Going for a spin

Saturday, February 15th 2015

The launderette
The launderette
A rare moment when we had the place to ourselves

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!

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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8 Responses to Going for a spin

  1. BFG says:

    Every laundrette I’ve ever used has a notice somewhere on the wall that (i) admonishes you against leaving your laundry unattended and (ii) advises you that other users have the right to empty a machine if it finishes its cycle and the laundry’s owner does not immediately free it for use.

    Yet you’ll always find some VIP who seems to think that such simple rules do not apply to them. I’ve seen it in the UK and in the US, so it seems to be a universal mindset. In the West, anyway.

    In the US all of the complexes where we’ve lived in the last two decades have made their laundry rooms available 24/7, so sometimes I have found myself doing laundry at 4am – and I’ve not been alone. Lots of night owls over here 🙂

    The most unusual laundrette I ever used had a prominent notice advising users that if they saw a certain public figure in the laundrette they were requested to call the police, since that person had been banned by court order from using the facilities. They even posted a picture of the individual to make sure you could spot him. No prizes, but can you work out who that person might be? 🙂 Hint: the laundrette was in Oxford.

    I see articles occasionally about new nanotech that will produce clothes that self-clean. Roll on that day!

    • SilverTiger says:

      As you say there are always those who abuse the system. To make things worse, they often react with outrage when called on it, like the woman mentioned.

      There may be 24-hour launderettes here (on student campuses, for example) but ours shuts at night, probably to prevent it being used as a shelter for rough sleepers.

      Call me naive and/or out of touch but I have not identified your Oxford poster boy.

  2. BFG says:

    It was Harry, father of Ruth Lawrence. You may remember her as the child genius who went up to Oxford at age 12. Harry, allegedly (well, according to the manager) would turn up five minutes before closing (10pm as I recall) with a bag or two of laundry and then insist on doing a wash and tumble dry, which kept the manager from closing up until at least midnight. She wasn’t happy, apparently. He did it often enough that she banned him, and then he kept coming back, so she went to court to get an injunction barring him from entering the premises. Hence the notice about calling the cops.

    It looks as though the laundrette no longer exists (it was in North Parade as I recall) and I can find no record online (which wasn’t the case years ago). I always thought that once you had a footprint on the ‘Net it was there indefinitely (unless you demanded that Google erase their records) but that no longer seems to be the case. That may be a bad thing…

  3. Big John says:

    A local laundrette. Lucky old you ! … If my washing machine broke down I would have to resort to beating the washing with a rock in the nearest stream ! … 🙂

  4. WOL says:

    I used a Launderette — or washeteria as they are sometimes called here — when I first lived in the apartment that got torn down to make way for the freeway. However, there for a while, I would load up my washing and go to my parents’ house of a Sunday and have Sunday dinner and then wash clothes and visit with the folks (which was, I suspect, the reason my mom offered the use of her washer and dryer). However, after I had lived there about 12 years, the landlord and his wife moved out of their two-story condo and for a while they lived in their motor home behind the apartment building, and then moved into one of the apartments, which were all on one level. She had her washer and dryer in the utility room at the back of the building. I made her a deal that since I worked nights and slept during the day, when she would be using the machines, I would pay her $5 a month for the use of her washer and dryer, since we would not be using it at the same time. Being a single person, it takes me a while to accumulate enough dirty clothes to make a load, and I long ago took to washing everything in cold water. When I moved to the duplex, it had washer and dryer hookups and I was able to have my own washer and dryer. This apartment too has hookups so I can do laundry whenever it is convenient for me to do so.

    • SilverTiger says:

      When our flat was refurbished by the Council, they left a space for a washing machine but we chose not to fill it, at least not with the intended occupant. Reasons include the cost of the machine, the inevitable costs of repairs and maintenance and the danger of having to compensate neighbours if the machine goes wrong and overflows, causing water damage to other flats.

      Using a launderette may or may not work out more expensive but the costs are regular and predictable. It also makes us economize as much as possible on laundering, something that is good for the environment, albeit in a small way. People we know with washing machines launder their garments excessively, running the machine every day and washing things they have barely worn. Being forced to use a launderette would perhaps inculcate some sense into them.

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