We don’t do washing up

My 1970s washing up lesson

Cynthia has been getting the empty room next to mine ready for some new cookery classes planned for the start of the year. Newly equipped room and a new part time teacher. There’ll be some fun cooking for the sixth form to help them when they leave school. They sniff the meaty smells and fragrant baking as they pass my room and now a gang has asked the headmaster for special lessons.

Cynthia brings in a pile of saucepans, jam tart tins and baking trays and dumps them on my demonstration table. Then leaves the room and returns with an armful of bowls and cooking tools.

‘Jenny. They’ve been leaving their dirty washing-up in the new room. They must be swapping it for the clean things in the cupboards.’

At the end of each lesson students stand by their workstation as we march round and check that all their equipment has been left clean and ready for the next class. Cynthia has stuck drawings of tools in each drawer and the cupboards have a checklist of equipment. All sharp knives must be returned to the knife rack. No-one leaves until all the slots are filled. Paring and cook’s knives cannot be snaffled out in their duffle bags. There’s no telling what they will be used for.

At the end of some busy lessons they rush out as soon as the bell goes. 

‘Bye Miss. All tidy. Can’t be late. Mr Smith in Maths will give us a detention.’

This is the time when Cynthia and I tour the room searching in hidey-holes. A burnt frying pan stuffed behind a cooker, an unwashed saucepan tucked behind the folded tea towels, and the favourite place where they shove mucky baking trays.  Stuffed down the back on the cupboard next to the exit. A sort of burnt baking tray post box.

‘Jenny. You’ve got to stop this. They’re really bad at washing up. Probably don’t do it at home.’

She’s right. Yuk. We need a special lesson. They’re going to hate it. I send a message out to all their class tutors.


They slump on the stools around my demonstration table. It’s piled with stuff that Cynthia found next door. And a plastic washing up bowl, a wooden brush with stiff bristles, a new pink Brillo pad and some Fairy Liquid. Well it’s not really Fairy Liquid. Just cheap stuff from County Supplies that comes in gallon-sized plastic containers. Like war-time jerry cans. Cynthia dilutes the soapy liquid with water then refills the Fairy Liquid bottles using a plastic funnel. Staff have kindly brought in the empty bottles for us to fill and they stand beside each of the butler’s sinks. We have to be thrifty as the headmaster says that cleaning stuff for my room comes out of my allowance. I wonder if the PE department has to pay for the playing fields to be mowed.

In my childhood home my brother avoided washing up with one simple trick. One evening my mother told him to wash up and he did it so badly that she grabbed the wet dishcloth, shook it over his head and shouted.

“Go away. You’re useless. I’ll never ask you again!’ So he’d won. And he didn’t. Ever wash up.

Today I’m picking on the boys as I reckon they are the main culprits. 

‘Some people in my classes have been hiding their dirty washing-up next door. Does anyone know anything about it?’

Silence. Eyes down. Scanning the floorboards.

‘OK. Seems you all need a washing up lesson so we all know how to do it properly. Tom – put an apron on and come and help with the demonstration.’

I’m ready in my pink nylon overall and matching pink Marigold rubber gloves.

‘Tom can you fill the bowl with hot water please?’

He shuffles over to the butler’s sink and runs the tap, splashing water over his jumper. His usual spark of humour is dampened by this dreary lesson.

“Is it hot?’  There’s no steam so I know the answer. ‘Start again. Hot.’

“Class. Why do we use hot water for washing up?’ 

They don’t want to know. Jill puts her hand up to break the silent stupor.

“Miss it helps to get off greasy food but you need washing up liquid too.’

‘Quite right Jill. Well done. Just one squirt will do. No more.’

I squirt my fake liquid from one of my Fairy Liquid bottles. 

‘Do you know the song from the Fairy Liquid advert?’

I’ll cheer them up by singing the memorable lines.

‘Hands that do dishes will be soft as your face. 

With mild green fairy liquid.’

Sam puts his hand up.

‘Miss. Why are you wearing rubber gloves? Don’t you want soft hands?’ 

Firstly I can’t tell Sam the stuff in our Fairy Liquid bottles is an industrially fierce fake and secondly it’s not mild and green but pale blue. My hands will feel like sandpaper if they wash up as often as I do.

The biggest bugger is these bloody Fairy adverts with a woman stuck at the foamy, bubbly sink in her pinny encouraging her little daughter to admire the bubbles all over the family plates. And then stroking her hands still soft after hours of washing up. Women’s work! Bah humbug!  Where are the men and the boys in this household?!! No wonder the boys in my class don’t know how to wash up.

‘Tom – can you show us how you would wash this dirty pudding bowl that Cynthia found next door?’

He smirks at the group and we watch as he struggles to get the dried up Victoria sandwich mix off the sides.

“See how hard it is? You need to wash things up straight away. Thanks Tom. Rinse it in cold water in the sink and leave it to drain then sit down.’

It’s time for a few more washing up rules.

Wash the cleanest things first – the water gets dirtier as you progress.

Then wash cutlery and cooking implements.

NEVER PUT SHARP KNIVES IN THE BOWL. How many times do I put plasters on cuts from knives hidden in washing up bowls?

Wash baking trays and cooking pans last and try to get bits off with a brush or Brillo pad.

Rinse then let things drain on the draining board then dry up and put away ready for checking.

It’s time to pick on Sam. I reckon this pair could be the culprits. They sometimes ask to use the lav after cooking is finished, then hurriedly leave the room. I hand Sam a jam tart tin encrusted with burnt jam and dried up pastry.

‘Try and get this clean Sam.’ He scrubs and brushes to little effect.

‘See – if it’s left it’s so hard to clean. You need to let us know if there’s stuff burnt on then we can soak it in hot soda water in the sink.’ 

That is a dangerous task that Cynthia and I dread and too harmful for them to do.

‘So now for some written work so that you can remember how to wash up after your practical lessons and you might get a question in the EXAM! Turn to the page on `Care of Kitchen Equipment’ in Cookery for Schools.

Oh God! It starts with ‘An efficient housewife not only produces attractive dishes but uses all her equipment well.’ I bet she has soft hands from all the Fairy Liquid she squirts in her washing up bowl and never wears pink Marigold rubber gloves. These ghastly sexist textbooks need burning on Bonfire Night along with the practice exam papers that ask about housewives doing everything.

‘Class – answer question 7 for homework – it’s from a real exam paper.

‘How would a housewife clean the following a) a burnt aluminium saucepan, b) a kettle encrusted in fir, c) a fish kettle, d) a greasy frying pan and e) a greasy cooking stove?’ 

Help! Help! Let’s see who knows about fir and if anyone can find a fish kettle in the local junk shop.

See article on Daily Star Dec 2021

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