Craven Terrace, London Thursday, 08 May 2014
Paying the Poor Tax in London
I'm propped in the linted corner of a laundromat writing this note and paying the poor tax.
Being poor is expensive.
I always forget how expensive until Gayle & I run out of "small clothes." And when we find a Laundromat I'm immediately reminded of every set of military orders and every Laundromat we've ever suffered through between duty stations. I think I've done laundry in at least 20 countries now, plus innumerable loads at sea or in various ports.
Laundry on the go, it's my superpower.
At best, though, my superpower is a rather blunt instrument. So if Gayle's clothes are involved, close supervision is required when i wield my power.
Gayle splashes with me down to the Laundromat, dragging our rolling carry-on stuffed with smelly clothes, wheels throwing tiny twin rooster-tails in the rain. Once she gets both me and the laundry properly sorted, I'm on my own. Gayle zips off on the Underground. Kensington Palace today and afternoon tea in the Orangery.
I've got the watch.
The Poor Tax (1.6 USD to 1£),
4£ per load. (we run three),
20 pence for soap (3),
50 pence for 5 measly minutes of drying (a pocketful of silver),
And don't forfet the soul-numbing time suck...unless you happen to be a reader.
This morning none of my fellow inmates seem bookish. So they fidget. And gossip. And fiddle with their phones. And criticize everything.
Almost immediately I'm inducted into the London Chapter of the Order of the Laundromat when a petite black-haired Slovakian girl corrects my drying technique.
"You're wasting money," she disapproves in barely accented English (want to annoy an American? Speak multiple languages). Uninvited, she then proceeds to instruct me in how to stretch each pence of drying time.
I immediately adopt the local custom of letting the clothes "rest" for 10 minutes between each 50 pence, 5-minute load. According to The Order, this allows the clothes to soak up the residual heat in the dryers, evaporating as much water as possible between each coin drop.
I know I'm doing it right when the attendant, Indian perhaps (that's Indian with the dot, not Indian with the arrows), sallies forth from his cubby to periodically glare at the members of The Order and all of his dryers unprofitably "resting."
Serves him right. Getting change out of him is like obtaining an interview with the Raj.
"How many loads?"
I don't know, three maybe four.
"How many drying?"
I don't know, how good are your dryers?
"20 pound note is too much change."
What do you recommend?
"Maybe 10 pounds this time, then you come back."
All I have is a 20.
grumble, grumble. grumble.
The universal rule of laundromats: If the attendant is unhappy, you're doing it right.
My washday victory is short lived, however. The attendant punishes me with a coat pocket full of coin worthy of poor, twisted-lip Huge Boone. Still, somehow, I feel as if I "won." I just don't know what. In the end, it's just two old guys at the intersection of East & West, both pissing against the wind of time.
I am lonely as cloud. And, hauling my pocket load of coppers & wash back up to Sussex Gardens, as water sodden as a cloud too.
Actually, today is a good day to pay the poor tax. London is suicidal grey, rain the color of molten lead. Soaking. Unrelenting. Despondent.
I admire Londoner's their stoicism as they trudge past me on their way to the underground. Worn faces, even the young ones, lined like Shar-Peis, streaming water and Churchillian determination-- blood, toil, tears & sweat. The great wars might be long passed, but modern Londoners face this latest bombardment of raindrops with nothing less than the grit of their grandfathers.
Tomorrow we board the Queen Elizabeth 2 for America.
Better to salvage a washed-out vacation day by catching up on laundry now than wasting a day aboard ship doing laundry when we could be doing absolutely nothing, but doing absolutely nothing with grand style.
BTW, if you want "Fish & Chips" just take a can of peas down to Long John Silvers.