Until recently, I had pressed a shirt only once. Now I have discovered that ironing helps me impose order on a chaotic world
The narrowness of our lockdown lives has forced us to find pleasure, or at least diversions, in the mundane. At the radical end of this spectrum sits an impressive if rapidly staling sourdough loaf, or a puppy. These things are nice, but challenging. It’s at the other end of the spectrum that I have found the greatest solace: watching a seed grow in a small pot, or staring at a tree in wonder. Or watching more TV in one year than in the entirety of my first half-century.
I believe I’m now at the apotheosis of this: I’m finding great solace in ironing. This has come to me very suddenly. I had only ever ironed one thing before. It was a shirt, about 25 years ago. I started with the sleeves, before moving on to the collar, the cuffs, the back and then the front. I held it up to the light and was disappointed to see the sleeves had become creased as I had worked my way through the rest of the garment. So, I went back to the sleeves, only to then compromise the pristine back of the shirt. Rectifying that wrecked the front. And so it went on. Wherever I stopped in this circle of despair, the next thing in the order needed re-ironing. I had managed to turn a white shirt into the Forth Bridge. I gave up.
Ever since then, I have not bothered ironing anything. If there was someone else willing to do it, for love or money, then so be it. In the former category, there has only ever been my mum. When she came to visit, a pile of stuff was magically done. Even pants, socks and hankies were pressed into submission. When I visited my parents, I would take bags of washed (and, indeed, unwashed) clothes for a loving maternal flattening. My partner pointed out that, at the age of 53, this was an effing disgrace and I ought to be ashamed of myself. She had a point. So the pandemic rescued me (and my mum’s right arm) from myself.
Last week, the pile of stuff next to the sink stood taller than my 6ft 1in. For want, frankly, of anything else to do as I was housebound toilet-training a puppy, I took up an iron for the second time in my life. I started with handkerchiefs. I often use two a day. Don’t ask. Let’s say, conservatively, I get through 400 a year and have done so since I was 14 – that’s about 16,000 hankies my mum has ironed. It was high time I grew up.
Stared at by an ever-curious, ever-bewildered puppy, I erected the board, plugged in the iron and cracked on. I had chosen handkerchiefs for their geometrical simplicity, but was unpleasantly surprised to find that they are not that easy to de-crease. It took longer than I thought and my mum’s 16,000 looked more impressive/shaming with each one I got through.Shirt collars, silk and steamy pants: a beginner’s guide to perfect ironingRead more
But as I got the knack of it, a very deep peace started to spread through me. As I pressed, folded, pressed again and folded again, I found myself in a new place, mentally. A place where, in my own small way, I was imposing order on a chaotic world. Bliss.
At this point, I should say that I fully understand the feelings of anyone who has spent their life having to iron stuff for scant reward or thanks and found it to be nothing better than enervating drudgery. I expect you would like to throw a hot iron at me. I doubtless deserve it. But when I placed the last hankie atop the teetering tower of them, I felt a great sense of achievement. I moved on to tea towels, which I enjoyed even more. I put on an audiobook – Any Human Heart by William Boyd – that led me down into a still-deeper pool of serenity. I paused awhile to seek guidance from YouTube on how to iron shirts and trousers. I was transfixed. And then I got stuck into them, too.
This was heady, mindful stuff. I looked up to see my puppy crapping guiltlessly on the carpet. Whatever. That could wait. Nothing but nothing was going to spoil these precious moments.