Saturday, February 15th 2015
Sunday is the day for chores. We keep Saturday for expeditions and other sorts of fun but the chores have to be done and Sunday is the day for that. It is when we do the weekly shopping and, ever and anon, the laundry. As we do not have a washing machine at home, laundry day involves a trip to Bloomsbury and the launderette in Marchmont Street. It also involves getting up early – well, fairly early – because this is a well known facility and it can become crowded, especially in summer.
The neighbourhood in which it resides is mainly residential with a major apartment block just down the road, a student residence and a number of small to medium-sized hotels. The latter sometimes use the launderette and so do local cafes and restaurants. On a good day, we can get the job done and be on our way home in an hour and a half but on other occasions it will take us longer. Sometimes the washing machines we want are already in use or all the dryers are taken. One day we found the place crowded out by a group of Girl Guides just home from summer camp. While the adults did the washing and drying, the girls lounged around, getting in everyone’s way. On another occasion two women almost came to blows over whose turn it was for one of the dryers.
Something that increases competition for machines is that there are selfish people who put their laundry in the washing machines or dryers and then disappear for hours, leaving the machines occupied. On one occasion, when the launderette was crowded, I emptied such a machine so we could use it. Later the customer came back and angrily demanded to know who had taken her stuff out of the dryer. No one answered. All sat looking elsewhere as if unaware of her shouts.
Our routine is always the same, and this contributes to getting the job done efficiently. We commandeer two of the largest machines (there are three sizes), one for whites and one for colours, set them going, note the time and then go off for breakfast at the nearby branch of Costa. Prompted by the clock, we return in time to catch the end of the wash cycle and transfer the damp washing to two dryers. We set these going and sit and read or chat until they stop. By this time, some of the laundry will be dry but some of it will still be damp. We take out the dry and start the dryers spinning again…
While we are working, so are other customers. Quite a few are couples like us, cooperatively a-laundering. Others are elderly folk who, you guess, live alone, students who prop up their Macs on their knees while their undies are spinning, employees from local hotels with bundles of sheets or towels, tourists from the same hotels, and a leavening of other folk more difficult to categorize.
As we circulate between the washing machines, the dryers and the payment machine, engaging in a complicated dance to avoid colliding with one another, it helps that we are all here for a common purpose. Except when the place is really crowded and there is competition for machines, people are polite and quick to move aside to allow you access.
This is one of the better launderettes and the machines are usually all in working order. Occasionally, you will see a notice on one them indicating that it is out of order. This is usually a note on a scrap of paper affixed by a customer because the launderette is staffed only on weekday mornings and not at all over the weekend. There is a poster on the wall with a phone number to call in case of emergency. We once rang it but nobody answered.
On that occasion, one of our washing machines terminated normally but the other one kept on churning away. The door locks during the wash cycle and it is impossible to open it. What should we do? We couldn’t open the door or stop the machine and there was no response from the emergency phone number. All we could do was sit and wait and hope that something would happen. Eventually it did: the machine stopped and we heard the door lock click. Saved!
The student residence block has been demolished. It will no doubt be replaced by an even larger one, increasing competition in the launderette. For now, however, the absence of students has reduced the number of customers and even though we had not managed to get here all that early today, we were able to do the job without hindrance.
People come and go, bringing their laundry, taking it away, stepping outside for a cigarette or going to the shop for newspapers or coffee. Despite these comings and goings, there are usually people besides us in the launderette but today, just for a moment, everybody else left the premises and we found ourselves on our own. This lasted only a few minutes during which I took the photo at the top of the post. Soon after this, it was our turn to pack up and leave, job done… until next time!