Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

This Side of the Pond

Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman


April 11, 2019

It can come as a shock to realize your thoughts on a subject have been wildly different to those of your significant other for an entire decade, though the topic is so mundane that it’s never occurred to either of you that the other might think differently. The husband and I have picked our way through dozens of cultural differences, but every so often we stumble over a new one.

The context of this disturbing revelation is that we are undergoing a renovation project. We’re moving entire rooms into a more sensible order and filling the gaps to turn a house that was originally built for a bachelor who’d gone back to school into a more workable family home.

I suggested a couple of nights ago that one of the things I would like in this new configuration is a washing machine. It’s not something we’ve worried about before thanks to the benevolence of our next door neighbors, my mom- and dad-in-law, who are perfectly content to let us share theirs.

It’s not as though we have to go far, but a washing machine of our very own would solve a couple of problems. No more forgetting to transfer a load of towels into the tumble dryer until after everyone has gone to bed, and no more clean socks flinging themselves from the basket and straight into the nearest puddle.

And so I planted the suggestion that, at some point, we might want to add a washing machine to our list of available contraptions. It doesn’t need to be a big one, or even all that fancy, just as long as it works.

The husband frowned and said he couldn’t think of a good place to put one. This was a question I could answer, having already thought through the process.

Once we’ve reconfigured the kitchen, I suggested, we’ll be removing two storage units that take up some of the floor space. While we’re planning to replace them with surface area, we could easily nudge a washing machine under one of the counters – and it would be close to the plumbing, to boot.

The husband looked at me askance, for what reason I couldn’t possibly fathom. No, he said, that’s disgusting, we’d need to put it somewhere else.

What followed were several minutes of bafflement during which I tried to puzzle out what could possibly revolt him about a washing machine in a kitchen. That’s where they’re supposed to go, isn’t it?

Eventually, we figured out the problem: in the UK, you’ll find the washing machine is located in the kitchen in the vast majority of houses. That’s just what we do.

But over here, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a washing machine near an oven. The husband is quite correct that such a placement runs the risk of getting crumbs all over your cardigans.

The reason for the disparity seems quite obvious: Britain is smaller and so are our houses. Modern homes are more likely to have picked up the trend of adding a utility room, but for our older residential buildings the opportunity has long since passed. Unless one is filthy rich, it’s also unlikely there is a spare room milling around that one could convert just for a washing machine.

There really aren’t any other obvious locations for a laundry set-up, if you think about it. You wouldn’t want it in the living room, interrupting your television shows, and you’d have a hard time falling asleep if it was whizzing away in the bedroom.

It also needs to be near plumbing, which is probably the main reason we Brits opted to put it in the kitchen. This seems to have been a blanket decision made in the mists of time by interior designers all over the country and something I have never thought to question – until now.

I’d noticed the existence of utility rooms, obviously, but I simply assumed it was a case of making the most of all this space. It never occurred to me that my husband would react with such horror.

I asked him where he thought would be a good alternative for our hypothetical washer/dryer. We don’t have a utility room, and to install one would mean giving up a theme I consider important, such as “bedroom” or “anywhere to sit”. We figured out that an area in what will no longer be the pantry would probably work best.

The husband was concerned about finding a place for a tumble dryer and venting it if it couldn’t be next to the exterior wall. This was where my British experience did come in handy, because I had soon devised a set-up that would work in our little home.

In the UK, you see, we are much less likely to have a separate tumble dryer – many houses don’t bother with a dryer at all. Again, this is a question of space.

Most of us dry our laundry by hanging it on a washing line outside (one of the triangular ones on a pole, affectionately known in my own family as “the whirligig”). Once dry, we hang it in the cupboard reserved for the water heater, known as the airing cupboard, where the warmth removes any traces of damp left over from spending an afternoon outside in rainy Britain.

It has always tickled the husband that I can’t overcome the routine of a lifetime and simply transfer clothing from the dryer to the wardrobe. It doesn’t sit right with me – what if there’s a damp spot and the whole lot runs to mold?

But in this situation I suggested the ex-pantry could become both a drying space and airing cupboard, because the new water heater will be sitting above the washing machine. We could thus use the tumble dryer as extra heating in the winter and get a whirligig of our own for the summer.

It’s nice to know that the make-do-and-mend approach will be useful in my quest to bring the laundry in-house. I’ll get to keep things clean without putting my outside shoes on, and my husband won’t have to worry about spilling gravy all over his pants.


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