PC 159 Ironing

In PC 158 I mentioned rather off-handedly that, in the evenings during my daughter’s stay in Estoril, I would collect her family laundry and return it sometime the next day, folded but not ironed. This may have given a false impression that, despite being a Metro man, I don’t iron. How wrong is that! I love ironing …… especially sheets!

Way before I was born, a block of iron, heated in some way, was used to smooth out the creases in clothes. There was even a song about this mundane aspect of our existence – “Dashing Away with The Smoothing Iron” written in 1859. In my lifetime we have come a long way from the old-fashioned non-steam iron and now great machines are available to ‘iron’.

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As an officer cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) it became a vital skill in one’s toolbag, the ability to iron. Any fool can be unkempt and in the same vein anyone can have the crumpled look, by design or by laziness. But at RMAS learning to have pride in one’s appearance dictated that you had to learn how to iron. Those of you who occasionally watch television may have seen documentaries about the Officer Cadet Academy and the incongruous sight of those joining on Day One carrying an ironing board into their accommodation block, and wondered whether the cadets were going to defeat some future foe with an ironing board? We ironed our shirts, our uniforms, our trousers, the latter with that crease front and back, so that the fall of the trouser over the boot was perfection.

Today I don’t have to prove anything anymore, and accept that ironing is perceived as a chore ……. but a simple change in thinking, a simple flip of the coin, makes it a pleasure, seeing beautifully ironed shirts on hangers, smooth squared-off sheets waiting to be put away. Pride in one’s efforts is often self-congratulatory, although I blushed slightly when a house guest, after an overnight stay and breakfast, asked whether we sent the bed linen to the laundry …… “They’re like a hotel’s!” Good to know we get something right!

Speaking of household laundry looking like something you would expect to find in a five-star hotel, my step-father’s family traced its lineage back to the 1500s in Scotland and, like all good wealthy clans, his father married into another. Whilst the wealth was diluted through families with twelve children or more, way down the line I inherited a couple of linen table clothes and linen napkins, of very good quality. Today there are few opportunities to sit twelve chums around the dining room table. Actually we don’t have one big enough, not that we don’t know twelve worthy people! But very occasionally for a party we have used the large Damask Linen table cloth to cover a serving table. This is not the sort of item to stick in your domestic washing machine, let alone try to iron and it goes to be professionally laundered. I lived in and around Clapham Common in London for some 25 years and in Clapham Old Town discovered Sycamore Laundry & Dry Cleaners. Blossom & Browne’s Sycamore was established in 1888, is still run by the Browne family and has Royal Warrants from HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales.

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It was such an experience; firstly to have the temerity to enter the establishment in the first place and, secondly, to address the rather imperious lady behind the counter. “Yes?” she would ask in an accent that was mid-way between the staff of Downtown Abbey and the resident family. She was of course delightful and the table cloth was laundered to perfection.

But most of the time it’s the weekly sheets, so a large ironing board is needed. Once, applying too much pressure on the iron to ensure a good result, a weld in one of the board’s legs broke and the whole thing collapsed. It was still under guarantee and, after a couple of photographs emailed to the store, a replacement was offered. Boards need to be long enough but also adjustable for tall people like me; if not you end up with back ache! It doesn’t seem to matter whether you spend a lot of money on an iron or a little, none of them seem to last that long, eventually spitting out lime scale despite repeated ‘decalcification’!!

In the Brazilian family home on Iposeria in Sao Conrado, Rio de Janeiro, Sandra, who lives in the Vidigal favela, would turn up on a Thursday and iron all day. This girl ironed to perfection; absolutely faultless!

Stella McCartney recently suggested that you should not wash your clothes ….. ‘just let them be!’ ……. a nod perhaps to her father’s song-writing ability. Her advice: “Let the dirt dry and brush it off.” What? Under the armpit, where the shirt has got a bit smelly – ‘brush it off?’ But McCarthy was trying to make a point that some of us have got too obsessed by personal hygiene. Pity we all haven’t!  Well, I know every time we do a load of washing some fantastical figure of microfibres (particles of plastic below ten micrometres) – about one fifth the diameter of a human hair) are shredded and eventually find their way into the oceans. Sixty per cent of our clothes contain some form of plastic ….. and we now wonder whether this really is progress?

But clothes undoubtedly need to be fresh and clean. Sitting in the Royal Festival Hall over ten years ago, listening to one of a series of Sibelius concerts, I was unfortunate enough to be two seats away from someone whose tweed jacket had not seen the inside of a dry cleaners since it was bought ….. and that was probably when the old man was a teenager. It’s that acrid, rancid, sharp smell that can’t be hidden or masked by mothballs ……… and whilst I sympathise with those who live on our streets and who have other, more urgent, priorities than the cleanliness of their clothes, the majority of us need to dress in clean ….. and well-ironed clothes.

Richard August 2019

PS Well ironed and put away neatly!!

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PPS When my daughter returned from Estoril, she found that her mother-in-law, bless her, had changed the bed linen, ironed the sheets and pillow-cases and remade the bed! She has been reminded just how nice it is to sink onto clean pressed linen.

PC 158 Airbnb

One of the greatest expansions of ‘holiday rental space’ has come about through a company called Airbnb (such a clever name huh?). There are others but this one, started in 2008 in San Francisco and now with an annual turnover of $2.6 billion, is the sort of go-to when you need someone to stay, whether at home or overseas. Some of my readers may of course be on the other end of this, providing their accommodation for others to use. We have chums in our street who have very successfully let out their duplex to enable them to travel; this year’s renters have all been cricketers, here in Hove for the summer season of county cricket.

My daughter had jumped at the chance of a week or more in Estoril at the end of the academic year and rapidly did her research for Airbnbs within 500 m of Celina’s mother’s apartment. I should add that Celina’s brother’s apartment is below, and he has two sons, so good for all the boys to meet up occasionally. Always difficult juggling the costs versus the distance from the beach and everywhere is at its most expensive in this holiday period. Eventually they found a top floor apartment 7 minutes’ walk away on Avenida Dom Alvares Pereira, for £1400 for 11 nights.

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The email exchange answered her various questions and at the end of the School Year they duly picked up an early morning TAP Portugal flight from London’s Heathrow and some 4 hours later arrived in Estoril. The apartment is accessed through a little metal gate and a climb up some outside steps. It’s advertised as four bedded, one double and three singles … so for a family of two plus three boys under 8 ideal …… so why are there only four modern Ikea dining room chairs up against someone’s grandmother’s old mahogany polished table? It has that ‘clean but worn’ look, the worn look mirrored in the parquet flooring, with its glorious patina and smooth from decades of use. The sort of thing you would covet back home!

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Two large windows face west and the setting sun streams in. Both opened with one of those old-fashioned central long bars with a handle; turn the handle 90° and the top and bottom slot into place –providing they haven’t been too enthusiastically painted over – nothing that a bash with a hammer didn’t fix! You might think that you would have them open in Estoril at the height of the summer but there’s often a strong onshore wind and that necessitated them closed sometimes.

The old stone chimney mantle in the kitchen now covers the gas hob, but its height, and of course the Portuguese are not famous for their tallness, is perfect for head banging. The fridge/freezer is placed against the wall in a corner; no one has bothered to change the direction in which the doors open so it’s a faff to take out, for instance, the milk. These little things!

There is an odd selection of plates, bowls and cutlery, suggesting that every now and again something gets broken and is replaced, but all miss match; doesn’t take a lot to go to Ikea and replace in sets, surely? And after two nights we took around a couple of spare mattresses as the thinness of those supplied didn’t encourage a comfortable night’s sleep. To be fair, it was very clean and did what it said on the tin. And if you have every trudged to the laundrette on holiday with a large bag of washing, you will think my daughter spoilt. There was no washing machine but yours truly picked up the bags of dirty clothes every two days…… and miraculously returned them the following day all washed and folded; ironed? No ….. too much love!

The occasional sun burn, the odd insect bite or ten (bed bugs? No!), a visit to A&E for a flare-up of an on-going burst eardrum, but all these pale into insignificance with the option of either the swimming pool or the sea. The former has inflatable rings and pump-action water guns, the latter the ability to dig a hole and wait for the tide to come in. Fortunately my techie son-in-law has a watch which does everything, from paying the bills and keeping a tally of the daily expenditure (Ed: Who would want to know?), to telling him the state of the tide. The timeless pleasure of digging a hole in the sand for the sea water to eventually fill it can be disappointing if the tide just keeps on going out!

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Sometimes burying oneself and one’s brothers can be equally amusing!

The family’s only nod to culture was a train ride to Lisbon; the subsequent appraisal? “Absolutely Amazing”! To be fair I think this was probably the sights in the aquarium rather than some mouldy old ruin or the castle overlooking the city, as when you are 7 or 6 or even 3, fish can be absolutely amazing up close.

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Just to the north east of the Estoril Casino is an Arts & Crafts Fair, open in the evenings in the summer months. One evening was spent drifting around, eating, drinking, staying up late! In the past I have bought two dark navy blue Hoodies here for the boys, and this year was no exception. And the youngest Theo, bless him, has to make do with hand-me-downs!

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We met the mother of the owner of the Airbnb after Jade has left, returning a borrowed bowl! She spoke English fluently and one could have assumed she was English, as we have been coming to Portugal for decades; buying second homes or holidaying, particularly down south in the Algarve. But she was Portuguese and had taught English in Primary school; what better way to supplement your income than placing a few self-contained rooms on an international market place website.

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Richard 8th August 2019

PS If you want to know more about Portugal and its people, you couldn’t go far wrong with Barry Hatton’s The Portuguese.