The Ascent.

With gritted teeth and hard-fought for thin air, with the coldest of cold gnawing at our extremities and ice clinging to the prominences of our faces, we ascended slowly, the face of the highest and mightiest mountain!  Chilling wisps of icy cloud passed over our heads from time to time, picturesque and beautiful against a sharp, bright, blue sky.  The sun shone a brilliant orange gold, and yet, not one ray of warmth reached our rigidly cold bodies.

Far, far below us lay the warm, pine-clad, scented rolling landscape, bathed in the warmth we craved and as beautiful and tempting as the fairest, warmest, reassuring bosom…the urge to turn, descend and succumb to comfort was almost too much to resist, however, the urge to conquer, to vanquish fear and to reach our goal far outweighed the former, which, in fact, would be another reward. To swim and ride the tide of adulation and admiration, to feel the embracing warmth of the Maiden Earth, on return would be well worth the perishing cold hardship and the mortal danger we faced on our climb…

Okay so it was raining and I had a huge pile of washing that wasn’t going to dry outside, and, I no longer had the luxury of the tumble drier I once enjoyed.  I do, however, have a clothes horse – it’s the tall ‘accordion’ type that zigzags its climb from the floor…  And despite the fact that I get great pleasure from stepping back and admiring neatly hung, wet garments, strategically placed to pacify and diminish my annoyance at hastily, carelessly flung-up washing, I quite looked forward to the visit I made to the washeteria on the high street that I found.

A quick call to the number that I found on Google and I was swiftly reassured.  I was about to experience for the first time, a laundrette.

For the meagre sum of one hundred and twenty new English pence, I had one half hour of tumble drying on the highest temperature setting.  Dry, hot clothes. Would it be prudent to kneel before my open dryer and cuddle into my garments, reassuringly hot and fragrant as they were?

Hundreds of years ago when I was an irritating child, (an attribute I still possess at times it seems) the luxury of a tumble dryer was unknown. We had a top-loading washing machine that was filled up with water via a thin black hose from the kitchen tap.  In the centre of the machine was the ‘witches hat’ – a black cone-shaped object, blunt, tapering blades that sat on a pin which when powered on, would twist half turns, churning, beating and choking the dirt from the clothes inside. The water was heated from an element hidden somewhere in the belly of the machine. When it was full and steaming, the power would be applied and the soap powder added to the churning mix; grubby smalls were added when ready. I can smell the hot water and the washing powder now…

On the top of the washing machine there was two rubber rollers, powered by a simple handle that when turned allowed a simple gearing system to wring them. Clothes were fed through and suitably wrung of water. They could then be dropped into the ‘spinner’; my favourite machine! I couldn’t possibly tell you the RPM of the spinner but it was fast, and when it came to a stop, clothes would remain clinging to the side of the drum! At the bottom of the spinner there was a spout, resembling a large duck beak, which spewed out any surplus water into a dish. When a flow turned to a dribble, the spinner could be stopped and the clothes removed; from there they’d either be hung outside on carefully wiped washing lines, or, in winter or if the weather wasn’t too good, hung on an ageing clothes horse in the dining room. We had no radiators so the solid fuel fire we had would be maintained at a reasonable size to heat the room and dry the washing.  Quite often, the clothes horse would be planted in front of the fire-place; three pieces made up the frame, with leather straps that held it all together as well as acting as hinges…

Now I know I’ve shared my passion for toy soldiers but when the clothes horse was up it made for a fabulous prop for an adventure! In my fantastical world the ‘horse’ was a sheer cliff face or a towering building. My action men could even be mountaineers… Patiently tied and snipped lengths of wool were makeshift climbing ropes.  The horse was covered end to end in clean, white shirts, sheets and undies. My mountaineers perched precariously high atop the sheer mountain side. The fire roared a flickering orange and yellow. A fire guard stood to prevent sparks and spitting, tar-filled coals.

The climb continued.  After a warming cup of tea and a cigarette, our local and more than regular visiting cleric, Father M, joined me in adventure.  Little by little, he moved the action men on his side of the mountain around, copying my actions, moving arms, legs and tying off climbing ropes.  We had so much fun and were lost where the real world failed to encroach…  Our climb, at last was almost over!  Myself and Father, without wording our thoughts, knew we were competing with one another to race to the top.  No cheating though.  Each move had to involve tying our climbers to each rung of the mountain face.  In his haste to beat me and my haste to beat him, disaster!  Father toe-punted the clothes horse, and I made to grab, only to succeed in losing my balance and toppling with the frame against the coal fire!  The flimsy, thinly meshed fire guard, squashed and useless against my weight, crumpled and shot sideways!  As we fussed and struggled to pull everything away from the flames, mum arrived from the kitchen to see what the fuss was about, almost immediately and right on cue!  My finger burned and tears came thick and fast!  That didn’t save me from the wrath of mum, nor did Father’s virtuous, clerical standing!  When all was safe and whilst he was receiving a scolding in equal ferocity to me, he stammered, stuttered and fumbled his way out of the house.

All but one garment survived. I still have a scar to remind me…


About Robert

A fifty-something, retired Celestial Travel Agent. Walked many paths; some good, lots bad. Meandering through the past, plodding in the present, crawling toward the future.
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