I have a clothes line. There, it’s said. Probably not the most interesting or sexiest of statements for an adult male to make! Nor did clothes lines or indeed any other household implements feature prominently in my early teenage fantasies of my future maturity and adult life ahead. However, I do recall having particularly detailed daydreams of me imagining in adulthood owning a ‘wall-hung’ orange telephone in my kitchen with a really long cord- the type you would see in American soaps such as Benson or Silver Spoons. On the rare occasion that Sue Ellen in Dallas or even Alexis Morrell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan in Dynasty (I googled that one for her on-screen surname), were in the kitchen barking orders at staff, they often had to take a call on such a phone. To see Joan Collins removing her earring as she brought the receiver closer or Sue Ellen dramatically wandering around the kitchen with the extra long phone cord trailing behind her, wrapping chairs and servants as she meandered – all illustrated a stylish, luxurious and affluent life. A lifestyle that was a far cry from a phoneless house in Mayo where the nearest P&T (that’s Posts and Telegraphs to any younger readers) telephone pole was over a mile away.
The technological revolution that hit the 1990’s made phones with long cords seem about as modern as Morse code machines. Thankfully, my coming of age brought some inkling of realisation that there would be more important lessons required for life and living other than owning an orange wall-hung telephone.
I am proud of my clothes line. It was in situ when I moved in and it is a practical no-nonsense affair, probably designed by an Irish Mammy who knew instinctively what was required from a functioning, effective, out of doors, clothes drying apparatus. And indeed it reminds me of my own mother and her knowledge of clothes lines. Of course she had a life which did not always revolve around the drying of laundry, but I recall how she seemed to spend a lot of time at the clothes line and had this innate ability to read the weather and know which days were most suitable for drying. This knowledge was shared and discussed with neighbouring women and women only, as it was back in a place and time where laundry was viewed as a female orientated task. When you take into consideration the amount of rainfall that Mayo receives and the absence of powered clothes dryers back then – it was no small achievement to provide a family with fresh dry aired clothes, fragrant with the intoxicating west wind.
Drying blankets was some task, a job not to be undertaken lightly or on a day when grey clouds were beginning to slyly gather over the Neiphin Mountains. It was a military operation, usually one which spanned generations. My grandmother, mother and sisters were in the middle of such manoeuvres one dry day and I was sent clipping our whitethorn hedge. It was midsummer and although the day was fine, it had rained the night before and the garden was muddy in patches. Looking back, I must have felt left out or perhaps envious of the female only exercise which was progressing with pride and enthusiasm. The long, strong clothes line was filled with heavy Foxford woollen blankets awaiting sun and wind to lighten their load. My mother was doing her usual pegging and re-pegging, fixing and fussing when I could not resist it. With the trusty old hedge clippers I chopped the line and left my mother – pegs in mouth, holding another peg in mid air where up to a second ago the clothes line used to be. The blankets lay in the wet grass and mud and when they fell, it was as if a great theatrical curtain had opened to reveal me standing on stage, the villain frozen to the spot, hedge clippers in hand.
This was a prank too far and I knew it instantly. Mam looked straight into my eyes – she knew I knew that this was serious and her gaze reached into the pit of my soul which was now melting with excitement and fear. My Grandmother came on the scene.
Grandmother: “What happened?”
Mother: “He cut me good clothes line.”
Grandmother: “Well the pup!”
And that was it. Scene over. There was no recrimination or punishment. I helped them to tie the line as best we could and laundry day continued as happily as before. I went back to clipping the whitethorn hedge with a mixture of curiosity as to what just happened whilst letting out the odd snigger as I pictured the utter disbelief in my mother’s face.
What has happened in Ireland over the last twenty years? Was it an increase in wealth and years of TV subliminal messages and advertisements which told us we must have orange phones with long cables and electric or gas powered clothes dryers? I don’t have a clothes dryer now but I was glad of one when I lived in an apartment. I had a great balcony but of course the apartment bye laws forbade any drying of clothes on balconies.
Why is this? Are we ashamed that others will see that we require clean clothes? Does it evoke memories of poverty? Is it seen as too working class? Dublin and indeed many other Irish cities and towns, sadly have far too many examples of apartment blocks and other forms of accommodation which do little to provide and sustain healthy, liveable, family-friendly homely environments and communities. People struggle to dry clothes in small apartments, which of course is just plain bothersome at best but can adversely affect ones health at worst, through the breathing in of excessive condensation and dampness. It annoys me that for years our electricity provider encouraged us to save energy and out of the other side of their mouths tried desperately to sell us yet another clothes dryer.
What is the problem with stringing a clothes line on an apartment balcony? What about the courtyards that exist in many blocks, many of which are quite under-utilised in their present guise? Could they incorporate some communal clothes lines? Or is that part of the problem, do we not want to mingle with our neighbours, particularly if we are handling our unmentionables? If we have any environmental concern giving the startling evidence of global warming due to our energy consuming lifestyles, why would we not want to use a clothes line? Imagine all the money alone we could save on our painful energy bills?
I spent some time in India a few years ago, witnessing how clothes-washing is often social and ritualistic in nature as well as functional – not totally unlike the social element involved in drying clothes here in Ireland in the past. I feel it important to add at this point that I am not blind to the fact that in many situations, the washing of laundry is oftentimes also extremely poorly paid, back-breaking, thankless work. I was surprised at my high levels of mortification and how the Victorian prude in me was evoked when I looked out the window of a little tea shop in Varanasi to see a woman hanging up my socks and jocks to dry on what was the main thoroughfare. I had left them with a small hotel for washing earlier and was not expecting to see my travel-weary worn rags blowing in the hot breeze from the Ganges at this busy city street junction.
Some of the more miserable, non-architectural apartment blocks on somewhat boring, lack lustre streets which are dotted about our own city, could, I believe benefit greatly from the colour and flutter that full clothes lines provide if the residents decided to utilise their balconies. Our continental neighbours don’t have the same ‘hang ups’ (pardon the pun) when they stretch their garments across the streets of Lisbon, Paris or Rome.
Last week, I was hanging the last of my shirts on my very full aforementioned clothes line… when it broke. The lot fell on the back yard and most had to be rewashed. I was not annoyed, I stopped, I smiled and the karma was not lost on me. I had a moment of connection with my Mam, who although no longer of this world was right beside me as I retied the clothes line.
If she was still alive and I had an orange wall-hung telephone with a long cord I would have rang her with the story.
Clothes lines forever.
Want to save money? Are you on for changing some flawed thinking and unhelpful attitudes at your next Apartment Complex Residents Meeting? Want to meet and socialise with your neighbours doing laundry like they do in India?
Change your world and tie up a clothes line today.