As a schoolgirl, my idea of rebellion was wearing a white shirt when the school handbook CLEARLY STATED IT SHOULD BE LIGHT BLUE.
It might not sound like much, but where does torching the physics teacher’s pet cat with a Bunsen burner get you? Or spraying ‘Fr Mulroney is a cock’ on the gym wall? I’ll tell you: expelled, and double detention with a wire brush and bucket of soapy water respectively. Whereas I was subversively picking away at the very fabric of authority via my choice of fabric colour. You’ve got to admire the symmetrical anarchy of it.
It gets better. When apprehended by a teacher, I would apologise profusely, except that – get this – I WASN’T REALLY SORRY AT ALL. Oh, how I used to laugh behind the bicycle shed later, unbuttoning that same shirt while the boys lined up to see my jugs in exchange for five quid or a king-sized Mars bar.
Most of that preceding paragraph is pure fabrication (still with the textile analogies). I never worked up the enthusiasm or morals to be much success as a slut.
But I did laugh, a LOT.
Many years later, I realised that wearing a white shirt was not the sartorial spit in the eye of The System it could have been because, while my defiant shirt may have been white in a previous life, it was more often than not an off-white blue. Although there were days my white shirt was shot through with brilliant vermillion streaks like the rising dawn – or more pedestrianly yet accurately, streaky bacon – which was quite the statement.
The statement being that my mother had washed my shirt with a red sock.
For many years – in the region of 25 – I thought a side effect of the washing process was that it turned white clothes grey. Sometimes it took only one wash; sometimes more. Occasionally white garments emerged from the wash still pristine but for a violent pink spackle over one nipple; or a joyous blue Catherine wheel effect radiating from the armpit.
For mum, laundry is an outlet for all the pent up creativity she never had the time to burn off with a spot of watercolouring, or extreme macramé away. I’ve never caught her at it, but I imagine her with a basket of dirty clothes before her front-loader, rubbing her hands, going, “So, three white t-shirts and some cotton knickers . . . in we go . . . lalala . . . what if I casually toss in this green scarf with . . . a blue singlet? – no – let me see – mmm lala lalaa . . . oh! – what have we here? ah, my maroon harem trousers . . . oh yes, I think that would be lovely and festive . . . LalaLAA. I wonder whether the expression ‘evil genius’ has been coined yet? Mwa ha haa. Mwa ha ha ha haaaargh.”
But the pinnacle of her achievements, the jewel in her crown, the Kleenex in the pocket of mum’s laundry career, was my first boyfriend’s Eric Clapton t-shirt.
In the fragile, tender days constituting the birth of our young love, JP brought me to see Eric Clapton play in the RDS in Dublin. It was the best date I’d EVER been on – possibly because it was the ONLY date I’d ever been on, unless you count Gary Hayes trying to excavate my tonsils with his tongue in the back row of The Grand, which I don’t.
JP and I snogged like we had gills for the entire duration of ‘Layla’. God, the romance of it all *sigh!* Afterwards, JP bought himself a limited edition Eric Clapton t-shirt from an Official Merchandising Material vendor. It featured a handsome globe overlaid with a giant guitar: a masterpiece of screen printing.
Evidently, mum still feels guilty about it – as well she should – because even now, fifteen years later, I’ll say, “Hey mum, can you-”, and she’ll splutter, “Look, why the feck was I feckin washing your boyfriend’s feckin Eric Clapton t-shirt in the first place?” and stick her chin out aggressively.
It was because JP sometimes lent me his prized Eric Clapton t-shirt to demonstrate his True, Deep, Abiding Love Which Would Never Die, and at the time I was living at home where mum was the only one who knew how to program the washing machine.
Not only did she dye JP’s Eric Clapton t-shirt grey (alternatively she might have been wiping down the fireplace with it), in a brilliantly devious manoeuvre she managed to shrink it as well.
Our True, Deep, Abiding Love Which Would Never Die did not survive my mother’s washing – or, for that matter, the juxtaposition of JP’s personality with mine.
Mine more than his, admittedly.
At least when we broke up and I compiled a cardboard box of JP’s possessions including the ruined Eric Clapton t-shirt, it was an appropriate metaphor for the demise of our relationship.
I was reminded of all this the other day, when mum put on a load of dad’s and her clothes. It takes a rare degree of skill to mangle clothes in our washing machine, since there is no hot water supply to the tub. Yet somehow, freakily, mum managed to streak dad’s favourite white t-shirt blue.
Bear in mind that, for over 40 years, mum has washed dad’s clothes. So you would expect that, picking his t-shirt out of the wash, a range of emotions might cross his face: futility, bewilderment, dismay, weary resignation, a half-hearted attempt at fury.
You would be wrong.
Bless him, dad actually looked genuinely SURPRISED.
This may be symptomatic of extreme delusion, but I like to think it’s reflective of dad’s abundant hope, optimism, belief in the inherent good of his fellow man, and his love for his wife.
Call me a sucker.