Wash day

Forget about electricity delivered to you at great personal cost along a national grid. Didn’t have any of that when I was a small child at the farm. We had it at my regular home, though it was basic stuff, a cooker and electric lights.Water was warmed (it never got hot), by pipes behind the coal fireplace for most of the year; only in high summer was the electricity occasionally turned on to heat a water tank.
Absolutely forget about every other kind of electric device except a radio, until late into the 1960s. TV did not show up at our house until after I’d left high-school, it being considered a seriously unwanted diversion that was bound to undermine my study habits.
Very good point taken, no question about it.
What pressure is put on children, now that every home has one or two TVs running gaga content 24/7.

Wash day at the farm was a project worthy of a military campaign. Pails and pails of water were brought to the wash house (at the left end of the farm building, see ‘Such a Wave’), and was heated in an enormous copper cauldron which sat inside a square brick housing with a fireplace below. Coal was burned in the fire, and it didn’t take long before the water was boiling hot.
No, the clothes didn’t go in there, not at first. They started the cleaning in a monster wood-slat washtub sitting on the floor and filled with the hot water. Then two, three, four women, neighbours ofttimes, armed with washboards, scrubbed the heavy grime away, throwing the partially clean clothes in large blue enamel basins, till the water in the tub could be bailed out and fresh water added.
The process was repeated again, but not with quite so much vigour, till at the last the clothing ending up in the copper for a final hot water rinse. There was a wooden lid with a hole in the middle that went over the top of the cauldron, through which the clothes could be prodded and stirred about with a thick stick .
All the water that was used was taken to the garden to water plants, or poured over them to kill off any aphids, for it was strongly laced with lye soap.
The best part for us kids, who’d been causing mayhem in the wash house up to this point, was to be stripped and lifted into the copper still full of warm water, and left there, while the wet washing was run through the mangle and hung out on the line to dry. Too bad if the the day was wet, the clothes went out anyway, and there they stayed until they could be brought in and ironed.
Probably the only ones who got any pleasure out of that busy day were the children. The women worked very hard indeed, fitting in the making of meals and other chores along the way.

Nowadays everything we do has been monetised: it is THE serious issue of our time. We have to work like dogs to pay for the equipment that is supposed to make our lives easy. There is a subtle trade-off here, one that will have to be addressed before we lose our planet in our efforts to find materials to build things we can actually do without.
Sure wash day was a tough day, but cost sweat, not scads of money, and the clothes were very clean and pleasant to wear, made of natural fabrics that didn’t fade and sag through being pummelled in a washing machine and dryer.
This is a tricky issue, worthy of careful thought, as we are being pushed further and further towards an uncertain edge.

I have fond memories though, of sitting in that copper, toasty warm in the water, with my head sticking up through the hole in the lid. Much more fun than expensive hot tubs nowadays.


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