Pressing concerns

Ironing isn't drudge work, but satisfyingly cathartic.

Some years ago, in between houses, my sister moved back into the family nest for a bit. With her came lots of boxes that contained all manner of interesting things she had acquired since she had left "home". In one was an object that caused me much mirth: a huge steam generator iron. That is to say, not any old steam iron, but one that had a separate water tank and was capable of delivering the same amount of steam as a GWR locomotive. I teased her relentlessly about this through clouds of vapourised water. "Only you," I guffawed, "could have an industrial steam iron." I had not, then, ironed for about ten years, and was rather proud of this fact. How carefree and metropolitan I was, always too busy drinking Martinis and hopping from taxi to taxi to think about anything as pedestrian and dom esticated as ironing.

You and I know this is going to result in my volte-face. When I had stopped gallivanting around the globe and actually settled down, with proper bedlinen I cared about, I, too, wanted a steam iron so brutal that creases would melt under it. So I bought one. I must also point out that, under intense deadlines, I iron where Sylvia Plath baked. (Actually, I also bake, which is why everyone within a hundred-yard radius of my house is overweight.) My partner would come home, peruse the ironed dishcloths, raise an eyebrow and say: "Deadline?"

Ironing is a much-underrated pastime. It has many benefits. With a good steam iron, you can clear your sinuses and your pores. You can think, because ironing focuses the mind on nothing more than a six-inch-square area of fabric at any one time. There is something intensely peaceful and complete about ironing a handkerchief, as if the world still has order, at least on your ironing board. And, of course, you end up with clothes that look better.

Ironing in a bad mood is also cathartic. Everything gets ironed much quicker, if a little more carelessly - and if someone who has annoyed you deigns to come near, you can emphasise a point by lifting the iron up, sizzling plate pointing suggestively towards him or her, while chattering loudly. You'd be surprised how quickly they agree with you. (Naturally, you should never leave the safety of the ironing board.)

Two or three years ago, Siemens launched the Dressman "ironing robot", which looked like a headless, legless mannequin, made of silk, that inflated with hot air to iron your shirt. It was enormous fun and, of course, the temptation was to pull people off the street just to iron their shirt. But it cost about £900 and took up as much room as those "punching men" you get in gyms (you know, those figures you do boxing practice on). Yet it couldn't ever replace ironing. Sad as it sounds, part of the joy of ironing (and joy there is) is the exchange of effort for an immediate, gratifying, result.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 13 August 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Road fix