TOM UTLEY: I’ve found sanity ironing underwear in lockdown but if pubs don’t open soon I’ll go potty


Good old Kirstie Allsopp is right. Ironing tea towels really is a therapeutic experience — and God knows we could all do with more of those in these trying times.

Indeed, I flatter myself that I write with a degree of authority, since I’m something of an obsessive ironer myself.

What’s more, as long-suffering readers may be aware, I’ve often extolled in print the psychological benefits of this deeply rewarding activity, which so many foolishly dismiss as an irksome chore.

So what a joy it is to welcome Kirstie into our happy band of domestic gods and goddesses who refuse to cut corners when it comes to the ironing, fully appreciating the contribution to our wellbeing made by a good job, thoroughly done.

For those who missed the story, the controversy arose when the TV presenter declared on Twitter that she would have to stop posting for a bit, because she had ironing to do.

As evidence of this, she tweeted a photograph of her ironing board with a tea towel hanging over it, alongside a pile of others, neatly folded.

Kirstie Allsopp (pictured) sparked a heated debate after revealing she always irons tea towels

Within minutes, a fierce debate was raging between those tweeters who iron their tea towels and those who think it a contemptible waste of time. 

Among those against was one Helen Foster, who tweeted: ‘Next, you’ll be suggesting we should iron our knickers.’ To which she added an emoji with rolling eyes, to suggest that Kirstie was barking.

Firmly in the pro-ironing-tea-towels camp, meanwhile, was a tweeter called Angela Hall, who sensibly observed: ‘I’ve never understood how they would fit in a drawer if you didn’t iron them? Same with hankies.

‘Such a sense of wellbeing comes from a pile of freshly ironed clothes and an empty basket.’

As for someone called Stuart Kane, I fear he spoke for legions of the unenlightened when he bluntly declared: ‘Ironing is a hate crime.’

But Kirstie, bless her, has come out fighting for the cause. Undaunted by her critics, the property show veteran declares: ‘Those who iron tea towels are not wasting their lives, they are creating order and providing themselves with a lot of free therapy. Join our ranks, you’ll never look back.’

As for myself, it’s true that I can’t really claim to be a New Man, ever willing to help around the house.

I never vacuum, dust or polish. I cook once in a blue moon, with a repertoire of only three dishes (or four, if you count boiled eggs).

I don’t have a clue how to work the washing machine. I don’t even help with washing or drying pots and pans, preferring to think that Mrs U rather enjoys pottering around by the sink on her own.

Sharing these pictures of her house work, the mother-of two wrote: 'I have ironing to do'

Sharing these pictures of her house work, the mother-of two wrote: ‘I have ironing to do’

Though we have four sons, I’m ashamed to confess that I have not changed a nappy since my first couple of attempts when our eldest was a baby 35 years ago.

I made such a fuss, and gagged so revoltingly, that Mrs U relieved me of all duties in that department when the other three boys came along.

But ironing is the great exception. There, I am the very model of the New Man, ever eager to shoulder the burden.

I first took to it years ago, when we bought one of the new generation of steam irons — those with a mothership sitting on the kitchen worktop, full of water, the iron itself attached to it by an umbilical cord, like a space-walker.

Now, I can’t set eyes on any new-fangled gadget without wanting to play with it. The difference with the new iron was that, when I tried it out, I found the job so satisfying that I’ve insisted on doing more than my share of it ever since.

Mindless it may be, but that’s part of its joy — for it offers a sense of achievement (not to mention brownie points) out of all proportion to the limited skill required.

And yes, I do iron handkerchiefs and tea towels — and underwear as well. In that respect, it appears, I’m more diligent even than Kirstie, who admits on Twitter that she doesn’t iron her knickers. Shocking, I say. 

OK, some may argue — and alas, they include Mrs U — that my insistence on ironing underwear is a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

But then what if I’m run over by a bus and rushed to hospital? I wouldn’t want the doctor to say: ‘My God! He’s wearing unironed boxer shorts!’

Presenter shocked many after sharing a picture of her ironing board with freshly ironed towels

Presenter shocked many after sharing a picture of her ironing board with freshly ironed towels

That’s not really the point, though. As Kirstie so eloquently suggests, doing the ironing is a blissfully therapeutic way of whiling away a lockdown afternoon.

Dare I say it, it even beats watching endless property shows on TV.

As it happens, this week I enjoyed another therapeutic experience when I finally got round to straightening the curtain rail in the kitchen, which had been bothering me for about ten years.

When we first had French doors fitted, some fool had attached a wooden batten to the wall above them at a wonky angle — and it’s from this that the rail hangs. All right, I admit it . . . that fool was me.

But on Tuesday, after almost a year of lockdown, I finally mustered the energy to take down the curtains, remove the batten from the wall, re-drill the holes and screw it on again, straight, with the help of a spirit level.

I can’t begin to describe to you what a sense of achievement it has given me, far exceeding anything else I’ve done since the country was put under house arrest.

My heart sings every time I look at it (though ungrateful Mrs U’s only comments were: ‘No need to go on about it’ and, ‘Why didn’t you do it earlier?’).

I fear, however, that no amount of ironing or DIY therapy will suffice to keep what’s left of my sanity intact if this wretched lockdown drags on for much longer.

Indeed, I feel that nothing can now save me from the madhouse short of the re-opening of the pubs — and the sooner, the better.

Before I go any further, I must declare an interest. I had my first dose of the Oxford vaccine three weeks ago, which means that, by now, I should have a high degree of immunity to the worst effects of Covid. I should also be unlikely to infect others. 

Heaven knows why I was offered it so early. I’m a mere stripling of 67, after all — and, as far as I know, I have no underlying health conditions that make me ‘extremely vulnerable’ (unless there’s something my GP isn’t telling me).

Perhaps there was a mix-up at the surgery, as in the hilarious case of young Liam Thorp, one of my successors as the political editor of the Liverpool Echo.

Aged only 32 and perfectly healthy, Mr Thorp was surprised to be offered the vaccine as soon as it became available to the highest-risk groups.

To cut a long story short, it emerged that this was because there had been a computer error at his surgery, where his height had been registered as 6.2cm — instead of 6 ft 2 in. Given his weight, this gave him a Body Mass Index of 28,000.

‘For reference,’ as he puts it drily, ‘a BMI of 40 or more is considered morbidly obese.’

But whatever the reason for my own early inoculation, it must surely mean that I’ll be able to go to the pub again with a clear conscience just as soon as the hospitality sector is allowed to reopen.

No such luck for the young, I suppose, since they may have to wait until it’s their turn for a vaccine before they feel free to go back to the greatest of our national institutions.

But if the choice is between opening pubs only to us vaccinated oldies and not opening them at all, then surely the former is the lesser of two evils?

I suspect that many publicans — and their young staff, too — would welcome the chance to reopen on any terms, even if that meant the average age of their clientele would be well above 70.

Call me selfish, if you will. But there are 16.4 million like me, and counting, for whom a visit to the pub is becoming a real possibility once again. And isn’t that a whole lot better than having nothing to look forward to but the ironing?

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