Although the notion may not appeal, clothes soil. Whatever the cleaning arrangements for public transport in London, they are inadequate. You may be clean in every way but the conveyance that takes you to work and back again is not.
Not even remotely.
So unless you are one of those who buy, wear and discard (very hard on the environment), you will be washing things, or having them washed for you, or investing in dry cleaning.
I enjoy hand washing, cherish an old washing machine and know that finding a good dry cleaner is like finding a restaurant you like, a doctor you trust or a hairdresser who can cut your hair.
It takes time and there are all sorts of stops along the way.
There are people who take their garments to the nearest cheapest dry cleaner, put them in, take them out, wear, end of.
There are very expensive dry cleaners who are a con.
And many of us have horrible experiences – of garments torn, shrunk, smelling more when they come back than when they went in – and we will go to considerable trouble to find somewhere we can afford, where the spirit in the machines is changed regularly or even often: where whoever you deal with can be relied upon to make sure that your clothes come back in one piece. For those of us who like to keep our clothes going as long as we can, who know that the quality of yesteryear is infinitely preferable to nine-tenths of what is currently on offer – finding a dry cleaner who gives a damn is important.
My Saturday job was in a dry cleaners, there may have been other branches but the business was small. I worked for Mrs. Wilson who, had I dreamt of calling her anything else, would have clipped me round the ear. She was the boss. I got over the smells – of mucky clothes, cleaning spirit, work clothes and dyeing – pretty quickly, though I never got over the pain of trying to drive the safety pins we used to attach the tickets to the garments through the material: Mrs. Wilson had both dexterity and muscles I lacked.
Down the years I sought knowingly and unknowingly for what I saw in Mrs. Wilson’s shop when I was 15. And when I found John the Scot in Pimlico Road where he ran his own business,
I stayed with him, as did many others. You could take him something old, ask him to do his best with it and he wouldn’t sneer. Buttons were tightened – not often, just enough to make you feel it mattered – and a bad stain was brought to the attention of Mrs. Cheung, whose hands looked like some mysterious Oriental roots.
They took pride in their work. He closed the business when the landlord upped the rent again, saying – “”Well, I am 60 and Mrs. Cheung is 80 – we can’t go on for ever.”
We miss him. The shop stood empty for ages, eventually becoming another convenience store.
After trying this and that and deciding against going somewhere that might be better but required me to carry weight over distance, I wound up trying a fashionable chain with a snazzy card, probably on some kind of deal, not more or less expensive or good. But I bet the staff aren’t paid properly because everybody is fed up in there. The only two who smile are two older women. Otherwise it is the dyspeptic young, one of whom clearly hated what she was doing and me because I was part of it.
According to the American writer Louisa M. Alcott (who famously wrote Little Women) charm is the hardest personal quality to define.
The dictionary calls it the quality of pleasing, attracting or fascinating.
But charmless is simple: not pleasing, attractive or fascinating: no kind word, no kind look, no grace, shutters down, no interaction inferring “you’re not worth it, I won’t try.”
I have long believed that unhappy people are often generous with their misery.
And no, I don’t want to be swamped with fake sweetness.
I wonder what became of the knowledge that no matter what kind of a pain he or she is, the customer is always right – if only because without customers , you don’t get paid – but also that you can turn him or her round quicker and easier with a modicum of that hard to define quality. This has nothing to do with nationality, age or sex.
Charm is not illegal, immoral or fattening.
Charm is to do with skill.
So, my next visit to this particular dry cleaning outlet may be my last and if they ask me why – I shall tell them.