Tensions had been simmering for years, but the breaking point came when Dad climbed out of the hotel bath and was slapped in the face by a pair of wet underpants. “My God,” he shouted as he swotted them from the shower rail, “Just send the bloody things to the laundry. It’s only 10 cents!” That’s when the washing war began. He may have had a point though – whenever we went on holiday the hotel bathroom was immediately turned into a full blown laundry. Underpants, t-shirts, shorts, bras covering every available centimetre. The soundtrack of our family trips was always the rhythmic chhhrst chhhrst chhhrst of brush on fabric.
The battles took place over many many years. Mum doggedly bringing washing into the forefront of her everyday life; debating about the merits of starch (she is currently very much in favour – shirts should be able to stand upright by themselves, like a suit of armour), never paying for a laundrette on holiday, scrambling outside at the first drop of rain. “The WASHING! Quick! Help me take in the WAAASSHHINNGG!”. Dad reacted to all of this with an increasing rage. Perhaps it was a clash of cultures, but he simply couldn’t fathom her interest in it.
At some point though, like a switch being flipped, Dad converted and everything changed. The laundry war had ended and the Stokes family love affair with washing began. Mum soon indoctrinated us all and taught us how to properly hand wash our clothes. We were all given an essential washing pack to bring with us on all trips; clothes line, pegs, washing powder and brush. Our daily conversations began to revolve around discussing the intricacies of washing, and how the weather was going to impact the drying. “I’ve had a fantastic day, it’s been such beautiful weather – perfect for drying!” Instead of paying attention to fashion trends or the comfort of clothes, we started to buy clothes based on their washing and drying ability (Uniqlo’s Airisms are the current top recommendation for the fastest drying time #notsponsored).
Holidays and clothes washing became even more inextricably intertwined. The family started ranking trips and destinations in relation to their washing and drying ability. The Golden Sands Hotel in Penang is a cherished family destination due to their free washing machine facilities. The good news is that it is not just our family that uses this holiday ranking system. When scrolling through the reviews on TripAdvisor, it was reassuring to find that there were countless other Asian families with low-key washing obsessions (or possibly a money-saving obsession), ignoring the delicious food, amazing pool, the great rooms, and posting 5-star reviews for the free machines. There seems to be a particular focus on performing the act yourself. On our latest family trip, I booked up a special package and as a special treat I naively organised for laundry to be included. Katie took full advantage and, over the course of a week, washed up to 40 different pieces. Contrastingly, mum and dad submitted only 4 pieces. Instead after a long day of adventuring, as Katie and I were passing out from exhaustion, from their room the symphony of washing would drift over… “chhhhhrrst chhhrst chhhrst.”
This obsession isn’t something that is isolated to just trips away (where it can be justified as we are saving money), it infiltrates our normal everyday lives too. All of our activewear is threadbare and worn – not from doing a lot of exercise, but because you can’t walk past your clothes without mum whisking them away for washing. There have been times where, before you’ve finished dinner and when you are still sitting at the table, she will bark at you to give her your underwear so that she can start the washing. It was quite a shock the first time it happened to my unsuspecting boyfriend who I’d brought back home with me.
Which brings us to the present. “There’s something you all need to know”, Katie whispered, looking as if she was about to faint. “I don’t like washing my clothes like you guys do. I like it when it’s been done for me. In fact, I prefer it.” She was met with a stunned silence and the shell shocked, grief stricken faces of my parents. I could see my parents exchanging looks and knew exactly what they were thinking: “would it be too harsh to disown her on her birthday?”