I’d only gone in there to wash my smalls.
To be honest, I hadn’t even been in a laundrette for years. I’d always had Zanussi and the appliance of science to take care of all that for me.
But here, on a rare visit home, I had no choice but to wash my dirty laundry in public.
I rummaged in my pockets for coins, sat on the wooden bench, opened the newspaper and waited ……
“I don’t suppose you’ve got some spare 20ps,” came a voice beside me. “I can give you a quid.”
I sighed and rummaged again in my pocket. “Here,” I said handing them over to the middle-aged man in the shabby raincoat.
“Ta,” he said. “That machine isn’t working. I’ve had to take all my washing out and start again.”
I smiled wearily and went back to my newspaper. A bit of celebrity gossip had caught my eye and I wasn’t really interested in getting into any sort of conversation.
“In the olden days, machines like this would never break down. They built them to last. Of course,” and here he lowered his voice, “I blame it on ………. The immigrants.”
I folded my newspaper and sighed, bracing myself for what lay ahead.
“Nowadays …………. Trouble with this country ………. They come over here ……… tax payers’ money ……… ….. some of them don’t even speak English ……..”
I sighed. I’d been through it all only a few days ago in the taxi from the station.
“Where are you going, love? Oh yes, very nice. Here from London, you say? For a few days. Oh well, you’ll find this place a bit different from when you grew up. Things change, you know.”
The traffic snarled, the streets gave way to colourful pavement stalls, exotic fruits, sari shops.
It didn’t take long to get from “Traffic’s rough today” to “I blame it on the immigrants.”
By the time I got to the pub that night to meet my friends Linda and Kevin I was feeling quite jaded.
“Pub’s busy tonight. Could hardly get a round in,” said Kevin fighting his way back to our table. That’s the trouble with this country. The weather, the beer, the …..”
“Oh don’t mind him,” said Linda, “He’s just had a tough day, today. Do stop moaning, Kevin,” she said and winked at me.
“Anyway, let’s tell Helen, our news. Helen, we’re thinking of moving to Spain.”
Here was a surprise. I’d always thought Linda and Kevin were so settled in their little terraced house in Leeds.
“What brought this on?” I said.
“It’s this country,” started Kevin. “It’s just not the same as it was. The litter, the pollution, unemployment, the government, the…..” and there it was again, the same lowering of the voice, “immigrants.”
This time I could stand it no longer. “These immigrants as you say, many of them are fleeing persecution, many of them start their own businesses here, create employment, pay tax, do dirty jobs that you wouldn’t want to do……”
“Steady on Helen, old girl.” Said Kevin. “Don’t know what’s got in to you today.”
Linda mouthed at me to stop but somehow I couldn’t. I was tired of the constant innuendo, it was everywhere in laundrettes, taxis, bus stops. Tired, tired, tired. What was wrong with tolerance, respect, compassion?
“And besides, if you go to Spain, you’ll be immigrants too….”
“No, we won’t,” insisted Kevin.
“Trashing someone else’s country, I doubt you’ve any plans to learn their language, respect their culture, integrate into their community.”
I don’t know where it all came from but, suddenly, I just couldn’t stop.
Kevin looked hurt and Linda looked uncomfortable. Oh dear, had I gone too far? I’d buttoned my mouth with all those strangers but now here amongst old and dear friends …
“We wouldn’t be immigrants,” continued Kevin patiently. “We’d be …. Ex-patriots!”
Suddenly I longed for home and my Zanussi more than ever before.
The next day, over a cup of tea, I had a chat with Linda in her small kitchen. She showed me the brochures on Spain. I had to admit it did look nice. And really I could understand the appeal of the sunshine, the sea, the swimming pools, the villas ….
“Of course, the only problem really is Kevin’s aunty Joan. She’s all on her own and she’s getting on a bit now. Normally, we pop in every now and then, do a bit of shopping for here. Make sure she’s ok. But if we go to Spain……..”
Here she sighed and quickly turned the page in the brochure.
“And, of course, Helen, you’d be able to come over and spend your holidays with us,” she urged.
I brightened for the first time since my trip back home. It did sound very tempting.
I wished Linda well, returned home and started dreaming of sangria ……….
A few weeks later, I was just taking my washing out of the dryer when the phone rang.
It was Linda. “Bad news, I’m afraid. Aunty Joan’s been mugged.”
I sat down, shocked. “What happened?”
“She was walking down the street, some young thug on a bike grabbed her handbag, knocked her to the ground.”
“Is she ok?”
“She’s very badly bruised and shaken. She’ll be ok but …..”
“Kevin and I think we’d better put our plans on hold for now. She’s just a bit too fragile to be left. So maybe don’t get yourself a new bikini just yet.”
Kevin came on the phone.
“Oh Kevin, I’m so sorry.What about the guy? I don’t suppose they caught him.”
“Er, yes, they did actually, there was a guy in a turban who gave chase and grabbed him.”
“Guy in a turban?”
“Yes, nice guy. Not been in the country long and …”
“And the guy they caught?”
“Local lad, doing drugs, the police think.”
“Still nice of the guy in the turban to give chase though. He could have been stabbed or anything.”
“Yes,” agreed Kevin.
“Ah well,” I sighed, “I guess that’s the trouble with immigrants ………”