I was doing the ironing

I came across this I wrote several years ago:

I was doing the ironing the other day and came across a couple of items which had that dank, musty smell laundry gets if it doesn’t dry properly. I had managed to get my washing out on the line and in some lovely winter sun, but it was still dampish when I brought it in. I didn’t manage to iron it straight away which was why I ended up having to re-launder the smelly ones. How easy it was, how simple; even without a dryer we have central heating and a warm airing cupboard, so it’s not often the musty sprite sprinkles its dank odour across the laundry.

It made me think back to the days when I was growing up; we had no central heating – a coal fire in the sitting room, a paraffin heater in the hallway and that was it. We had a clothes horse to hang damp things on, and that was it. It wasn’t easy washing and drying clothes, and it wasn’t so easy washing us! We were lucky, we lived in a newly built flat which had a water heater called an Ascot, so as i remember we had water whenever we wanted it, but only as much as was in the tank. We had solid soap, solid toothpaste in a tin, no such thing as deodorant, moisturiser was Nivea – also in a tin, some friends i knew washed their hair with soap but we did have shampoo – no conditioners!

My parents were young and with hot water they were able to keep us, themselves, our clothes and our house clean… but even when i was a child, many people did not have that luxury. In fact today there are families who are so desperately poor that keeping clean – which is an expensive thing, is just not possible. How did my grandparents, manage, and my great-grandparents? I had one set of very wealthy great-grandparents (sadly there richness didn’t descent to us!) two sets were comfortable but far from affluent, and one set who were very poor.

I wonder whether if we went back in time we would be overpowered with the smells around us? Washing bodies, washing clothes, washing and cleaning anything – fabrics, furniture,, bedding, curtains – and in the age when people smoked – what a pong there must have been. In the book ‘Enigma’ by Robert Harris, set during the war and about the Bletchley Park code-breakers, a character is on a bus, or it may have been a train, but I think it was a bus. He sat there and noticed how badly people’s hair smelled, because of course shampoo and soap was in short supply. For some reason that really made an impression on me, thinking back to a time when being clean and smelling fresh could not be taken for granted.

here is some information about Ascot water heaters



  1. Rosie Scribblah

    I can remember an older friend who started her teaching career in Liverpool in the1960s in a very deprived area, telling me about some of the poorest kids being sewn into a jumper over a vest over brown paper over goose grease or lard for the winter months to prevent chest infections.She had an overwhelming memory of the smell as they warmed up in the heated classroom. Good old days, eh?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lois

      A friend I taught with went to school with children trussed up like that – also in the 60’s, and he too mentioned the smell! He came from north Manchester/south Lancashire. It’s extraordinary to think of, isn’t it. When I first started teaching in Moss Side Manchester, there were families where the first children who got up had the shoes and got to school, but the other kids in the family had to stay home. Thank goodness some things have changed!

      Liked by 1 person

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