Posted in Personal life

How to Cut Down on Your Laundry

6 smiling women under tenement clothesline; ca...
Image via Wikipedia

Now that the days are short and damp, and the weather has forced us to abandon the garden washing line, dealing with the household laundry has become even more tiresome than usual.  But do not despair.  I have some simple tips that will help you reduce your load. Follow them if you dare:

1.  Only put things in the washing machine if they have conspicuous signs of dirt.  This will happen much less frequently if you…

2. Ensure that every member of your family always dresses in the most suitable colour for their scheduled activities. A muddy brown is best for walks in the autumn woods, while acid green is good for football or cricket. (Cricket whites were invented by a man whose mother did his laundry.)

3.  Only wear white if you’r planning to spend your day emulsioning white walls – or you work in a salt mine or flour mill.

4. Bear this tip in mind when your choosing the colour scheme for your home.  Try matching your paintwork to your favourite clothes: denim blue is good for me.  That way any splashes will never show up. Commiserations to my good friend whose husband always wears black: you may need to  invest in some extra bright lightbulbs to prevent your home from feeling too gloomy.

5.Pretend you’ve had a power cut and that you’ll have to do your laundry by hand.  This will help you focus the mind on washing only those things that are truly dirty.

6. Alternatively adopt the techniques of the age before the washing machine.  Take a leaf out of Jeeves’ book and clean your master’s clothes with a damp sponge, dabbing only at the patches that need attention.  A quick once-over with the iron, put them back on their hangers, spritz them with fragranced linen spray, and he’ll never realise that they haven’t actually been washed.

7.  Oh, and linen spray.  Buy it in bulk.  It covers a multitude of sloth.

8.  Buy lots and lots of clothes.  That way you will always have plenty more in the wardrobe, however much is trapped in the laundrycycle. I have always bought more sets of school uniform for my daughter than there are days in the week.  That way I’m never forced to do laundry at the weekend if something more interesting comes along and she can still go to school fully clothed on the Monday.

9.  As a last resort, become a naturist.  Admittedly this will necessitate moving to a warmer country, but at least you’ll never have to wash or iron clothes again.

Still can’t bring yourself to break the laundry habits of a lifetime, do not despair.  Then comfort yourself with the thought that there are few tasks as deserving of a reward in the form of chocolate as getting to the bottom of the ironing basket.  Just make sure you’re wearing brown the day you reach yours.

Posted in Family, Personal life

Let Blending Commence!

krazy kitchen tea towel
Image by wine me up via Flickr

Still flushed with the success of my recent purchase of a glass kettle, I am stopped in my tracks tonight in Sainsbury’s by the sight of a shiny new food processor, the subject of an alluring special offer.  I take down the huge cardboard box from the shelf and turn it over, admiring the pictures of its smart design from all angles.  Such a contrast to the dusty, rusting 80s model in my kitchen cupboard!  Its awkward uncleanable crevices harbour ecosystems all of their own.  I’ve long since stopped using it for fear of what new lifeforms might have evolved in there.

Can  I justify this impulse buy?  I’ve onlycome in to Sainsbury’s for a pint of milk.  Yes, I jolly well can!

A flashback to our half-term trip to the Science Museum  endorses my decision.  As we looked around its fascinating exhibition of antique household appliances, it had occurred to me that my old cream and brown (how 80s is that?) food processor would have looked right at home there.

This particular machine was a Christmas present from my then boyfriend.  Fresh out of university, we were feeling terribly grown-up and we were starting to embrace a domesticity that had passed us by until then.  I’d made it through my degree course with only a milkpan and a frying pan in my kitchen locker – and I was one of the better cooks in our hall.  My previous birthday present to him had been a “Multiboil” – a kettle that included a little plastic basket in which you could supposedly rest tins or eggs and boil them till done (provided that you didn’t mind turning the kitchen into a sauna in the process).  It pre-dated the “forgettle kettle” so it wouldn’t switch itself off when reaching boiling point.  We thought it was the apex of kitchen sophistication.  The Multiboil was also, inevitably, cream and brown, as was most of my wardrobe and indeed most of my possessions at that time.

My new food processor, by contrast, is snow-white, sparkling, compact and modern. I take it home and lovingly lift it  from its packaging.  Clearing a space on the windowsill, I set it down gently alongside the new glass kettle, as if introducing it to a new friend. It’s much too smart to hide in a cupboard.  By now my old machine is gracing the inside of the wheelie bin.

At this point, my small daughter comes  into the kitchen.  She looks at it and frowns.

“Why have you bought another kettle?” she asks seriously.

I don’t let her criticism burst my bubble.  I’ll treat myself to a new food processor every thirty years, whether I need it or not.

Posted in Personal life

How to Get to the Bottom of the Ironing Basket

Ironing Board as a Bookshelf - Powder Coat it!
Image by ninahale via Flickr

The ironing board is on the landing.  This may seem an odd place to keep it, but it’s solving a long-standing problem: the apparently bottomless ironing basket.

It’s not that I dislike ironing: in the right frame of mind, it’s very soothing.  Research shows that repetitive tasks provide similar benefits to meditation.  Knitting and jogging also qualify.  But lately the view from my utility room of a dreary, browning, post-snow garden has deterred me from taking up my post at the ironing board.  And the distinctive aroma of over-wintering guinea pig, which decamped to the adjacent worktop during the cold snap, is a further disincentive.

As I hovered in the utility room the day before spring term began, trying to summon up the energy to tackle a week’s worth of school uniforms, an inspiration flashed into my head.  For this I must thank the author Susan Hill. At Tetbury’s Yellow-Lighted Bookshop’s wonderful Book Festival last summer, she talked about her latest book Howard’s End is on the Landing which describes the year she spent rereading books stashed around her house.

Like her, I have many books on my landing, which my husband recently redecorated.  I took the opportunity to reorganise the bookshelves, showing the contents off to best advantage.  Now at the top are decades of diaries, the earliest dating from when I was 8.  Below are displayed precious and obscure books from my childhood (anyone else remember Torchy the Battery Boy?), through to the bittersweet teenage comforters such as Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.  Next come the dog-eared favourites from my university days.  Well, some are less dog-eared than others: one day I really will read all four volumes of Richardson’s Clarissa, bought at vast expense in a wild moment of undergraduate optimism.  Then there’s the vast collection of hobby-related guides acquired in my leisure-rich child-free days.  These haven’t seen much action since I acquired a child, whose own bedroom is now bursting at the seams with books.

I never tire of looking at my bookshelves.  The display on the landing will be a lovely backdrop to my ironing.    The location offers other conveniences: a thick, warm Indian rug under foot; the adjoining bathroom where I can easily top up the iron’s water chamber; nearby wardrobes for immediately hanging up the ironed clothes (far better than turning the kitchen into a holding bay).  I’m convinced that on the landing, I’ll make great headway through the ironing basket – at least as long as I can ignore the comfy rocking chair in the corner, an ideal place to curl up with a book.

But for now I’m determined that this refreshing change of scene will restore momentum to the task in hand.  What’s more, I’m thinking of applying the same principle to other stalled proceedings.  So once I’ve finished typing this, I’m off to do my tax return in the bath.  Must press on….

(This post originally appeared in The Tetbury Advertiser, February 2011)

Posted in Personal life

My Year In Status

Facebook logo
Image via Wikipedia

When I logged into Facebook early in December, I was invited to create “My Year in Status”.  At the press of a button, there appeared a single page showing a selection of the posts that I’d made during the whole of 2010.  (For those who aren’t familiar with Facebook, a “post” is a message that you type into your Facebook page to update your friends about what you are doing or thinking.)

The result was surprising.   Some things I remembered as if they were yesterday, but others I’d completely forgotten. Parts of my year I barely recognised. I wasn’t the only one taken aback.  Some friends were startled to find that Facebook appeared to think they’d spent the whole year watching telly or boozing.

My Year in Status experience made me realise (a) how quickly a year goes (b) how short life is (c) that to achieve a more favourable Year in Status for 2011, I’d better start planning it now.  So here is how I hope it might read, if all goes according to plan.

“Debbie Young  ….has finally eradicated dandelions and couch grass from her my garden, making way for a bumper crop of home-grown vegetables  …has just completed her first half-marathon within her target time (so the very thorough training paid off)  ….feels calm and refreshed after her daughter’s 8th birthday party ….has renewed her acquaintance with the bottom of the ironing basket  ….earned a fine collection of rosettes in this year’s Village Show  …has a house so clean and tidy that there’s absolutely no more housework she can do  …has completed her Christmas shopping before the end of August  ….feels younger and fresher with every passing year ….is very pleased with her new pet: a flying pig”

Happy New Year, everyone – may 2011 bring you your heart’s desire.

(This post originally appeared in Hawkesbury Parish News, January 2011.)

Posted in Family, Personal life

Clear the Decks For Boughs of Holly

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Image by joysaphine via Flickr

The pre-Christmas clear-out is well under way in our household.

“If you don’t get rid of the old toys that you’ve grown out of, there’ll be no room for any Christmas presents,” I warn my seven year old daughter.

Unlike her more capitalistic cousin Tim, Laura can’t be persuaded to sell her old toys for a profit.  Car boot sales leave her cold.  She forms strong attachments to her cuddly toys: each has a name and a personality.  Even I find myself drawn to the livelier characters:  Candyfloss, the comical greying white poodle; its close friend and straight man, Butlin the spotty dog;  Poonia and Pink, the fanciful unicorns; Sweetie, the soft-bodied baby doll who calls me Grandma.  Laura would no sooner sell her dolls than sell her family.  No doubt I’ll find this a comfort when I’m old.

When the toytown clutter gets too much for me, I entertain a shamefully ungrateful fantasy:  that my house gets burnt to the ground.  The conflagration is colourful as a Christmas tree.  Well, it should be, with all those plastic toys as fuel.  We then set up home in a minimalistic Ikea showroom ,  our possessions stowed invisibly in storage baskets arranged on bookcases called Billy.  But oh, the flat-packs!  When I think of all that self-assembly, the current muddle doesn’t seem so bad.

Killing time before a medical appointment, I wander round a toyshop.  Don’t shop until you’ve dropped, I remind myself, eyeing the Barbies and boardgames, of which we already have plenty, thank you very much.  Drop a few big bags of toys into one of the many charity shops while she’s at school, a little voice tells me.  She’ll never notice that they’re gone.  I’m not convinced.

And so on to plan B: we could give her only very tiny toys as presents this Christmas.  Then space would not be an issue.  My husband, studying for a geology degree, has just acquired a microscope.

“Maybe she’d like to start an atom collection?” I wonder.

The trouble is, things are just too cheap these days.  It would be easier to resist buying large toys if they cost more.  How much more sensible it would be if toys were priced according to volume.  The huge wooden rocking-horse, lovingly carved by Laura’s grandpa, would then be priceless.  It all makes perfect sense.   I have a similar proposal for calorie distribution: a square of chocolate should contain a fraction of the calories in a Ryvita.

But then a smarter strategy occurs to me.  We’ll tackle the problem from the other end.   There are two small but serviceable cellars beneath our cottage.  And they are empty.

“How do you fancy a playroom for Christmas?” I suggest.  “We can convert one of the cellars as your present.”

Her eyes light up.

“A playroom!”

Her eyes light up.

“I’ve always wanted a playroom.”

“A playroom.  A music room.  A disco.  We can make it whatever you like.”

“Oh, yes, please, Mummy!”

Problem solved.  And at a bargain price, too.

Now all we have to do is to work out how to giftwrap it.

(This post originally appeared in the November edition of The Tetbury Advertiser)