WARNING: This blog contains strong references to dames doing domesticity.
It must be something to do with the dog days of this early summer, but all of a sudden washing lines have assumed vast cultural significance and hit the headlines.
The brouhaha in Colyton, Devon, made the BBC news. Single mother Claire Mountjoy received an anonymous letter asking her not to dry her washing outside, so as to keep Colyton ‘a town we can all be proud of’. Even worse, it suggested she use a tumble dryer (has this correspondent not heard of climate change?) or hang it indoors (more of the perils of this approach later). Luckily, fellow residents rushed to Claire’s defence with a defiant collective display of solidarity – by all hanging their washing up outside. ‘The town was festooned with pants, socks and pyjamas,’ she said.
It then transpired that how you dry your washing is symptomatic of the North/South divide (West Country practice being clearly in a class of its own). The washing line is a proud symbol of Northern domestic industry and cleanliness, whereas in the South the rotary washing line reigns supreme – perhaps because it’s that much closer to Australia, birthplace of the mighty Hill’s Hoist. It even featured in the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Mind you, I wouldn’t go so far as the person I came across who declared that what she loved about the approach of summer was being able to hang out her washing again – steady on, what about flowers, light evenings, sitting outside, new leaves, asparagus …?
This means nothing to supermodel Helena Christensen, who is of the ‘hang it up indoors’ persuasion, and likes nothing better than to drape her newly laundered shirts over the backs of chairs. I was an ardent supporter of this approach during the winter months, hanging shirts in doorways and underwear over those natty little radiator racks you can get from Lakeland. Sadly, this practice is now forbidden in our household, thanks to Mr Verity’s assertion that it promotes condensation, mildew, rotting window frames, anthrax, and other ills. I now make do with a modest line in the bathroom, of the ‘dab-your-smalls-through-in-your-hotel-room’ variety.
The outdoor washing line has a varied visual appeal that film-makers have been quick to pick up on: the random motion of fabric lifted by the wind, the suggestion of a life independent of us as our inanimate coverings dance in the breeze, and the play of concealment and revelation offered by hanging sheets.
One of the most memorable scenes in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom Scott and Fran dance dreamily to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ in front of a roof-top washing hoist, bathed in a Coke-sign glow. In the farrago that is The Greatest Showman, P. T. Barnum sells his dream to his wife as they twirl in and out of the bedlinen on their rooftop washing line. And I gather that in the new adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock, there is the arresting special effect of a line full of washing dissolving into an image of the vanished schoolgirls, hanging from the line by their hair – make of that what you will.
For now, I’m just enjoying the rare experience of hanging washing out, bringing it in dry two hours later, and no need to peer anxiously up at the clouds.