This blog was originally published here, as part of a series of blogs documenting my process as one of six commissioned artists working on QDT laundrette.
Read the rest of the blogs here: https://qdtlaundrette-josephine.blogspot.com/
Over the past few weeks or so, I’ve been experimenting with ideas that have come up from the conversations and research of the past few months, seeing how they would work in a creatively written form. As has been happening a lot this year, I have been drawn most to poetry.
It seems many people have found or returned to poetry this year. I like how a Penguin Books article described it as “the artform we always turn to when the stakes are at their highest.” When experimenting and exploring what form these stories asked to be honoured in, whatever I tried to write it seemed to become poetry whether I intended it to or not. It also seemed to become poetry that rhymes.. maybe something about the rhythm of the laundrette sounds or of the act of doing laundry itself. I hope it will also mean the finished pieces are more accessible and captivating to anyone who might read them, as I plan to leave a small zine of poems in laundrettes, to be discovered… (it will also be available to read/listen to online).
I’ve linked up with Els Christensen (the illustrator that has been working with QDT since the beginnings of the project) and she has created some illustrations to depict some of the people I’ve spoken or heard about over the past few months. Some of these people I’ve met, some I’ve spoken with on the phone or zoom, and some I’ve just received a short message from in response to the call out poster.
One morning, as I was leaving Soapbox, I bumped into an old friend who I hadn’t seen for a while. It was someone I’d met when we’d both been semi-living in our converted vans.
It made me remember that that period of time was the time I’d used laundrettes most in Brighton & Hove and that surely there must be other van dwellers in the city doing the same. I found a local group and did a shout out and got a few responses, this one below brings a fantastic image to mind:
“I spent a lot of time in launderettes in between festivals when I lived in a bus…..with a small baby…… Baby liked playing in the basket… It was always my job – the launderette.”
Illustration by Els Christensen
That week, I also had some responses on some other groups…
“I use my local launderette :) love the owner there but usually have a walk around and grab some pastry and just come back to watch the final few spins.”
“What a great project – I’ve a story about a laundrette that I’d use which caught fire! I’ve been using laundrettes in Brighton for the past 5 years…so many memories, and so many orphaned socks and underwear.”
“I used launderettes for many years, here in the UK and in Cuba. My mum called it “el lavatín”. There we had to get up early in the morning to queue up because they would only give you a few slots for washing, ironing, and/or drying. The lavatín was half a km from my mum’s house, and even when she has a washing machine, she still uses it. Here in the UK, it was hanging out with my daughter playing with the washing machines, reading, walking around trying to find change when there was no one at the launderette, or the times when I would just leave the bags to collect them the next day. I like that because they all fold the clothes way better than me! But they didn’t seem to like that, for some reason. They looked grumpy and they were snappy or tried to charge me too much. I never knew why. Anyway, it’s great to wash at home, but I miss the exercise.”Some of these became further conversations and some became inspiration for poems, illustrations or both. When it came to choosing what would become poems, I very much followed whatever I felt was working best. There were some people I so enjoyed talking to and writing about here, but when it came to forming a poem, it just wasn’t flowing. Who knows though, I may well be drawn to come back to some of these in the future as I’ve really grown to enjoy the subject and way of working.
Over the course of this project, there’s been so many little moments of inspiration that I’d never have managed to capture them all here in the blog. But it has been helpful to have the space to keep track of my investigations and thought processes, an open extension of my notebook.
I remember somebody once pointing out (maybe it was Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic, I’m not entirely sure) how it’s often much more exciting to be within the process than to be at completion. To say “I’m writing a zine of poetry” has a different, buzzing, unsure but excited energy than saying “I wrote a zine of poetry once”. I find it helpful to acknowledge this in the days leading up to a deadline! To remember to enjoy the process :)
A couple of other things I’ve forgotten to mention over the last couple of months…
Early on in the project I discovered an instagram page called wantshowasyoung . It’s run by the grandchild of a couple in their 80s in Taiwan who run a laundrette. They dress up in outfits put together from the clothes that their customers have left behind over the past several decades, and in doing so they look effortlessly cool in a very Brighton Laines kinda way.
Google Translate translated their Instagram bio as follows…
Old laundry staff in the country + guests abandon unpaid clothes 👔
Grandson can’t bear to see grandpa and grandma get bored every day
Even if the clothes are left for 10 years, they can still be fashionable
Even if Wan Ji Xiu’e is 84 years old, she can still be as young
Warm reminder 🔔｜Please remember to wash clothes｜
After seeing this, I asked every laundrette worker I’ve spoken to if they get many clothes left behind but everyone has said that it is really mainly socks. Some places have a basket for lost property but it is generally taken to a charity shop every few weeks as there just isn’t the storage space available and – as seems to be the same in Taiwan – people either return very quickly or not at all.
Back in August, I spoke to Melita Dennet on Radio Reverb about the project… and she also shared her funny laundrette story which got herself a nickname which she wasn’t too pleased about!
You can listen again to the show here (I’m at about 32 mins).
And one more message from the notebook at Highdowns Laundrette in Hove…
The finished zine of poems – Hope & Laundry launches on Quiet Down There social media on Monday 12th October!