Mother’s pink pyjamas are soaking in my favourite copper stock pot on the stove. Meanwhile, she is kneading her underwear in the kitchen sink like Mary Berry with a batch of sour dough.
I can’t say I’m chuffed by the sight. The stock pot is French and very expensive. Its tanned sheen stirs up memories of summers in Provence and when I touch it I feel like King Arthur with Excalibur. With it in my hands, my mediocre cooking is made magical and I can do battle with even the most complex of recipes with hope in my heart.
Looking at it, now, filled with old pyjamas and a veloute of soup suds, I feel its magic draining away as fast as the dark water Mother is tipping down the sink. Why is she doing this? We have a laundry room. The washing machine and drier are working. Normally, she throws her dirty clothes into the communal laundry basket and they get washed along with everyone else’s. Is she dissatisfied with the way we’ve been washing her clothes? Is this a sign of early onset OCD?
‘What are you up to?’ I say from the kitchen doorway.
‘Have you gone blind?’ she snaps.
‘Why are you washing your clothes in the kitchen sink?’
‘To save your wife from having to do it. What’s wrong with you this morning? You’ve come downstairs without your brain.’
When it comes to the laundry, I’m pretty woke. I do my fair share. At least, that’s how I see it. I certainly do more than when I was a student, which is some form of definition of progress, surely? But she’s missed my point. It’s not who’s doing the laundry that worries me. It’s why she’s doing it in my stock pot and the kitchen sink?
‘To save the planet. A single load in a washing machine creates 600g of CO2. If we wash our clothes less often and at a lower temperature, then we may be able to save the planet. I decided to cut out the machines altogether.’
I admire the fact she cares about climate at her age. But does this excuse her defiling my favourite stock pot? I remember my son ranting on about the ‘outrageous’ energy consumption of washing machines and tumble driers as he tried to persuade us to recycle the tumble drier and use a washing line instead.
‘If you want to go to school in wet clothes for half the year be my guest,’ said my wife. ‘But if the tumble drier goes, so do I.’
No husband in his right mind would even consider trading in his wife for a washing line. Nor would any child who understood the proper geography between bread and butter. But my Mother has clearly taken my Son’s son argument to heart.
‘We can fight climate change without ruining my copper cooking pots,’ I suggest.
‘We should wash clothes less frequently. I’ve worn those pyjamas for over ten days,’ she says proudly pointing at her pink pyjamas.
My stomach tightens. I remember a line from ‘Lipstick Vogue’ by Elvis Costello: ‘some words don’t allow to be spoken’. Something sacred has been changed forever. The Turin shroud has become a dishcloth, the Holy Grail a dishwasher. I can never make a bechamel sauce or a bouillabaisse in that stock pot again. Now, it’s only fit to boil eggs. I am as sad as a Parisian watching Notre Dame burn.