Not waving, but washing


We have a magic washing bin in our house. Every time I empty it, I open the lid again and it’s full. Full of tinned spaghetti-stained t-shirts, milk-soaked cot sheets, muddy mini-jeans, dribbled-on dribble bibs, and socks. Tons of socks. With pro-creating comes mounds of washing. One follows the other. It would appear to be the natural order of life. Then there’s my clothes: clean every morning but peeled from my body at the end of the day covered in a variety of saliva, snot, baby sick, wee, poo and milk. If it emits from a bodily orifice, I wear it, not quite with pride.

With a household of five, there’s at least five washes a week: a dark one; a light one; a bedlinen one; a wool one and probably another dark one for good measure. Get it wrong at your peril: a woollen jumper in a hot wash or a tissue in a pocket can ruin the whole morning. Some people find doing the washing satisfying in some way: the sorting into colours, the array of products to tackle every stain; the clean detergent smell when the clothes are hung to dry; the folding; the putting away. I find it tedious and never-ending. I am drowning in washing.

So I spoke to my mother. She says that I have it easy. When she was a mother of young children in the late ’70s and early ’80s, she spent every morning standing at the twin tub washing terry cloth nappies. I didn’t really understand what this meant so she explained the process. First she disposed of the paper liner (i.e. the part that held most of the excrement) and disinfected the nappies in a bucket. The twin tub, now a mythical beast, was a rectangular appliance about a metre long by half a metre wide. My mother would fix its pipe to the sink tap and fill up the drum with hot water. She then added a pile of nappies with detergent and the agitator in the drum would swish the nappies around, before she lifted them out with tongs, rinsed them in the sink and spun them in the next section of the drum. Then they were hung out in the garden or on a clothes horse. Only the nappies were done separately; when she was washing clothes, she would use the same water, putting the whites in first, then the coloureds and, finally, jeans. I’ve no idea what I was doing during this whole process, but I assume this is why my mother’s generation put their babies in their prams in the garden for the morning.

But then she had it easy, compared to my grandmother. In the ‘50s, she had a square Parnall washing machine and an electric wringer. She had to feed each item of clothing through the wringer and then back again. Her mother, my great grandmother, had an old copper boiler (i.e. a large pot) in her kitchen. It had a gas ring underneath which heated the water for the clothes. The clothes went into the boiler and my great grandmother poshed them up and down with a wooden dolly. She didn’t have a spinner, or a wringer. My mother remembers squeezing out sheets in the yard; one person at one end, another at the other. She had a flat iron too, that she heated on the gas stove and then spat on to see if it was hot enough.

By this point I am thinking of my Hotpoint washing machine and tumble dryer with an emotion similar to fondness. I often put on a ‘goodnight cycle’ when I go to bed and in the morning the dirty washing is clean. I cannot imagine a copper boiler, a wooden dolly. I also have a sense of guilt: at least they reused their nappies. I don’t want to calculate the volume of landfill that I have contributed to, by putting three children in disposables. I imagine the ground filling with pyramids of nappies containing cold excrement, like Ferrero Rocher on a platter at the Ambassador’s drinks party. I don’t know anyone who uses cloth nappies and I wonder why they are not more popular when we try to be ‘green’ in other aspects of our lives. We recycle our cardboard, compost our food and worry about waste, but we draw the line about recycling the nappies. I guess we want to maintain the simplicity of our lives; we don’t want to return to the hardships of our mothers and, let’s face it, we’re still squeamish about shit.

It is also because I am aware of the one constant in my generational scenario: it is still me, the mother, that does the washing or the majority of it at least. My four-year old daughter likes to fold the clothes; my two-year old son kicks the neatly formed piles like leaves in a park. I will try to teach them both to help with housework but I wonder what position my daughter will be in in thirty-odd years time. I hope that her generation will be eco-minded enough to use cloth nappies but perhaps by then there will be a magic robot-pixie to complement the magic washing bin, who sorts, washes, dries, folds and puts away the clothes.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday


My Petit Canard
Pink Pear Bear
Cuddle Fairy

26 thoughts on “Not waving, but washing

  1. I hate the washing but we do have it a lot easier than the generations before us!! It’s never ending, within 5 minutes of emptying the basket it’s full again,. That it I put on a dark wash only to find a stray pair of my husbands pants and socks he’s incapable of placing in the washing basket!! #KCACOLS


  2. Literally about to go and put another load on now! it will be my second out of 5 loads today! I want to know who else lives here that I don’t know about! And that is without the added nappies.


  3. It’s madness is t it, to think of how generations before us had to do their washing… My mum was the second youngest of 9, and says that most of her childhood memories were of having to help with hours and hours of washing and using the wringer. I have the same disposable nappy worry too-I went to loads of talks and workshops about them when I was pregnant the first time, and in my mind, there was never going to be any other way. We bought disposables to the hospital, to see us through ‘the first few days,’ then I soon came to the opinion that I just didn’t have time for reusables-which I really regret not persuing!! I really hope the future generations get their washing fairy-I absolutely hate washing, and it sounds like a dream come true!!


    1. I don’t think I thought through reusable nappies enough – at the time I hadn’t quite understood how many there would be – particularly for three children for close to three years each!
      It amazes me how long domestic chores used to take. Even though I moan about them now, I bet my mother and grandma just got on with them! I guess it was the way of life. Just think, we’d have no time for blogging if we had to put the sheets through the mangle every day!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. we have a magic washing basket too sigh. and there are only three of us. really lovely post as this is something i was talking to my grandmother about a few months back. she told me shed have to wash the nappies each morning and i just couldnt imagine how tough it must have been with two boys and all that effort. it really made me appreciate (and feel equally guilty) how lucky i am to have my pampers and aldi what nots. #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Daddy actually does most of the washing around here. I can only imagine how much more frustrating it was not being able to find the match to a sock after spending the last week or so knitting them. I guess in a lot of ways we have it easier. #KCACOLS


    1. Well done! I wish there was more equality in my household but I suppose I don’t have to commute for 2+hours a days so I can’t really complain about it (although I do of course!). I hope you’re more magnanimous about washing than I am.


  6. With four children and two adults, washing never ends in our house! I can do three loads a day and there still be an endless supply of washing spilling over our basket! Thank you for linking with #kcacols


  7. Washing is the worst! Especially at this time of year when it’s all bulky jeans and jumpers, layers and layers! The constant sound of the tumble dryer is driving me slightly nuts! I miss the summer and it’s light loads and line dry in an hour sunshine. But you are right, sod being a housewife in the 20’s!
    Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub


  8. Wow. Your post really made me realise how good we have it. It also made me realise how what we do today as parents really instills in our children subliminally what is and isnt normal – for example mums/girls doing the washing as a norm. Definitely something to think about as I have a son and a daughter too.. Great post, thanks for sharing this on #MarvMondays. Emily


    1. Ah thanks Emily. I’m sure it won’t stop me moaning about washing but it’s definitely food for thought! We have it easier in so many ways and most of us have men who help around the house even if it’s not a 50/50 divide – something previous generations didn’t have either. Mind you our grandmothers didn’t have blogs to maintain! Tabitha


  9. Hi Tab, very much enjoying your blog and this struck home…we’ve just had the norovirus, and I must have done 25 washes in about a week, trekking outside to the washing machine in our basement… The vomit, the vomit. At least we had water in the bathroom though, as the previous week the pipe had burst!

    I use reusable nappies for our third baby at home, they go in with the daily wash once the liner is removed and they’re really easy. I got a load secondhand off eBay and it assuages my guilt no end!

    Love Anna xx


    1. Hi Anna
      So nice to hear from you – it’s been a long time but I see from Facebook that you have a lovely family.
      Thanks so much for reading and I hear you on vomiting bugs – terrible for lots of reasons and the additional washing is one of them! Well done for using the reusables. I should probably have done the same but I just got lost in a fog of baby brain! Where are you living now? Xx


      1. Yeah I did too with our second but with the third I just felt too awful! Disposables for night/going out tho, so certainly not saintly.

        We live in Aarhus in Denmark, at least for the next year but my contract is up so who knows where afterwards! We love it here and the childcare is amazing… Where are you? And how old are your three?



      2. Sounds lovely. I’ve heard that the childcare is brilliant over there. We’re in Surrey and mine are 4, 2 and 1, so quite young, although my oldest has started school this year. What about yours? xx


  10. I love how you had to have the twin tub and terry cloth thing explained. Yep that was ME having to do that on behalf of my mother who was busy running a shop so that was my teen activity every Saturday, you know while my friends were out actually enjoying themselves. What have we done to the world with all the disposable ones; I’ve contributed to those landfills a plenty considering my children took years to get out of night time nappies. Years. #coolmumclub

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know – my mother had to explain it all to me. It’s hard to fathom how things have moved on so quickly in such a short space of time. Well done to you for giving up your teenage Saturdays – I’m sure you weren’t missing out on too much (although it probably didn’t feel like that at the time!).


  11. Lovely post. I use re-useables and I love them, it’s a little more work but they’re so well designed these days. They just go in the machine. Really enjoyed reading your post 🙂


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