In praise of hand-washing but sadly back in to lock-down

Welcome to the latest instalment of our lives in Le Shack on October 30th 2020.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that we don’t have a washing machine. Or a tumble dryer.

This is not to say that you can’t have both these appliances in an off-grid system but it requires more capacity, and capacity comes at a price. If you have an unlimited budget you can buy a huge bank of batteries and/or solar panels and indulge in every appliance and gadget that you might fancy. However we are on a tight budget, and so for us the washer and dryer is not an option.

You might also think that we would have found ourselves in this position already, having lived on our boat Olivia Rose for the last few years. In fact, she is fully equipped with a washing machine, a proper oven and a full-sized fridge – luxury indeed. Although we spend some of our cruising time off-grid in the wilds, we can easily get back to moorings with full hook-up when we need to top up our reserves and so the same restrictions don’t apply.

The prospect of doing all our washing by hand is very alien to us as a society now, even though it wasn’t that long ago that it was the norm. It was so alien to us personally that we found ourselves trawling through endless internet sites to find a way to avoid doing it.

Obviously there are launderettes. France has the sensible system of putting large washer/dryers outside supermarkets, so you can combine your shopping with the washing. However, I’ve never been keen on sharing a washing machine with all and sundry, a feeling only strengthened having seen someone bringing their very dirty pet bedding to a launderette in Wales.

There are other alternatives. Websites offer off-grid washing machines, some driven by a pedal which you pump up and down, a similar idea to a footpump for an air bed. Flimsy ones are available for as little as 60 euros, whilst a more substantial model can cost closer to 300 euros. We also looked at rescuing an old washing machine from the tip and using the drum to spin the washing via a 12 volt motor, or connecting it to a bike and combining a work-out with the washing. In the end it all got too much.

‘Enough!’ I slammed my hands down on the table. ‘This is all getting too complicated. We’ll just do it by hand.’

‘How?’ Michael looked at me blankly.

‘In a big bucket.’

‘And hot water?’

‘Boil up a kettle and a large saucepan. Rinsing will have to be in cold water. And the whole process will have to be done outside until we get our water supply inside Le Shack connected. I need you to rig up a washing line and we’ll aim to do the washing on good weather days. If it rains we can move them in to the dry bit of the shed and then finish them off in front of the woodburner.’

So that is what we are doing. We share it – Michael makes a lovely washer woman. And this might surprise you, but it is not the least bit onerous. On the contrary, it’s quite relaxing, a little slice of ‘me-time’ with nothing to think about other than a little pummelling and much sloshing about. Granted the climate and the weather here are being kind to us. Even at the end of October it’s warm and sunny enough for the clothes to dry on the line. My only slight gripe is that hand-wringing isn’t enough. What we really need is a good, old-fashioned mangle like my grandmother used to have. We shall have to visit the French equivalent of a car boot sale, un vide grenier, and see if such things are still being thrown out of people’s attics.

Changing the subject entirely, you may have seen on the news that as of today France is back under a full national lockdown. For those of you who have been with me since March of this year when I started this blog as a record of life under lockdown on a boat, this feels like a bad case of déja-vu. My heart sank when I heard that the dreaded form would be back and that our walks would be curtailed to a maximum of one kilometre from the house. Whilst we were all too aware of a heavy police presence in the last lockdown, living close to a big town, I can’t believe there will be patrols out here in such a remote location. Hopefully no-one will notice if that kilometre gets extended. I am so grateful that we are here this time round and not on Olivia. Much as I love my boat, there is more space here and so much to keep us busy that it will make it easier to make the best of a bad situation.

This will have thrown many French people’s lives out of kilter. They left Paris in droves last night, with 700 km of grid-locked roads as Parisiens tried to escape cramped city apartments for second homes in the countryside.

With regard to our little lives, we hope we have managed to get in all we need in order to carry on working on our various projects. Michael dashed out yesterday to buy a sink and a load of plumbing bits. If we haven’t got it now we’ll have to do without it – or be very inventive!

On the plus side, and there usually is one if you look hard enough, this will force us to slow down. It has seemed at times as if we were on a DIY freight train in these last few weeks, hurtling along out of control and unable to stop. There was good reason for this as were worried that lockdown might come back in and we needed to make the cabin habitable before the winter set in. But we are comfortable now and lockdown has arrived so there is nothing else to be done about it. Even if we find we are missing some vital element for the shower/sink we still have a water supply, it’s just an outside tap instead of an inside tap.

As you can see, the solar panes are up and producing good results, we have two full gas canisters for cooking, fuel for the generator, a shed full of wood and a larder full of food stores. I will have loads of time for writing and Michael can start drawing again – once he’s finished the shower!

And if it all gets too much some days, all we need to do is give the laundry a good pummeling – therapy in a big green bucket.

I’ll leave you with a picture of my chrysanthemums – pure sunshine.

Take care of yourselves.


10 thoughts on “In praise of hand-washing but sadly back in to lock-down

  1. The answer to hand washing is to do it as you go along – don’t let it pile up. One being worn, one in the wash and one drying. Easy peasy!!
    Stay safe, stay well and stay happy xx


  2. I cannot directly remember how my Mother did the washing! I am sure it was before the time of washing machines, and she certainly had a mangle – which I was allowed to use. So who knows, our power may fail and we will all join you in a bit of pummelling. At least you will not be short of time. Good luck with the rest of the DIY. We could always send you crucial bits out from here? As said above, another good read.


  3. You reminded me of my travels backpacking through S.America when I was in my early twenties. We, like the locals, did all our laundry by hand. The toughest was wringing out jeans. Two of us would stand at opposite ends and twist until it doubled up on itself, pressing water out as we went. Drying lines were a plus, but mostly, laundry was dried over balcony railings or bushes. Ah, the good old days. 😉


  4. Hi MJ,
    A really great read, warts and all. Thank you!
    We have been following your progress with almost obsessive interest ….. as we too were planning a chanel crossing just as lockdown decended, forcing us to abandon our boat and return to rural Scotland. I do hope you appreciate just how brave and resourceful you both are! Hang in there, Spring will come (honest) and who knows, our paths may cross somewhere out on the water!


    1. Thank you for your kind words Jan. How we miss Scotland. We used to come up every year, but then the boat took us in another direction. I too hope our paths will cross next year. MJ


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