Sicilian housewives do. They iron all their towels and underpants as well, apparently.
My mother-in-law, aka The Godmother, dropped in yesterday afternoon. Despite our tense relationship, we have found an uneasy truce, based on the fact that she finds ironing so relaxing she is willing to do mine when she has run out of her own.
My own idea of relaxing is to eat chocolates and drink red wine while watching TV, but The Godmother doesn’t let me relax while she is busy relaxing. She assigns me tasks.
Yesterday, she decided to teach me how to iron properly for myself. Using her iron.
First she made me gather up the dry laundry. I pottered about sorting it into two heaps; one Mount Everest of things that needed ironing; and a Mount Etna that I could fold and put away.
The Godmother popped over to check, and pointed out that I had committed another of my gross domestic blunders. Everything needs ironing!
“What, even towels?” I dared to ask.
The Godmother thought I was just saying this to make her laugh.
She rolled up her sleeves.
“I’ll show you the best way to iron,” she offered enthusiastically. “I have a personal ironing technique which can flatten anything.” She picked up all the clothes and reunited them into a single heap.
I wondered whether to tell her that in England we avoid ironing our jeans because the few people who walk round with a crease down the front of a pair of Levi’s are simply marking themselves out as illegal immigrants, indeed, that in England we think people who iron their jeans or T-shirts are sick and wrong, and must be stopped. I also wondered what she would think if I told her there was no need to iron her son’s pants because he pressed them nice and flat himself with the warmth of his own buttocks as soon as he put them on. If I were a braver person I might also have mentioned that I preferred his pyjamas nice and wrinkly and, really, I was the only person he was supposed to impress when dressed in them.
In the end, I was afraid to tell her, so I remained silent.
When I was a financial analyst, I calmly met the directors of listed companies which had revenues of millions of pounds a day, and I was not afraid to tell them they were making mistakes in the way they ran their companies and should change a lot of things. If I believed a man was not handling his assets to their best advantage, I set him straight. If I thought someone’s gross margin was pathetic, I said so.
Now, as an apprentice Sicilian housewife, I was standing opposite The Godmother and she was telling me to iron her son’s underpants, and I was too scared to say no. I obeyed.
The Godmother should not really be frightening as a person. She is about a foot shorter than me (albeit two feet wider) and she is old and wrinkly as well. It is just that she has eyes that look as if she could make streaks of lightning come flashing out of them at will, and reduce any adversary who refuses to wash their face again, and do it properly this time, to a smoking heap of ashes. And those shovel hands of hers were simply created for spanking. I am quite sure one solid slap on the botty, from her, could actually send a fully grown male, even one who routinely eats frittola, into low earth orbit.
(By the way, for an explanation of frittola, click here:
Her patented ironing technique involved heating the iron to a temperature that could smelt many types of metal ore, and then release a full litre of water vapour into the atmosphere, via the fibres of the offending wrinkly garment, with each push of the ‘steam’ button.
Her iron was no normal iron. It was attached to a large tank which continually refilled it with water via a flexible hose and featured a control panel allowing her to adjust the water temperature and pressure, the iron temperature, the steam squirting rate and many other variables I would only have thought relevant to a space shuttle.
Whilst she twiddled the dials and gave me a stream of enthusiastic explanations, I am ashamed to say my mind wandered. It does have an inconvenient tendency to go meandering off on its own, without its owner’s permission, from time to time.
The Godmother and I define ourselves in different ways, I realised.
Don’t we all have things we’ve done, or things we do, that we feel are the essence of our personality? I think those are the things by which we want others to judge us. For me, my degree in Classics, my career as a financial adviser, the fact I have travelled to many countries and have friends from all over the world – these are some of the things that make up the woman I want other people to see.
I’m a housewife now, but it’s just what I’m doing, it’s not who I am. I call myself “The Sicilian Housewife” as a joke, you see. I only want to be a housewife the way Marie Antoinette wanted to be a shepherdess. I don’t actually want to be good at it.
The Godmother defines herself as a lifetime professional housewife. If a member of her family is wearing something a bit creased, if anyone doesn’t like something she’s cooked for them, if there’s a speck of dust on her kitchen floor, she feels like a failure as a person.
Most Sicilian women seem to be like her. They tell you how much stuff they’ve ironed, or describe what they made for dinner last night, by way of conversation. It took me a long time living in Sicily to realise that they’re showing off.
They cannot understand why I don’t want to compete. I would far rather spend an hour helping my son to practise reading than pressing his pants. I’m happy for him to have mud on his backside, so long as he’s having fun. If my floor is dusty but I’ve spent the morning reading a volume of George Vancouver’s diary describing the tribes of north Western Canada, I feel utterly fulfilled as a human being.
Well, the result of my philosophical reverie was that I nearly casseroled my hand, while it was still attached to my arm, by pressing the “eject gusts of vapour at a temperature hotter than the core of the sun” button instead of the “start super-cooling down to ambient temperature over the course of the next four days” button.
Whilst I nursed my hand with a bag of frozen peas, The Godmother attacked a ribbed jumper.
“I’ll get all those nasty ridges out of this in no time” she said. She then proceeded to press my jumper so vehemently that by the time she had finished with it, it did indeed no longer have any ridges. It was no longer a ribbed jumper. It was smooth, and four feet wide.
After that she pressed the towels till they were as thin and absorbent as muslin, melted the elastic on all my knickers, and removed the cartoon characters off the front of my son’s T-shirts by making them simply atomise at the temperature of a red dwarf. I was getting scared she might decide to iron me next. Seriously, I was panicking.
Luckily, she felt relaxed enough to stop at that point, and permitted me to put everything away.
Maybe I could interest her in extreme ironing next? I think that might be her ideal sport.
Here’s the official website:
And I stronly recommend the largest exteme ironing gallery on the Internet (from which I pilfered that photo of a hunk in a crevice):
Extreme ironing involves carrying an ironing board to the most inaccessible places on earth, such as the top of Mount Everest, and doing some ironing there.
I wonder if The Godmother would find that relaxing?