Scary. Very, very scary.
That’s the only word that describes it. For the first time in 40 years, I have been in contact with the L word. I am now in bed, contemplating the experience and recovering from the stress. Where is Valium when you need it?
Launderette (and yes, I am sticking to the traditional spelling, so if you don’t like it, you can wash off): the establishment I frequented so much as a student in the late Seventies. That made me cry when I didn’t have enough 2p pieces for the dryer, because I had used them all up phoning home from the red telephone box at the end of the street; that lulled me into the false sense of belief that I would meet the love of my life while watching the turntable of my undies; that returned my few clothes to me, shredded like the grated cheese I could never afford in Marks and Spencer when I went in for my one small can of chicken in cream sauce (luxury).
So, I am in Paris and, as I am travelling for two weeks, have to find a way to wash my clothes halfway through my trip. Luckily, in the 6th arrondissement, the launderette is just two doors down from my favourite bar, Semilla, which makes life a lot easier, even though the wash and dry now costs me two glasses of wine at 6 euros apiece (can anyone tell me where the euro sign is on a US Mac?), in addition to the 4 euros for the wash and 2 euros for the double dry.
It’s very stressful. There are buttons to press, hash-tag symbols to follow, coins to enter; and then, returning 38 minutes after the 25 minutes the machine tells you it is going to take, seeing that there are another 18 minutes to go.
I am stressed because my Issey Miyake Pleats Please collection is in the wash. I don’t want somebody taking it out and putting it in a dryer because it will all be ruined. I once had a cleaner in Bath who, thinking she was doing me a favour, ironed £2000 worth of the Pleats collection. When I arrived home from London, she greeted me with the words: “Those clothes were very creased; I had such a problem with them.” My screams could be heard beyond Swindon.
In case you don’t know the Pleats collection, think of ironing an Aero bar: those bubbles are never going to come back.
So, I make it back after two glasses to rescue the Pleats and put my stuff into the dryer. Now, though, it’s the same button and hash-tag process all over again, but you can dry only for 10 minutes at a time.
Dear God. It’s never like this on EastEnders, where no one, despite earning a ton load of dosh, ever washes their clothes at home. Does anyone even own a washing machine? As far as I can make out, people go into the launderette, listen to Dot pontificating about life and Hey! Presto! Their washing is done (although I have yet to see anyone actually leave with any).
This is the first time I have been back in Europe after selling my house, and it feels very odd. Normally, I would have gone straight to Cardiff, thrown my stuff in the washing machine and disappeared to London, Paris or wherever to see friends and family, knowing that I had my secure base.
I do not regret for a nanosecond the decision I have made, but I have been very tearful at feeling so rootless. I’ll be fine once I get back to the US, where I love my life and have my things around me and am surrounded my so much love. I am in the UK, too, but there has been a severance that feels more palpable now that I don’t have the security of bricks and mortar around me.
I am living out of a suitcase and am desperately homesick – for the US. I miss my sunsets over the Hudson in New York; I want to spend time in my indulgence, my new apartment in Los Angeles. I want to sit at my desk and get down to real work again, after months (and, leading up to it, years) of stress, dissolving my UK existence; I want to start enjoying waking up every morning without having to do four hours of sums, wondering how I am going to make ends meet.
So, the dryer has three minutes to go now, and I am thinking about the nature of my old life: washed away, finally, and spinning to who knows where.
I watch the final 35 second countdown to zero and take out my clothes. I fold them, press the creases as best I can, and return to my hotel to pack them, ready for the final stage of this trip.
New laundry. New life.