Monday, October 26, 2020
Home News Yes, Greta, but can you iron a handkerchief?

Yes, Greta, but can you iron a handkerchief?

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AGED eleven in Scotland, I passed the exam that allowed me to transfer to grammar school in September. But because I had started school in January, I and several others had a two-term hiatus before then, which had to be spent at the very school our exam success had ensured we wouldn’t have to attend – the Junior Secondary.

Those spring and summer terms were blissful. No tests, no exams, no stress. The school was miles away, so I had to have a bike – freedom! And then there were the lessons. Top of the list were the daily hours we spent in the headmaster’s study, learning rudimentary Latin, my first exposure to the astonishing beauty of grammatical structures. Bottom of the list was another hour a day doing domestic science. We had to cook, although most of the time was spent washing up and cleaning ovens. I once made a macaroni cheese, in an enamelled dish we called an ashet, and when I took it home, my mother – even though I’d had to pay for the ingredients – just threw it in the bin.

But those lessons followed a course book, The Dundee Homecraft Book, which had chapters about how to pluck a chicken (though unlike Mrs Beaton we were not expected to catch it and wring its neck), prepare meals for an invalid (beef tea and tapioca pudding) and – my absolute favourite – how to iron a handkerchief. It was a simple but well defined format, starting with the reverse side and gradually folding it over until the very last turn, when you got to iron the last sixteenth of the good side. Pure magic.

And it was a necessary skill in those days because we didn’t have (or couldn’t afford) Kleenex. Actually we couldn’t afford much that was disposable. Certainly not nappies (although we had happily progressed beyond the laundering of those monthly rags). So my mother spent a lot of time washing out disgusting bits of fine handkerchief linen, which I was then responsible for ironing. And I still do that, because my husband is a handkerchief user, and I continue to practise that worthy Dundee method.

I wonder if Greta Thunberg knows how to iron a handkerchief? I’d be very surprised if she did. Swedish households no doubt have toilet paper, kitchen roll and multi-purpose paper tissues on their weekly shopping list. All no doubt recyclable, but certainly not reusable. And manufactured mainly from trees, the very thing Greta doesn’t want us to cut down, to ensure plenty of carbon capture. And she has the effrontery to rant at us about destroying the planet . . .

In my childhood, everything had to be reused and carefully kept, all of which involved huge amounts of hard physical work. Including the well-laundered snot-free handkerchiefs, ironed to perfection. For over 50 years, I’ve been attending to this.

Why is there not a prize for that?

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Janice Davis
Janice Davis is a grandmother and former girls’ grammar school teacher

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