Last week, in my blog anniversary post, I described how an entry on hanging out the washing became one of the most popular and successful in Clothes in Books’ history, and how delighted I’d been to find so many people sharing my enjoyment.
And now I’ve found another fan! Sue Hepworth (whom I know through Christine Poulson) has featured on the blog before with her excellent book Plotting for Grown Ups.
This is a different novel (with a title guaranteed to appeal to those who know their films..) and is published by Snowbooks and available at amazon in all formats.
I would love to have found the Kandinsky painting mentioned below, but couldn’t turn it up – perhaps Sue can provide more info…. The picture below is from the Dutch National Archives and shows washing-day in a town called Volendam.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL POINT: Earlier in January I did an entry on making an acrostic of my name based on the initial letters of books read during the year, and suggested others might do the same. A reader was complaining that the Z in his name was a stumbling block – think how handy this book would be for all of you with Z names.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL POINT 2: For nostalgia’s sake, I found a picture of those sandals that everyone of Sue’s and my age had when we went to school.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL POINT 3: Sue has definite form here – in her novel But I Told You Last Year That I Love You there is a hilarious scene where a character tries to wash a large duvet in a bathtub, and then comes to grief when he is trying to hang the now huge, heavy, sodden piece of bedding outside…. ‘Fran feared for the trees to which the [washing] line was tied. It was a miracle they weren’t uprooted.’
extract from: Zuzu’s Petals, by Sue Hepworth
I took the wet clothes outside to hang them on the line. A breeze was blowing little clouds across a bright sky. The children at Nether Green School were whooping and calling in the playground, and it took me back to when Megan and I were at primary school. Ma would always take us to buy new sandals in the Easter holidays. The sandals would be Start-rite with patterns cut out of the leather, and with crepe soles, creamy like Wensleydale cheese. We’d come home and prance around the garden doing handstands and cartwheels, as lively as lambs.
Today the wet grass was squishy under my feet, and the sun was sparkling on the drops of moisture between the blades. The strong light made the bark of the silver birches shine stark white, and the ends of the twigs were thickening up, ready to burst into leaf. It was like a painting of a spring day by Sisley.
When I’d finished hanging out the washing, I stepped back and gazed at the long line of T shirts, sweat shirts, towels and jeans and I had an idea. This would be much more original than my shots of narcissi spread out under the trees in the Botanical Gardens.
I went inside to get my camera and switched the kettle on for coffee. Back outside, I walked to the far corner of the garden and looked at the line from there. I took down two T-shirts and pegged them up again, swapping their previous positions. Then I exchanged the places of a pair of vivid lilac jeans with a navy sweatshirt, and stood back to assess the difference.
“Champion,” said a familiar voice from the other side of the garden wall. “Now you’ve got them that way round the lilac counterpoints all the blues and greens. Nice.”
I turned round. He was dressed in cycling clothes. Did he do nothing else but cycle? Was he a professional?
“I’m glad you don’t think I’m mad,” I said.
I walked over and leaned my elbows on the top of the wall.
“Did I say that?” He grinned. “Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“I love to see washing on a line,” I said.
I beamed. “So what makes it so appealing? I mean – it’s not just the aesthetics – the colours, and the way the shapes change when it billows in the wind, is it? Do you know that early Kandinsky painting of washing on a line?”
“It’s the memory of Mam - my mother - hanging it out when I was little. And domestic order. The security that comes from that.”
“Exactly,” I said. “The essence of home.”
“There’s a continuity. When I’m hanging out my washing I feel, I don’t know, what’s that pseudy word? Grounded.”
“And rotary driers just aren’t the same, are they?”
“God, no,” he said. “Completely different. Purely functional.”
“And we haven’t even touched on the feel and smell of the washing when you bring it in at the end of the day – the way it kind of links you to the elements. If the day’s been hot, the dry washing is like a tangible memory of sunshine.”
Thank you Sue for a lovely contribution to the literature of hanging out the washing.
Thanks, Moira (and Sue!) for sharing this. The bit you've shared really evokes the setting and details very effectively. And I know just what it means to remember one's mother putting washing out on a line, and what that was like. Beautifully pointed out here! Oh, and those shoes? Priceless.ReplyDelete
I bet American children didn't have to wear shoes like that Margot! But we all had them.Delete
Thanks for this excellent extract - and for the picture of the sandals. I always wanted red ones - in fact, I'd love a pair now!ReplyDelete
Red ones! that would indeed have been splendid...Delete
Did Start-rite do red ones? How divine. I always had boring brown ones.ReplyDelete
I have to confess I don't know the Kandinsky painting myself. I was discussing the whole washing line fascination/affection with an art-lover friend and she mentioned the Kandinsky painting. I wrote it down in my notebook but never actually checked it out. I am sure there is one, though!
And I thought of another literary washing line...isn't there a whole array of them at the back of Francie's tenement building in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?
We'll have to try to find the Kandinsky. There's enough interest in this topic for more blogposts.Delete
And yes, excellent point - I love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and often think I must do a post on it.
I just had a look through http://www.wassilykandinsky.net and I've come to the conclusion that almost everything he painted might look like washing on a line if you squinted at it.ReplyDelete
Metaphorical washing, hmm? I tend to agree based on a quick look...Delete
Sue is such a good writer. I loved reading this again. Clark's shoes. . . I was determined that my daughter would have them. I've got a photo of her wearing them on her first day at school, and I managed to keep it going until she got to secondary school and realised that no-one else was still wearing them (sigh).ReplyDelete
No I know what you mean. We moved to America when my children were young, and there everyone wore sneakers (trainers), no-one had proper school shoes (UK-style) at all... They didn't even have proper shoe fitters...Delete
This is very embarrassing! The nearest I can find is a Kandinsky-inspired washing line by the artist James Wood http://www.lissfineart.com/5707sub0_21.htmReplyDelete
I'm going to contact the art-lover friend today who mentioned it...
That is a lovely picture. Make sure you report back on any devlopments - the washing lovers need to know!Delete
Moira: I did not find a washing on the line painting but there must be a book this dress could be associated with:ReplyDelete
That's gorgeous Bill, beautiful and distinctive. I will be looking for the book to match! Where is it from?Delete
Moira: Here is a link to the blog of Cassie Stephens:Delete
I think you will enjoy visiting her blog.
I most certainly did enjoy it - what amazing clothes, and what a great person.Delete
Fair enough. Slim pickings for you this week.Delete
I don't have the affinity that you have for hanging washing, but I do remember having lines of washing in our back yard when I was young. I do have nostalgia for those times, large backyards even though we were close to poor, and neighborhoods where everyone knew everyone.ReplyDelete
My take when I lived in America was that it was rather frowned on in upmarket neighbourhoods, is that right?Delete
Moira, I would guess you are right although I have never been close enough to those in upmarket neighborhoods to have any knowledge of it. I think I have read that people have battled with homeowner's associations to have the right to dry clothes on lines (since it is good for the environment). I did have one co-worker years ago here in Santa Barbara (well, Goleta) who much preferred line drying clothes and was vocal about it. I cannot really imagine anyone in Santa Barbara area caring one way or the other about what others do in their yard, but California is different from the rest of the US... and sometimes we forget that.Delete
I was in Seattle, which is very environmentally-minded, but no-one I knew hung out their washing.Delete
Maybe I am cynical, but I would guess in the majority of cases it is laziness or lack of convenience, and people choose other ways to be environmentally conscious. I personally prefer the way clothes come out of the dryer than clothes hung out, and here in Santa Barbara we have tons of allergens in the air year round (not to mention that when I have had a "yard" it has been more of a patio area). But I am sure the effect of drying on the line depends on weather conditions.Delete
It is easy to be lazy here too, with our rainy climate... but I really like the way washing smells and feels when its been dried outside, so I do try...Delete