Our washing machine has broken, so I need to take my clothes to the laundrette on the corner. There, I use my little bundle of silver to pay for the wash, except the twenty pence pieces don’t work properly and therefore one of the owners of the shop has to help me. I think how kind that is, forgetting later they’ll crack open the machines and scoop out the change. This owner is adorable. She is short with round glasses and a thick-striped rugby top, and very small feet tucked into red adidas sneakers. She is also possibly Turkish, but I don’t feel like confirming as she would want to know why I asked and I would have to say I’m writing about her – otherwise, why ask?
I have about thirty minutes while my mixed load spirals in the soap. Before I got here I recognised what the time at the laundrette was to me: relaxation. Or, more accurately, free time in which I could relax if I wanted, but it turns out I wanted to write and read instead. I don’t know whether those things are truly relaxing; they help me feel alive and engaged but maybe that’s not the definition of relaxation, which should probably be a little more brainless. Perhaps this free time is one of the reasons I find laundrettes so appealing. The smell is comforting, of course, because it’s the smell of getting your life together and having clean, warm, dry clothes – a smell you can never recreate at home without a powerful tumble dryer and the ability to ignore any environmental costs your toasty-hot clothes are generating. But the forced free time is what really appeals; thirty minutes to sit, and write, and read, and make sure no-one nicks your trousers.
Unfortunately this short missive on the relaxing qualities of the laundrette was interrupted when my wash ended, perhaps prematurely. I dragged out a t-shirt and smelt it. It was unclean. Not dirty, quite, but just with that smell of washing that’s been left in the machine too long, or worn over and over again by a 20-something man, or dried indoors without the windows open. The adorable stripy-shirted little owner says she thinks it smells fine. “Perhaps I have a sensitive nose,” I say, because I don’t want to say, truthfully, “That does not smell right.”
Everyone else who’s popped in today is dropping loads off and leaving. They’re not taking the chance to sit in the laundrette’s sunshine and do – whatever you want. Their laundrette visit is a chore. To me is it an opportunity to do something that would normally be shunted down the list because it isn’t important or necessary or pressing; not as pressing as popping to the garden centre or watching the match or whatever these people do when they’re not here, not as pressing as sniffing the mingled odours of the laundrette, eyes glazing in the wet heat, and jangling little silver coins in your palm.