Of mangles & battledores

Some ladies of my perilous acquaintance have formed a gymnastic “club.” That is to say they exercise together, upon the machines of a local commercial gym.

“A Gymkhana?” I asked, with my usual obtusion, wondering if the officers’ sports clubs of India were now admitting women. You know: anything can happen these days. A Gymkhana in Parkdale would not surprise me, though members without waxed, handlebar moustaches might strike me as odd.

“No,” my informant replied, cutting off a fruitful line of speculation and inquiry.

To make the short conversation shorter, I proposed that they found a lavoir, instead. Or perhaps a bateau-lavoir, for the shore of Lake Ontario, should the spring I had in mind within the former Village of Parkdale prove to have been permanently sealed. For though I’ve noticed that in our now conurban district, there are plenty of coin-operated laundries, I can’t find one free, old-fashioned wash-house. And this, notwithstanding plentiful immigration, and all the cultures we are supposed to have absorbed. What I had in mind was something like what they had in Europe, before all this modernity set in. Some of these lavoirs, built in the 17th century, were gorgeous beyond words.

A long, shallow, slightly raised stone tank, fed by a clean spring, then draining into purposeful ditches; the tank’s edges and dry levels designed to accommodate the washing and beating of clothes. Perhaps an elegant slate or pantile roof set over, as a matching hat. And the ladies of the community all gathered around, in their communal joy, merrily washing and beating away, in a place where they might gossip and no man overhear. (Men were strictly verboten.) Moreover, excellent exercise to keep them trim.

Well, that is just one of my suggestions for municipal improvement. Once built, a lavoir would require little maintenance, thus no need for fees, nor bureaucrats. Indeed, lots of money would be saved, if both coin-laundries and gyms could be obviated. Alas, North Americans are nothing if not non-communal, these days, so we might return to mangles and battledores instead. I find beautiful examples of these devices on the Internet, and see no reason why craftsmen should not resume their manufacture.

It is a matter of regret, to me, that my washing board went missing after my last move. For years I have been intending to replace it. I have laundry pail and blue bars of soap, but the job would be easier if I had that washboard back. Alas, in my small urban washroom, there is room to swing neither cat nor battledore, and I’m reduced to mangling and squeeging by hand. The architects of our apartment complexes did not think of this, did they, when providing such tight spaces.

In view of their ventilation arrangements, I hardly think them rational. One design flaw after another, and I can’t speak for the building standards either, in carpentry and joinery, plastering and much else. The plumbing used to work, however, until the environmentalists specified toilets that use only 80 percent of the water, but need to be flushed five times.

Still, the biggest scandal of waste, in my view, is the laundry disposition. People laze about doing nothing all day, except sitting in chairs in front of computers, often munching on Pringles. Then in a panic they realize they need exercise, or else they will die. They lay out hundreds or thousands for membership in a gym. Or take a car and pay twenty dollars for parking, when they could briskly walk a mere three or four miles, and probably arrive quicker. In the morning I see them jogging — to nowhere, loaded down with expensive gizmos when they could as easily be carrying heavy bags. I see them paying for nasty little decorative salads, yet ignoring the traditional rules of fasting and abstinence.

Sometimes I think they have all gone mad.