second sitting.
      I think now people are very aware of being greener, so try not to use driers which consume quite a lot of electricity.
      My family are all quite tall and I found things dried with heat tightened up and even shrunk quite a lot, so I tried not to use one for all except a few things. Then my drier also seemed to develop several problems and I felt I could use the space it took up better.
      In your case with so many in the house PLUS the glory of having 2 washers and 2 driers in the basement, I can see its positive benefits.
      (People talk about getting children to do their own washing but I’ve always felt this was only practical if you had 2 machines.).
      It’s true in England many in areas of conservation are forbidden from having outside washing lines but again I think this is changing with people trying to use less energy and there has to be some leniency to such regulations. I think this is the situation where my eldest daughter lives and I often felt I’d get a proper line put up, wait for it to be challenged and meanwhile enjoy the gorgeousness of outdoor dried sheets and towels. (There’s a sinilar problem with double glazing in these areas. This too will have to change as the heat loss can be huge.)
      As I’m at home most of the time, it’s easy to pop washing in and out. This would not be as easy for a busy working family, so… it’s horses for courses. You do what works for you.
      Although we do get lots of rain, you can mostly judge when it’s coming and develop a seventh sense for nipping out with the washing if its very warm or very windy.

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