Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Apron strings

When we were children we always had to wear aprons and I hated it. It was only recently that I got my grandmother's aprons out of a box and started, very occasionally, to wear them when I am cooking. It feels peculiar - am I turning into my grandmother?

My grandmother's aprons

It was my birthday last Saturday. Preparing dinner for my guests I put on my grandmother's apron to protect my dress. Whipping cream for the raspberry mousse I am suddenly transported back to my childhood. Sunday mornings at my grandmother's house, waking up when the church bells were ringing, and then the most welcome sound of all: the whirring of the large electric whisk in the milk shop downstairs, whipping cream. My grandmother sent me down with a dish to buy a quarter pound of whipped cream to have with the Sunday afternoon cake. The tiny shop was full of customers, queuing and chatting, waiting patiently for the cream to be ready. I loved watching the blades turning in the big bowl, the white liquid thickening and then starting to form peaks, presided over by the milk shop owner, a large lady in black dress and white starched apron. "Ein viertel Pfund Schlagsahne, bitte," I would say when it was my turn. I remember thinking what a wonderful job this must be, whipping cream on a Sunday morning. There was never any whipped cream on workdays in the milk shop.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sunlight, Lux and the Quest for Cleanliness

"Mondays were dominated by washing and the pungent smell of sunlight soap for tough items, Lux flakes for woollens and the nasty smell of wet wool, and the huge boiler that was used for dirty items that needed a really hot wash. The full benefit of Sunlight soap was enhanced by rubbing it against the clothes and using a washboard for friction.If the weather wasn't fine enough to hang the washing outside there would be lines inside and lots of damp stuff draped over clothes horses. My aunt had a mangle to extract some of the water. Mangles looked like two revolving rolling pins, turned by a handle, through which the clothes were squeezed. The lingering smell of wet grime permeated the house in the morning, followed by a smell of soapy damp in the afternoon. There wasn't much joy for anyone on Mondays, least of all mothers. The day would end with warmed up food of some sort, usually involving some rather evil looking left-over gravy, rigorously thickened and browned with gravy browning."

BBC Radio 4 Memory Experience

Testing the Waters

What a blessing it is to have a washing machine again!

I remember washing days at home, once a month, in the "Waschkueche" which was in the cellar of the house. Coming home from school I could see from far away the clouds of steam above the pavement and would poke my head through the cellar window just above it where my mother with big black rubber boots on her feet and a large black rubber apron around her was working among heaps of washing at various stages of boiling, rinsing and mangling. The washing was pegged up to dry in the attic at the top of our block of flats; the neighbours took turns in using the washing 'kitchen' and the drying loft, never though working together. The house backed on to a factory yard where lorries and vans were coming and going with loads of bathtubs, sinks and toilets. There was only a tiny patch of worn grass where washing could be dried when the weather was right and which also was where the neighbours would beat their carpets - not, obviously, at the same time. There were many disputes among neighbours about washing rotas, use of lines and pegs and other laundry business.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lost/found objects

"Curators often see the city as a weave," Jack Lohman, director of the Museum of London said in a talk on collecting the everyday at a workshop on Extreme Collecting at the British Museum (31 January 2008), "with strands of human stories all tied together, where every strand is a connection, where nothing can be excluded." For archaeologists the city consists of layers, for politicians it is an arena where battles are fought.

Walking through the streets of Eastbourne I look out for found (or rather lost) textile objects. The items most frequently encountered are single gloves, baby bootees or mittens, the odd scarf or woolen hat. People tend to pick those up and place them at eye level on a gate or wall to be found by those who lost them should they retrace their steps because we all know from own experience how annoying it is to be left yet again with a single glove, to lose a favourite scarf - and so easily done. Rarely in the times of Kleenex but still occasionally in a town with a large proportion of elderly inhabitants, I see a lost handkerchief, unlikely to be picked up by anybody due to fear of nasty germs. Some things dropped in the streets make you wonder - a pair of knickers or underpants: how could they have been lost in the street?

On the way to the supermarket I come across an umbrella cover and a pink button and decide to take them home and put them into the Textile Files.