You might be forgiven for thinking that all I will write about here is domestic drudgery viewed through a different lens, and you might be right. In a blog focused on the ordinary day to day elements of life, domestic tasks are likely to crop up fairly often. Ironing, in particular, has a poor reputation. I have heard men say that in their relationships they will do any domestic task other than the ironing. I suspect those men may find the reality of a close relationship requires a greater degree of compromise than that, but the point is that ironing is viewed, somehow, as the pinnacle of domestic servitude. My view about ironing is tempered, perhaps, by the fact that for many years now we have used a steam press rather than an iron, and I have a particularly vivid (and curiously happy) memory of sitting in the living room in front of the TV half watching an episode of Monarch of the Glen, methodically working my way through a pile of babygros, the ironing of which was revolutionised by the steam press. No more fiddly bends, just straighten the article out on the press, press, lift and fold.
That memory represents the point at which ironing transformed from an oppressive to a transcendent task (though perhaps transcendence is over-egging it a little). Ritualistic, certainly. An activity with some beauty within it. Ironing now, for me, falls into that space along with chopping vegetables or washing up: a task which occupies the hands, which roots me to a particular spot for a certain length of time, but which leaves the mind free to wander. These activities have become a pleasure. In those moments my mind is free to muse about whatever subject it occupying it. I am trapped, in a sense, but also free. In these times I am, strangely, my most creative. I solve problems which I didn’t fully appreciate were bothering me. I have great ideas about writing, about life; about how to make myself happy, how to find contentment, how to share it, how to help my children find ease in a life which demands so much from their attention. In a world which has reduced most domestic tasks to a five minute window – loading the dishwasher, loading the washing machine, a quick spray and wipe – ironing remains a job which cannot be abridged (except by convincing someone else to do it). Perhaps that is what is so dreaded about it.
Not all of us are so comfortable with our own thoughts and company to be left alone with ourselves, but it is a state of being which is worth acquiring. There is something to be said for doing and not doing. There is something comforting about being alone and finding it soul-soothing. I think it is part of the human condition to feel like we are squandering our time, that time spent doing this boring task or this routine thing could be better spent on doing something else, something exciting. Yet if we are honest, how much of our time is really spend doing exciting things? Even exciting things become dull on repetition, just consider how most people respond to miracles of engineering like taking a flight, a train, getting in a car? Excitement is fleeting and difficult to achieve, and in many respects learning to rediscover the joy in ordinary tasks brings the prospect of excitement closer. So perhaps that hour spent pressing and re-pressing, shaping and folding is an hour well spent after all; and if nothing else at the end of it you have a pile of neatly pressed clothes, not such a terrible thing.