mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Sunday, 16 September 2012

All coming out in the wash

Living in a washing machine-less world makes getting white school polo shirts clean something of a Herculean task.

Well, OK, not quite Herculean; it doesn't really equate with capturing the Erymanthian boar, for instance, but it's not far off, I can tell you.

A colleague recently asked 'washing machine or vacuum cleaner?' in a 'George Clooney or Brad Pitt?' type conversation. I pointed out that I was uniquely placed to answer this question since I have had neither for more than a year now – and I can tell you unequivocally that I would take a washing machine over a vacuum cleaner any day.

Sweeping takes about the same amount of time as it does to vacuum, especially when you factor in all the stopping and starting to deal with bits of Lego or apple cores that have have been sucked up and are blocking the hose.

Washing without a machine, on the other hand, is a complete pfaff involving either hand washing or launderettes, neither of which remotely compare with the convenience of the modern front loader.

Take these shirts, for instance. My daughter only started school recently and I bought two to be going on with. These were meant to be supplemented over the summer, but predictably M&S had run out.

So if one gets dirty, it can't wait until launderette day. I therefore decided to hand wash it. I didn't want to use our precious drinking water, so went to fetch some from one of the barrels that is stationed around our lovely new awning roof.

I filled a bowl, then noticed it contained a number of wriggly tadpole sort of things. I looked at these thoughtfully for a while, then concluded they must be mosquito larvae, which explains why there are so many of the damn things flying around of a night biting people while they sleep.

Much as I might have wanted to boil-wash them, I didn't want splatted insect larvae on Zena's new shirt, so I went off in search of a strainer. Once they were removed, I stood at the sink for ages applying vigorous kneading and pummeling actions to the shirt. Then I tipped the suds away, and had to fetch more water, strain out more larvae and fill a bowl in order to rinse it out.

It must have been at this point that the shirt came into contact with a small dollop of curry that had gone unnoticed on the outside of the bowl. Despite being a very small dollop, it left a large yellow smear in several places. This, I only noticed, when I was hanging the shirt on the line.

For a while, I performed a little dance of rage around the washing line. Then I fetched the strainer, sifted out more baby mosquitoes and went through the whole process again.

Washing polo shirts
Normal women do not have to do this sort of thing in this day and age. But actually, it is not so long ago that hand washing was commonplace. In the 1950s, my mother used to stand at the sink for hours hand washing my eldest brother's nappies. Even in the early 1970s when she had a new-fangled twin-tub, I remember that she still used a mangle. Washing clothes and linen took up the best part of two days of her week. Women before that used tubs, dolly sticks and washboards. But even the washboard was an invention of the 18th century – prior to that cloth was soaked in a 'lye', a mixture of ashes and urine, before being taken down to the river, even if it was frozen, and being beaten with a wooden bat. And, of course, there are many women across the world who still do wash clothes in the river.

So if I ever do get a washing machine again, I will love it and give thanks for it both on my behalf and  that of the millions of woman – and the odd man – whom it has liberated from a huge amount of drudgery.

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