One of my favourite smells is the warm, clean scent of detergent waft- ing out of a launderette, out onto a
Until recently, my experience of these
places was largely limited to stopping outside
them, sniffing appreciatively and then walking
on. Any notion of the inner workings was
purely romantic and based on an old Levi’s
ad, in which a beautiful young man strides in,
strips down to his boxers and then tosses his
501s into a machine, along with a handful of
At university—when most of us are forced,
for the first time, to get to grips with our dirty
clothes instead of waiting for the live-in laundress (aka “mom”) to do it—I lucked out. My
brother and I, as foreign students, were assigned
a host mother who, most weekends, whisked
us out to her home in the woods, plied us with
food and insisted on doing our washing.
In a more exciting story, the twist would
be that she was actually a witch, fattening
us up so she could put us in a pie; with the
laundry just a ruse to lull us into a false sense
Alas, I’m afraid she was simply a nice
woman whose one peculiarity was that she enjoyed doing other people’s washing (although
the pie option must have seemed tempting on
some of those smelly Sundays).
Once I got married, there was no way to
avoid laundry duty. Yet still, I avoided the
launderette. On weekends, I would jam my
dirty washing into my bike basket and zip to
my parents’. Warwick Laundromat was five
minutes away, but I’d have to pay to use their
machines. Not to mention the fact that an acquaintance of ours was conducting a passionate affair with one of the attendants, consummated—according to the grapevine—on an
ironing board. I’ve always hated ironing, so
good on them for coming up with an alternative use for the damn things. Nonetheless, it
With children came a laundry of my own. I
did have to visit the launderette, occasionally;
but only when there was some sort of unpleas-
antness involving animals and duvets.
And then, we moved into a flat in London.
The apartment has an ancient washer-dryer:
fine if your load consists of three pairs of
smalls and a hanky. For anything bigger, it’s off
to the laundromat, four doors down.
I’m sorry to report that—stop the presses—
my launderette is nothing like the one in the
Levi’s ad. There are no beautiful young men
stonewashing their jeans in their undercrack-ers, or doing anything else for that matter.
Instead, there are spindly old men, transporting their laundry in two-wheeled
trollies. And gnarly geezers of indeterminate age, dragging duffle bags full of
brown towels from the nearby B&Bs. I
would gladly sacrifice my last pound coin
if they would all promise to keep their
Even if Nick Kamen, the original Levi’s
hunk, did turn up (no doubt a member
of the trolley brigade these days), he’d be
out of luck. All the machines carry a sign
warning of dire consequences for anyone
who tries to slip a bath mat or, God forbid, a
rug, into the wash. Imagine the fate of the fool
who threw a bunch of stones into the drum.
The Large Laundress who lurks in the
back office and dispenses change along with
unhelpful advice (“Oh, I meant to say...that
one is broken!”) would no doubt give him ten
minutes on high in the nearest front-loader.
But rather to my surprise, I like the laun-
derette. Not just the smell, but the fact that—
crazy as it sounds—it’s never dull.
Two weeks ago, having pitched up at 8 a.m.
to find the joint deserted, save LL in her lair
and a few tumbleweeds, I returned to discover
what appeared to be a flash mob gathering
inside. Despite having set the egg timer in the
flat, my wash was still eight minutes away from
completion (one of the great mysteries of the
launderette is that a minute here is like no
other on the face of the earth; save perhaps on
the Circle Line).
A portly man was parked in front of my machine—the coveted whopper that takes 25 kg,
not including mats, rugs or pebbles. And when
I made to leave (there are many chores which
can be done in eight launderette minutes, let
me tell you), announced loudly that he would
remove my laundry himself if I was late.
The flash mob looked uncomfortable, shuf-
fling their feet and avoiding eye contact.
I was more concerned by the fact that only
one dryer was free. But even as I watched, a
Russian woman, already monopolising another
machine, proceeded to remove a damp tea
towel from that load and pop it into the empty
drum; like a tourist reserving a sun lounger.
This was clearly too much for the mob, who
began muttering their disapproval. The woman
smirked and jammed her headphones in.
And then a dapper old gent approached
me and said loudly, “I’ve got two minutes
left—you can have mine.” The mob relaxed.
Me too (it would have taken a week to finish
that lot off in my poor old washer-dryer). Even
LL looked pleased. Life’s rich pageant: it’s all
there, at the launderette.
My Beautiful Launderette
That’s Life! A Letter from London | WRITTEN BY WINIFRED BLACKMORE