(Inspired by the painting "Rex Launderette" by Norrie Harman)
The Rex Launderette, 1974
It was a typical Edinburgh evening; cold and overcast. The air of damp melancholia had started to settle over the city as the evening darkened. Stanton grimaced against the cold, pulling his Crombie coat up around his ears as he stepped off the bus at Wauchope Avenue. In the dank dusk, the bright lights of the Rex Launderette lit up the corner like a gaudy street fair. In the growing darkness of the night, the figures inside seemed to be more illuminated and lively than usual.
Stanton hated the women in the launderette, known as The Rex; they were annoying, asking nosy questions and eyeing him up and down. His mother was Sadie Stanton, the Manageress and he always visited her here. Sadie ran the place with military precision and was known as one of the toughest woman in Niddrie.
Stanton pushed the tinkling door open and felt acrid warmth blast his face. The smell was always over-whelming at first but you got used to it. A middle-aged woman with dyed red hair and a bobbling chest ran over to him. Stanton grimaced as she hugged him tight.
-Hiya Stella. How are you, hen?
-No bad, thanks for asking, handsome. You looking for your mum?
-Er….aye, thanks Stella. Just popped in for a quick chat.
-She’s through the back, having a fag on her break. I’ll take you through.
Stanton followed Stella past rows of shiny whirring machines, women leaning heavily on them. They were all watching him and some mouthed a hello. Stanton was beginning to regret his snap decision to visit his mum.
He could smell his mum’s cigarettes even before he pulled back the heavy beaded curtain. The back shop of the launderette was dark, with a single bare bulb, and he blinked quickly, adjusting to the light. An old leather sofa lined one wall, facing a long desk and stained office chair, where his mum was sitting smoking.
Sadie Stanton was a small woman, bent over and thin. Despite her stature, she always emanated a slightly menacing air. She wore a dark dress, with a heavily ironed pinny pasted on. Black dyed hair was held back with steel Kirby grips and her eyes were round hard dark dots in a lined face.
She took a long sallow draw of her cigarette and pointed to the old sofa.
-good to see you son. Take a seat.
Stanton walked over and sat down, refusing a cigarette as he did so.
-to what do I owe this pleasure? Sadie said as she watched her son carefully. The Rex was one of the most important places in the Scheme and this had given her an unusual social status. This status, combined with her street sharpness, had enabled her to run several underground businesses on the side, all from the dark back shop of the Rex.
-just thought I would pay you a wee visit.
Sadie’s eyes narrowed and she leaned over, blowing smoke in Stanton’s face.
-you in trouble?
-well…er…I have got some t-shirts with me.
-ah! So you are in trouble, son?
-no, no, I just need them done.
Sadie stood up and grabbed the small plastic bag out of his hands. She peered inside and nodded, throwing the bag over to her desk.
-come back in a few hours and it will be sorted. In future, try to keep your fists to yourself. There are other ways to solve your problems, you know.
Sadie shook her head and pushed her tall son out of the back shop. Calling over one of the women, she whispered some instructions and strode back into the back shop.
She sat down heavily on the sofa and sighed loudly. She had always protected her son; probably too much. He had a violent temper, like his dad and it was getting worse. He also always wore white cotton t-shirts, silly fool. She had warned him to exercise more restraint but he didn’t listen. So, every now and then, she washed his blood-soaked t-shirts; scrubbing away his crimes. Her cousin had emigrated to Texas three years ago, so she had got her hands on a Deep South secret formula for getting bad stains out of whites. Now, all sorts of people visited the Rex, looking for her to wash away blood and secrets. The Rex was like that. It was a place where the stains of the scheme were covered up, washed out and talked about. But no secrets ever crossed the doorway of the Rex. That was the rule. Her rule.
Sadie would always protect her own and that is what the Rex Launderette stood for. On a small corner in Niddrie, the Rex Launderette gave a lot of people protection and rough sanctuary.
At least, it did back in 1974...
by Anna-Louise Simpson