Saturday, 26 January 2008

Usually such blogs are written by women

My birthday has long since been and gone now, with my hands seemingly trapped; frozen in time 'inside pink rubber gloves', holding that wine glass 'by the stem and under the bowl'. It's been too long since I posted here, and you'll be thinking my enthusiasm for all things domestic is waning. I'm sorry, although I haven't kept you up-to-date, I have been keeping up with all my housework routines; honestly, it's not as if I've been idle...

I've done the dishes this morning, I always do after a meal. There are only two civilised ways to finish a meal: a large glass of a fine cognac accompanied by a substantial Havana cigar, or a bowl of washing-up. Not much to choose between them as I enjoy both, but after breakfast there's only really one choice, isn't there?

I always do my dishes in a bowl. Although my kitchen is small, and the single sink even smaller, a bowl does economise on water which we tend to forget is a precious resource. I like the water piping hot so gloves are a must, and I fill the bowl before putting any dishes in, with a very small squeeze of Fairy Liquid. I fill any difficult saucepans at the same time, to let them stand for a while. Then I put the plates and bowls in, with the cutlery at one end, before I work my way down. When that lot have found their way to the draining board, I do the glasses, and then the cups. Finally the saucepans, and anything else that's a bit 'gunky' and has needed a soak.

Then a quick wipe over the top of the oven and anywhere else where any debris might have got spilt. The bowl itself needs a good clean out, before I rinse and dry the gloves and then take them off. You can get glove stands which seem like a good idea but they're not; they tend to get stood on the window ledge above the sink and the gloves rot in the sun.

I just put them over the edge of the bowl; it says 'job done'.

Job done? Of course not. There's still the drying to do, a nice Irish linen tea towel, rounds the job off nicely. Who'd just leave it to dry on the draining board?

Next it's the laundry to finish. I have proper linen sheets, so I get them done on a Saturday morning so that I can get my ironing done later on while listening to the sport on the wireless. Most of the washing was done last night, but linen has to be so damp when you iron it that it's a lot easier to do it on the day.

The office is coming along nicely but taking a little time; I want to get the job done properly. I'll fill you in properly and post a few pictures soon, I promise!

For the post title, my thanks to Rebecca Davis Winters; I liked it so much I've put it up on my header.

Monday, 7 January 2008

The Zen of Housework

The Zen of Housework

I look over my own shoulder
down my arms
to where they disappear under water
into hands inside pink rubber gloves
moiling among dinner dishes.
My hands lift a wine glass,
holding it by the stem and under the bowl.
It breaks the surface
like a chalice
rising from a medieval lake.
Full of the grey wine
of domesticity, the glass floats
to the level of my eyes.
Behind it, through the window
above the sink, the sun, among
a ceremony of sparrows and bare branches,
is setting in Western America.
I can see thousands of droplets
of steam -- each a tiny spectrum -- rising
from my goblet of grey wine.
They sway, changing directions
constantly -- like a school of playful fish,
or like the sheer curtain
on the window to another world.
Ah, grey sacrament of the mundane!

~ Al Zolynas ~
(The New Physics)

Posted here to mark my birthday today

Sunday, 6 January 2008

That's it for another year...

Christmas and New Year both behind us, and my birthday will have flicked by tomorrow too; but it'll all come round again far too soon, it always does.

I'm off home tomorrow, and will be getting back into my own routine. First major job is to sort my office, it's been used as a general storage area for far too long now. It's a small office with an awful lot in it, so I'll post up here on progress in due course.

We're off out for a celebration lunch today (a day early, but who's counting?), so I'd better be getting my head down now.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

The Dyson is sorted

It was all too easy. A very heavy wrapping of hair etc. round the brush had minimised its ability to lift dirt from the carpet, as well as partially blocking the suction inlet.

It's easiest to remove all those hairs by taking off the bottom cover. Just lay the Dyson down, upside down, with the foot lowered as if for vacuuming a floor. There are three large slotted screwheads which can be undone by turning anticlockwise a quarter of a turn; the flat edge of a 20p coin is just about perfect for this.

The brush itself will (or should) turn fairly easily. Use a pair of scissors to cut the hairs across the width of the brush, before pulling them out (a bit of winding / unwinding of the brush often helps here). Be careful not to cut any of the bristles of the brush itself, and don't nick the rubber drive belts which are at each end of the brush roller.

The photo shows what it looks like after it had been cleaned. I put this photo up to show where the suction hose runs out from the foot, in the upper right-hand corner as you look at the picture. Turning the Dyson on and checking the suction at the end of that hose is the best way to confirm that there is no blockage higher up inside.

When you've finished, just refit the cover and you're done. I'm going to empty and clean the main dust chamber now, just to get it back to full 100% suction.

It's worth pointing out that if your accessory tube has suction when a Dyson is vertical, then loss of suction at the foot has a simple cause; if the suction has gone on both the problem may well be with the motor, although a careful clean is the first solution to explore.

Starch: the whys and wherefores

I posted this elsewhere sometime ago now, so if you've come through Google you will have found both posts. But I thought it might be of interest here, and have updated it slightly.

Those of us of a certain age surely remember the box of Robin Starch that used to sit in the cupboard at home when we were young. And another blog I've been looking at today waxed quite nostalgic about the starching of the writer's old nursing uniform. So I thought that I'd say a little bit about it here.

Most people these days associate starch with stiffness, which it certainly does provide, but there was a far more important reason for it’s use. Starch absorbs most contaminants, particularly human detritus, that soil clothing, and this then comes away with the starch when the garment is washed. The efficiency with which it does this means people can achieve good results with their laundry without detergent washing powders, just using soap flakes. As we become increasingly environmentally aware, it is quite possible that traditional soap then starch laundering will make something of a comeback, although the use of starch does require a little effort. Because of it’s ability to absorb dirt, starch provides substantial protection for the garment, which will have a considerably extended life as a result.

Starch is only absorbed by natural fibres and is therefore normally used only for cotton or linen material. It will penetrate the cotton component of cotton/polyester blends to a degree. It has no effect whatever if used with man-made fibres

Starch comes in three forms for use with laundry: as a spray that is used when you iron, as a liquid that is added to the last rinse (where you would use fabric conditioner), or as raw powdered starch.

Spray starch doesn’t achieve the penetration of the material that provides the protection that starch offers unless one re-sprays and re-irons the garment several times. It is not possible to spray the garment heavily because of the real downside of spraying – the starch in the spray is raw and is cooked by the heat from the iron. When there is too much starch sitting on the surface of the material it can easily burn, leaving a nasty goo on the sole of the iron which will then transfer itself to anything you iron, generally requiring the item concerned be re-laundered. For the best results with spray starch, apply minimally and then iron at the very lowest temperature appropriate for the material. You can achieve excellent stiffness this way, but the financial cost and environmental impact is considerable.

I have seen Dylon liquid starch for sale in Waitrose, both with and without silicone. I have never used this but presume that it contains raw starch, which produces wonderful stiffness. I would only buy the one without the silicone, as I suspect that over a period of time the silicone would inhibit the absorption of the starch. This has to be the most user-friendly way of starching; you simply put it in the fabric-conditioner drawer if you use an automatic. It is best to let starched clothes hang to dry when they have been starched; if you must use a tumble drier you should use a minimal heat setting to avoid the clothing stiffening in the drier.

Starch powder is normally cooked before use, although it can be used raw if extreme stiffness is what you are after. You should mix 50mls of cold water with an equal volume of the powdered starch, and then stir to form a paste. If you wish to use raw you can now just dilute this to use for your final rinse. But to cook it you should add a litre of boiling water, continue boiling and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thick and creamy with no remaining lumps. This does not take long. You now dilute this to use as your final rinse.

It is difficult to give precise advice on how much starch you should add to a final rinse; a bit of trial and error is necessary at first. I would expect the above mixture to see me through a full weekly wash though. Because starch takes around four wash cycles to completely wash out, you don’t need to use the same concentration when laundering clothes that are already fully starched. The very best results of all are achieved by doing a final hand-rinse with the starch, wringing out (unless it's linen, which shouldn't be wrung) and hanging to dry. You should never re-rinse after starching.

Ideally you iron at precisely the point where there is just enough dampness left to be fully dried by the heat of the iron. As with all starched garments, it is important you don’t over-heat the iron. I always put my clothes on hangers after ironing; by the next day the starch is fully ‘set’ and the clothes will not only be stiff but have a wonderful crease-resistance.

Where do you get powdered starch? Lakeland sell it, although it is relatively expensive. Dri-pak of Ilkeston sell it. Hardware stores often sell their products, and will get it if they don’t already stock it. Dri-pak do mail order too, and can be contacted on 0115 932 5165. I get mine from a Mrs Rachel Davies of Aberaeron. She trades on the internet as, and is happy to supply any amount from the very small to industrial scale quantities. She does mail-order too; you can request an order form through her website. Her prices are very reasonable.

You can make your own starch spray, by adding a tablespoon of starch to 500ml of cold water. In a refillable spray bottle, this will easily match the performance of starch aerosols providing you shake well before each use. You can stiffen moderately starched garments by using the spray of course. And the spray will cost only a few pence to refill.

A tablespoon of borax (get this from a hardware store) added to your diluted starch (about a teaspoonful in your spray) reduces the tendency of starch to burn when ironed too hot. If the clothing is already dry when you want to iron it you should spray it with a little warm water (or just sprinkle the water on) rather than steam ironing.

Whites can be starched hot; colours cold though.

It all sounds like a lot of trouble, but it isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. And you wouldn't believe how easy it makes ironing!

I'll see if I can sort the Dyson today.

Friends have this non-functioning Dyson, and I'm going to see if I can get it sorted today. Dysons have something of a mixed reputation, unfortunately. When they work they work very well indeed, but they are prone to early failure. The last of the UK made DC-04s seemed particularly troublesome, having poor motors.

They are however easy to dismantle, apart from getting into the motor itself, so any other problem should be fixable without involving the repair man. This one sucks through the extension pipe, but not through the main floor section, so it should be very simple, but it'll just take a bit of time.

All too often problematic Dysons simply need the filter washed. But you have to be careful to let them dry fully as Dysons definitely don't like liquid.

I'm pleased to see that someone has posted a comment to an earlier post; it's always nice when you find that you are actually being read, isn't it?

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year!

Is there any other title anyone will use today? But, if you do happen to chance here, a happy New Year to you...

I've had a great time; I'm down staying with friends for the whole festive period and it was a late night last night and then some. A wonderful meal (thanks, Lorna!) and then a large stack of dishes to do, so I was happy. I should have done some vacuuming ahead of time, but their Dyson wasn't working, and there wasn't really enough time to do a stripdown and get it sorted, so I'm having to save that for another day.