Shaking off the laundromat blues
published : 26 Mar 2023 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
In last week's item concerning boutiques I wondered whether their influence could extend as far as the world of laundromats. My thanks to reader Jenifer Divine in Hamburg for informing me that in the German city's St Pauli district there is a laundromat dedicated to Jimi Hendrix which just about gives it boutique status.
It is actually called "Jimi's Waschsalon" and features eye-catching Hendrix montages amongst the washing machines. The locals have not forgotten that the great guitarist played his last concerts in Germany.
I would imagine just about everyone has at some time experienced a laundromat, or as we call them in England launderette or "laundrette". In the UK the first launderette was launched in Queensway, near Paddington in May 1949 and is still operating today. Their popularity peaked in the 1960s, but have since declined primarily because most people have their own sophisticated washing machine at home.
Sitting in a launderette is not a particularly appealing experience. You might bring along a book or phone to pass the time but invariably you will end up almost hypnotised staring at your dirty clothes sloshing around in an ugly-looking noisy machine. There is also that overpowering smell of detergents and soggy clothes. The bottom line is that wet laundry doesn't smell great.
In 1966 the great American guitarist Albert King had a hit with "Laundromat Blues"… that was a feeling probably shared by many.
The chat room
During my college days in the mid-1960s I played football regularly which meant countless excursions to the nearest launderette in Kingston upon Thames to wash the filthy kit. It was a chore and each visit sparked an overwhelming feeling that surely you could be doing something far more interesting. So much for the "Swinging Sixties'' that was supposed to have gripped London at the time. There was nothing remotely "swinging" about staring at underwear and soggy socks in the wash.
Admittedly there was always the outside hope that at the launderette you might enjoy a chance meeting with an attractive young lady. Alas that never happened to me although I did end up on good terms with quite a few grannies.
The laundry worker
In my home town a neighbour called Brenda worked in the local laundry. She was slightly older than me and rather shy. I must confess my teenage conversations with Brenda were somewhat hard-going. I can vouch that "How's the laundry then?" is not a great opening line for any discussion.
I passed the laundry every day on the bus to school and always looked to see if I could spot Brenda at work "washing, pressing and drying", as she confided in me in one of our more animated conversations. I never did see her at work.
Silly though it may sound, after watching the 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette many years later the first person I thought of was Brenda and I wondered what happened to her. It would be nice to think that she opened her own "beautiful laundrette".
Dotty and Teddy
In addition to the film, launderettes have been favourite locations for television and cinema sit-coms. A launderette plays a prominent role in the long-running BBC series EastEnders. For many years it was run by a gossiping, chain-smoking lady called "Dotty" and has been the ideal locale for juicy tittle-tattle.
In a very different genre there is a Mr. Bean episode set in a launderette when Mr Bean puts his beloved Teddy into the wash, drawing gasps from the audience. Later he hoists out a much-shrunken Teddy. This is the same Teddy that Mr Bean used as a paint brush in another episode.
Rowan Atkinson donated Teddy to a museum but it was later auctioned off for 180 quid (about 8,000 baht). This seems a measly sum for a former TV star but by all accounts, Teddy was looking a bit the worse for wear.
Feeling the heat
Earlier this month a spokesman for the Thai Meteorological Department announced that summer had arrived, or to be more accurate the "hot season". We don't really have summers in Thailand.
He wasn't kidding either because since he uttered those words I have been in a constant state of sweat. We have been promised temperatures reaching 43 Celsius which is enough to make me wilt just thinking about it.
As we perspire our way through the coming months, we know it's either going to be hot, very hot or ridiculously hot. So it's probably time to put away those winter woollies and snow boots.
English summers are frequently the targets of jokes. But they do have occasional warm spells, prompting a variety of observations.
Discussing unusually hot weather with a female acquaintance the 19th century essayist Sydney Smith observed: "Heat, Madam! It was so dreadful I found there was nothing for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones."
Let's hope nobody does that in Thailand.
Observing hot weather in Britain in more sophisticated terms was British novelist Jane Austen. In 1797 she wrote a letter to a friend complaining: "What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance."
I must remember that. In future, when I'm sweating buckets in Bangkok I will not be in total disarray but merely in a "state of inelegance". That sounds a touch classier.
Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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