I posted a picture yesterday of amongst others, my cat Brodie who is a Scottish wildcat. To poke fun at mings and celebrate all things Scottish, I draw your attention to the Scottish wildcat. According to Scientific American (click here for full piece), they can never be tamed. Brodie, is an example to disprove that statement. It took the better part of a year but when she moved in of her own accord, she was there to stay.
Now we journey to the fair city of Perth, a place I know well. The Tay runs through it, sometimes all too literally. A small city with a rugged charm, sitting on the edge of the Perthshire Highlands, Perth has a number of interesting shops. To join my not-a-sheep-in-sight posts, let’s go to Boo Vake, a quirky store where I have found many a treasure.
“Oh if only more shoppers knew of the delights that can be had a wee bit further down towards Tay Street in Perth, round a corner and sitting quietly up a side street, where the finest designers and makers from Scotland, house their most crafted pieces. Boo Vake reminds me of the shop in Bagpuss, except the items aren’t lost - just not found yet, and not that the items are broken either - it’s just the coothy atmosphere of the store and it’s goodies.”
I’m not sure about the ‘most crafted pieces,’ but undoubtedly it has a coothy atmosphere. For information, click here.
I think the big rugby win of England has gone to mings head. He’s very jolly posting sheep in the cat free zone of his blog, and I thought I would just balance things out a bit. Welcome to Cat’s Close in Culross, in Fife, the only Kingdom in Scotland. Cat’s close is “a long, narrow alleyway on a hill in the little town of Culross. Culross is an almost perfectly preserved example of a Scottish burgh of the 17th and 18th Centuries, thanks to the efforts of the National Trust. Witches were put on trial there so possibly the alley’s name has a witchcraft connection.”
(All credit for image to Arworks, click on source link for more information)
Tonight the eyes have it. The windows of our soul; they can detect 10 million hues but not infrared or ultraviolet light. How much can you tell about the eyes of this mother and daughter and two cats?
A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing this, about 37 years of funny things actually. I’ve wanted to write since I was about ten years old and I’m a few years older now. I think something like writing, a gift but also a drive, needs to find an outlet. So too do feelings. If they’re suppressed and not given a little space to be looked at, understood and to dissipate, they take odd paths within us. Eventually they don’t run out but through and within other areas of our lives, infecting decisions and outlook.
Now stay with me on this one, the story is mine but I think the experience is universal. I wanted to write and particularly write a book. I put it off and made excuses and doubted myself, protecting myself very nicely from failure but also success. This much I’ve shared before. What you don’t know is what I did with those feelings. A writer has to write, it’s that simple. A drive like that has to find an expression or it grows into something else like bitterness, regret or a sense of failure. If not that, it will find other expressions, possibly less satisfying.
I’ve been putting my heart and soul into writing, completely inappropriately, for years. My shopping lists were creative, letters to the teacher pithy and erudite (my children begging me, ‘Please Mum, can’t you write a normal letter), letters to friends were masterpieces and it didn’t stop there. It was when I was reorganising my spice cupboard and making new labels that I saw my efforts for what they were; the path my creativity had taken to find an expression. To use the river analogy, I was flooding the fields because my natural flow was suppressed. As I wrote out labels for ‘cool cumin,’ and ‘rambunctious rosemary,’ I was really enjoying the task of playing with words, but it was the ostentatious oregano and naughty nutmeg that got my attention. These silly labels were actually a cry for recognition, a cry to myself. I realised then I should be playing with words all the time.
The other day my husband and I had some rare time on our own and were trying to make a day plan. He’s a straightforward man of generally, uncomplicated needs. I’m not; not a man clearly but my needs are far from uncomplicated. As an aside, in the midst of our discussions about a day plan, I went to the loo. When I returned, I found him googling, “She’s Driving Me Crazy.” Apparently, no one was driven quite so crazy as him at that moment. Why was he driven so? I have this deep desire, a feeling, a need to see other countries, people and every novel way of being different to my own. I long for the fresh and interesting. Without realising it, my drive has been perverted, as it can’t find its true expression – travel. Where does this river flow? Well, it flows into ordinary decisions like, “What do you want to do today?” When you’re a bloke that’s quite happy with a coffee in Starbucks and a trip to Ikea, you do not want a crazy woman suggesting an adventure, along the lines of, “Let’s just drive somewhere without a plan,” or “Let’s try that Mongolian yak foot stew, it sounds interesting,” – are you getting the picture? This desire can’t have its proper expression in the familiar and mundane, it needs to get out and venture forth. After I realised how I was thwarting the simplest plans in this way, I told him, I have to travel or this will keep on happening. It’s a measure of just how crazy I’ve driven him that he readily agreed.
Similar things happen to certain people who wish to have children in the future, but adopt pets in the interim. Alright, you can throw your doggie clothing and jewel encrusted cat collars at me if you want, I’m going to stick my head above the parapet. Some of these pet owners go a bit off the deep end. They lavish a particular kind of love and affection on their pets that is, well inappropriate for an animal. I will submit at this stage, I have two dogs and four cats and love them all, as the animals they are. They are deserving of love, respect, care, attention and understanding yes, but they are not human, specifically, they are not babies or children. They do not have clothing nor do they need it, they don’t own designer anything, wear accessories other than a dog lead at times, get pushed around in a pram, or require labels more sophisticated than Purina. I don’t think they’re less for this, they’re what they are and we’re what we are and that’s good. To load an animal with all of this is nothing to do with what it is, but much more to do with what you want to make it.
I watched my Mother, a very artistic and creative designer work as a bookkeeper. She never had the confidence or drive to venture forth on her own or develop her designs. She loved to travel but took with her the most pedestrian man you could hope to meet. She did travel and loved it as I do but never ‘flew’ as she could have, he made sure her wings remained clipped. She’s in a care home with dementia now but not too long ago, I found her portfolio, the one she kept in the bottom of a hope chest, hidden away. I didn’t even know it existed. Imagine my surprise when I discovered page after page of beautifully drawn, innovative and stylish fashion designs. She actually designed a dress I’d seen Kate Winslet, Victoria Beckham and others wearing, and creating a stir with. My Mother created that design over 40 years ago. Someone else saw the potential and turned their idea into a reality. It’s too late for my Mother but it’s not too late for me, or for you.
Rivers need to flow and damming them has a cost. Honour the flow of your feelings and see where they take you. Unleash the torrent of your creativity and you’ll connect with a better you along the way. You have nothing to lose except fear.
© S. Marian, Aug. 21, 2012
"If statistics in the U.S. are representative of other countries, almost 90% of laundry is done by women. The average American family foes 8-10 loads each week. Were all of that to be done by hand, there would be no time for much else, not even to complain about inequality."
© S. Marian, July 3, 2012
An excerpt from “Liberty is a Washing Machine,” to be found on “A View From Outside the Box,” url: a dialogue
Listen to Mitzi Gaynor, doing a different kind of wash. This is the full audio of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” from South Pacific. It’s a bit choppy, switching back and forth from the old production but is worth seeing.
The piles of unwashed laundry are getting frisky. They sit in the corner looking innocent enough, but as soon as I turn my back they’ve multiplied. Despite training everyone in the house to use the washing machine, I tend to be the only one who possesses the initiative. According to the L’Ossovatore Romano, the newspaper of the Vatican, the single most influential factor in the emancipation of women is the washing machine. I don’t agree with this statement as it conveniently downgrades the impact of birth control on women’s lives. Setting aside the emancipation question for now, what about the humble washing machine – how did it get here and how has it affected our lives?
The first English patent for a washing / wringing machine was issued in 1691, a device a little more primitive than we’re accustomed to today. Early machines tried to imitate the motion of hands on washing board. Observation of life on the high seas demonstrated the effectiveness of agitation – sailors would hang their washing overboard in a cloth bag, the dragging motion and water forced through it rendering the clothing clean. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Canadians for the invention of the first agitation machine around the 1920’s. In an age of greater equality, one would think that such a labour saving device would be saving the labour of all – not so. If statistics in the U.S. are representative of other countries, almost 90% of laundry is done by women. The average American family does 8-10 loads of laundry each week. Were all of that to be done by hand, there would be no time for much else, not even to complain about inequality.
You would imagine then, that every woman would be delighted to own a modern washing machine…I once had a boyfriend who watched his elderly Mother struggle with the wash, first in the twin tub with laborious manual filling, putting laundry and detergent in and waiting for it to agitate sufficiently, then draining it and doing the whole business again and then, into the spinner to further rinse and wring out the water. That wasn’t enough because then she’d put it through the mangle. The mangle took the rest of the water out before the laundry could be hung to dry. Her son bought her a surprise one day, a modern, time saving, space saving washing machine - which she refused to use. I guess she didn’t like the change. She kept it next to the twin tub and mangle, a pretty cloth draped over it like a coffin at a wake. It would eventually become a convenient counter surface for sorting the clothes on.
Before twin tubs or mangles there were just tubs, no running water, gas or electricity – needing plenty of time and hard labour. A single load involved boiling, rinsing and you would need over 50 gallons of water to do one load. This had to be transported from pump or well or possibly the tap to whatever receptacle you were using. Consider the carrying, lifting heavy water and water sodden clothes, sheets and all in the days of weighty wool and cotton and voluminous clothing. I didn’t always have a washing machine and can sympathise with these early women. Some of my years in Scotland were spent in a small caravan without running water or electricity. That was fine I thought at first, there is water all around me, I’ll simply take my washing to the nearby shore. Don’t ever try this! The first discovery was that detergent (which is also not great for sea life) or ordinary soap doesn’t lather with seawater. While I was figuring out this conundrum I placed my knickers and socks in the water to soak, forgetting the most important thing. I was not in a pool or tub but in the sea, a body of water subject to tidal flow. My knickers and socks were flowing into the Atlantic Ocean, on their way to Ireland or who knows where. Eventually I developed a solution to this problem much like women of the past.
I started collecting rainwater in big barrels and this was the beginning of a remedy. It took some planning but with time and soaking I was able to get through my wash. Many years later, I still had an unusual appreciation for the washing machine due to my caravan experience. What a miracle it was to simply put the wash and detergent in and press a button. One morning some years ago I was gathering wash to do exactly that, put a load on. I left the door of my front loading machine open while I nipped upstairs to the children’s rooms to get their wash. Having found nothing, I came back down and closed the door, pushed the button on and then went to have a soak in the bath. Half an hour passed and then I came out, wondering why I hadn’t heard the washing machine. I looked at it and it seemed fine, it was on and I couldn’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be running. I bent down to look in the window and saw, on top of the pile of wash, our small kitten and she wasn’t moving. The next five minutes were tense as I tapped on the glass, wondering why she wasn’t moving and waiting for the time lock safety device to let me open the door. When I heard the click of release I threw open the door and pulled, a very dazed looking cat out of the wash. She had simply gone to sleep. It was just as well that I came out when I did because I also found out that while she was moving, the load was not evenly distributed and this safety device saved her. The machine would not run with an unevenly distributed load. In a few minutes she would have been washed. She must have climbed in while I was upstairs looking for laundry. In my home it’s now standard to check our machines for cats before we turn them on.
Despite these traumatic experiences, I still really value the convenience of a washing machine. Today I read about Ida B. Wells, an amazing heroine of American history and worth looking up. When she was quite young herself, both her parents and one of her siblings died of yellow fever. She was determined to keep the family together and worked very hard to do so. In her words,
“I came home every Friday afternoon, riding the six miles on the back of a big mule. I spent Saturday and Sunday washing and ironing and cooking for the children and went back to my country school on Sunday afternoon.” We have it easy comparatively, although we still like to complain.
It’s apparent that labour saving devices such as washing machines have liberated us in one regard, probably freeing us up for other work and expectations that ensnare us in different ways. I know I wouldn’t like to go back to a scrubbing board and the hard graft of hand washing. Interestingly, James Dyson, inventor of the famous Dyson hoover and other machines, claims that 15 minutes of hand washing cleans clothes better than one hour in the best German machine available. He says that hand washing flexes the clothing, which machines cannot do. Don’t despair; there is hope as he also says that he has invented a machine that does precisely this.
Washboard: An often wooden or glass board with ridges, of which the fabric can be rubbed up and down vigorously against to scrub and it release dirt.
Twin tub: A machine with two built in basins, one for washing the clothes in requiring the addition of water by hose, the other which spins, for rinsing and wringing the clothes out.
Mangle: A device consisting of two rollers and either a handle to crank it or an electric device. The clothing is put between the two rollers and the water is squeezed out of it.
Ida B. Wells: A crusader for justice and defender of democracy. She was described as a militant and uncompromising leader for her efforts to abolish lynching and establish racial equality. She challenged segregation decades before Rosa Parks, ran for Congress and attended suffrage meetings.
The Daily Telegraph, March 9, 2009
© S. Marian, July 3, 2012