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.

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