A few years back I attended a talk on the history of the town where I live. I was amazed to find that over 100 years ago, besides the now defunct railway connection, there were cinemas, dance halls and two steam baths (steam baths!two!) beside the local beaches amongst other things. In the space of a century, our little town had changed from being a hopping hive of activity, a spa town with a huge tourist industry, to a satellite town for the local city, a seaside resort with a waste ground heart. I grew up here and have seen various efforts by people to develop the area. The bad efforts usually succeeded (Celtworld anyone?) though some were scuppered by people with discernment and the good efforts were often undermined by small town jealousies. I have for a long time never expected much more from it so it took a while for me to notice the new addition to our town.
How long it has been there I am not sure,years possibly. It has glimmered acidly on the main strip that leads into (and out of) town, flickering in and out of my ken like the signal from a badly tuned television set, the way Tyler Durden flickered in and out of Edward Norton’s existence in Fight Club. I would see it and dismiss it. This bright shiny thing could surely not belong here. Finally I passed it enough times (daily at least) for it to impact on my consciousness..
‘Thats a bloody outdoor twenty four hour laundrette!’
This won’t make sense to the youngsters but having grown up watching American TV I am a still a bit in awe of things like motels, diners, balconies, palm trees, open topped cars, flat bed trucks, twenty four hour stores, self service newspaper kiosks and drive-thru (sic) everything. For me, our new laundrette falls into this Americana category-the post war America that was rather than the Trumpian Dystopia currently barrelling down the tracks. It is the America that was a bright new land full of promise. Go West Young (ahem) Woman!it yelled at me.
But how could it possibly belong here where we have barely emerged, squabbling, Monty Pythonesque from muddy potato filled holes and scratchy, mean hedges? We can’t cope with nice things here. Park an open topped car anywhere in Ireland and someone will pee in it. A balcony? People will jump or push each other off it. A twenty four hour shop will be plagued by drunks. Motel rooms wrecked, self service kiosks vandalised. We are children. We have never been able to have nice things.
The other night I swung into the dully gleaming tarmac lot that surrounds the laundrette. There was already a load in the dryer, the owner, daringly, nowhere in sight. Excitement mounting (I don’t get out much) I loaded up my duvet, paid my money and then, without a backward glance, set off for a run. I returned a half an hour later in time to see another customer load their clothes into a machine and drive off. The three machines spun merrily away under fluorescent lights, metal shining, retro decals unmarked, the whole affair untouched by ruffians or hooligans. More extraordinary still, a large wooden table with metal chairs stood unmolested in the clean forecourt. I sat and waited, slightly dazed, as the cars swooshed by leaving trails of red and orange across my vision.
People might think interpretative centres, multiplexes or posh golf hotels are signifiers of progress but maybe it is simpler things that change our world. Visions that catch the corner of the eye, ideas that inspire (while making life easier) rather than ideas that, in claiming to be the last word, seek to end inspiration.
This laundrette stands shining in its pool of light backed by shadowy trees at the edge of the damp winter road. People arrive and leave again, lit briefly in their silent, humdrum ritual, passing each other in the night. My cycle finished, I collected my duvet and headed for the car. As I drove off I was reminded of Edward Hoppers paintings. Hopper evoked the bittersweetness of the human condition, the weariness and the loneliness of the 20th century soul but his gas stations, empty roads, isolated figures and city bars also spoke of forward movement, independence and freedom. Maybe we are growing up. Maybe one day we’ll be able to have more than clean clothes 24/7…
Then again, maybe the next time I pass it someone will have burnt it to the ground.