My local laundrette is a scruffy place; the machines are elderly and ill-maintained. I usually do my washing on Saturday mornings, and while the various garments dance in their detergent soup I amuse myself by reading the cheap magazines left behind by other customers. These journals are filled with tales of misery; stories of sex-change operations which went horribly wrong, or unscrupulous rogues who fleeced their wives and girlfriends out of money and property.
Sometimes I glance around at the surroundings; fake-wood panelling, torn nylon curtains, dead wasps lying in the dusty windowsill, and some ghastly metallic wallpaper, embossed with a heavy baroque design and lit by a bare fluorescent strip-light.
But last Saturday, for a change, I started reading a library book; Foucault’s ‘The Uses of Pleasure’, which discusses the odd theories believed by the ancients. Apparently the Greeks considered semen to originate in the brain, from where it was transported to the genitals by veins and arteries. Presumably classical Greece would have also had its share of ruthless womanisers, whose adventures would be recounted in the tabloid journals of the day. Some unfortunate girl with white limbs, made pregnant and jilted by a charmer, told our reporter: “‘E said ‘e cared for me, ‘e did…an’ I believed ‘im, cos ‘e told me ‘is veins was clogged up wiv Humour, and I couldn’t get in the family way.”
But no doubt in 200 years or so, people – if any remain alive, after the epidemics and world wars and harsh winters and food shortages – will gaze fondly back at the 21st century and marvel at how naive we all were. Our understanding of DNA is patchy; we are beginning to scrape together some ideas about particle physics. Human psychology is still an enigma, which is why we all watch plays (and movies) and listen to music, trying hard to discern the questions that lurk in the gloom.
It’s Christmas Eve, 2015: exactly twenty years ago I was with my sister and our pet dog Suzy, running happily round Bodmin Moor on a bright cold day. I’ve just returned from breakfast at my local Tesco store, arriving home in time to find my washing machine entering its last spin cycle. I settled down on the sofa and decided to watch the DVD set which came with my CD of ‘Sehnsucht’ by Schiller, which I purchased in Dusseldorf about eight years ago. One of the features on the disc is a video for the song ‘Wunschtraum’, where a young woman is in a beautiful laundrette, a solitary line of washing machines gleaming in a perfect red parade, the unique cordeau des trompettes marines, as she drifts into a languid fantasy about a dishy guy…
Meanwhile, I have been at work now for about two months; my boss seems a bit remote at times. Perhaps she feels awkward knowing that I am being paid much less than my colleagues, even though I have several years’ experience beyond them. The test procedures at work are also slightly suspect – we try to calibrate a machine using a doubly-inappropriate standard.
…and my washing machine finishes, the high-pitched whine of the drum gradually drifting down through the registers, at the same time as Herr Schiller’s elegant electronic waterfall of turquoise satin gradually takes shape in the air….
…each garment tells a story; this is the shirt I wore to Nick’s barbecue in 2003, this is the t-shirt I bought at Cropredy in 1998, and all the laundrettes I have been to over the years…
Oxford where the proprietor was a middle aged alcoholic, and where I would sit reading second-hand paperbacks of Sci-Fi short stories;
Castle Bromwich, and Ward End where every Saturday morning I would read the Guardian;
Swinton, where I would admire the crowds of dead wasps lying in the window, and where I would read ‘Chat’ magazine, including the remarkable story about a woman who had been taken out drinking by her workmates the night before her wedding. Of course she woke up with a raging headache in a strange hotel room, having missed her wedding (for which mummy and daddy had been saving up since she was born)…