Something was definitely wrong. Okay I know that my American accent causes English people to be on their guard, and why not? Here comes a mouth wider and louder than theirs, regaling them with boring stories of their town “back home”. But I was already on my best subdued behaviour when the launderette manager, (whose bosom announced her name as “Julie”) edged towards me warily. I did NOT say some Americanly invasive comment like: “Hi! Where are you from? Your tabard is so CUUUTE!”. Instead I followed her in gormless (stupid) fashion to a waiting machine.
No, the unease had nothing to do with my being a foreign immigrant. This was different, and I was uncomfortable. I inserted an eye-watering number of pound coins into a ravenous metallic slit. My clothes merrily circumnavigated the drum — something my machine at home was NOT doing, hence the visit here. I was now imprisoned for the duration. Would I last, with this strange foreboding lurking beneath my subconscious?
I looked around. “Julie” had done her best to make this a friendly place. Signs on the cheer-up walls said “WELCOME” and “LAUNDRY 15 CENTS” (yes really), “TIME IS PRECIOUS. WASTE IT WISELEY”. “PLEASE NOTE. WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO DISPOSE OF UNCOLLECTED ITEMS THAT HAVE BEEN LEFT HERE FOR THREE MONTHS”. (Wow. That’s patience. Holding onto wet clothes for 90 days.) And certainly the place was clean and neat. No tuft balls of lint rolling around, no forlorn child’s sock kicked grey into the corner. “Julie” had done her job well.
So why this unease? I looked at the other inmates. At one end of the room, slumped in the only chair, sat a joyless grey haired grey skinned grey coated woman whose elbow rested on the arm, and whose surprisingly delicate fingers massaged her temple. Her daughter, a pert trim no-nonsense slip of a thing commandeered three driers and scrutinised them as fiercely as customs personnel on a baggage scanning device. A mother mesmerised by her phone ignored her green-hooded son who flapped the empty machine doors open and closed, open and closed. Strange. His mother brought entertainment for herself, but nothing for the son.
There was no conversation, no banter, no nothing. Mind you, I wasn’t expecting lucid discussion on the amazing twist of a Dostoyevsky novel, or Wittgenstein’s theory of mental properties, but really, a soothing word of encouragement now and then wouldn’t have been that painful, would it?
Then it clicked. We. Were. In. A. Launderette. A stainless steel, life-leeching mind-numbing behemoth which has powers to reduce even the most loquacious among us to glazed, gaping zombies. No one was talking to anyone. The life force was being sucked from us all. The hypnotic hum of the gargantuan drums, the soporific scent of drier sheets in an airlessly warm room, the other-worldliness of unreal neon lights were taking their de-humanising toll. Whew! Anyone who survives launderettes as a regular event must be a person of steel stamina. Or a zombie.
Near the end of the eternity, when the life force had all but ebbed away, “Julie” attempted conversation. She yanked wet clothes from a giant machine and sighed. “It’s all go, innit?” (She’d served 3 customers that hour.)
“Is it always this busy?”
“Always” “I bet you’ve seen some real characters in here,”
Then again, I thought, perhaps not. They say that Phyllis Diller, a well-known American comedienne, started a successful career by trying out her material at a laundromat. Now there’s a challenge.
Mindless Salmon Bake
If your mind has been drained empty and you’re working on automatic pilot here’s a simple recipe for you. I’ve tried it twice, once on either side of the Atlantic. The first attempt was baked successfully in a tagine, and produced lovely sauce to adorn the fish and potatoes. The second was in my daughter Lizzie’s California home using her ever-to-be-coveted cast iron casserole pan. The salmon steaks were thick as Rib Eyes. We used low fat coconut milk instead of cream and all liquid was absorbed to make plump succulent fish and crispy-bottomed potatoes. We ate it with freshly delivered broccoli and cherry tomatoes from her still-fruiting allotment.
Butter a casserole dish with a lid (if possible). Layer the bottom with slices of new potatoes. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle a pinch of fennel seeds over the potatoes.
Add salmon steaks to cover the potato layer.. More fennel seeds, and some black pepper.
Smother the fish in a thick layer of sliced new potatoes. Brush again with melted butter. Fennel seeds again.
In a measuring jug pour in equal parts white wine and cream (or coconut milk). 5 ozs of each works well. Pour the liquid over the fish and potatoes. Cover tightly, either with the lid, or with foil. Bake about an hour in a moderate oven, or until a forked potato slice is tender.
Golly! That took longer to write than it took to prepare!