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A Shout From The Attic: The Clothes Line Rules

...Playing in the yard – that was our playground – assured us of regular interactions with the flagstones and also with the clothes line. There were no rules about the flags, you could hit them as hard as you wished with any part of your body and no one minded.

However, the clothes line was girt about with outlandish mitzvoth setting out what could and could not be done with or to it...

Ronnie Bray tells of days of play fraught with the risk of punishment.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's autobiography please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

The clothes line stretched across the stone paved yard from the wall nearest to Rivis Mead’s house to the stone wall at the end of the yard. On Mondays it held an agglomeration of washing almost as big as our four story house, the work of mother’s wash day red hands, lifted up to catch the wind with mile high props.

Playing in the yard – that was our playground – assured us of regular interactions with the flagstones and also with the clothes line. There were no rules about the flags, you could hit them as hard as you wished with any part of your body and no one minded.

However, the clothes line was girt about with outlandish mitzvoth setting out what could and could not be done with or to it, laying down specific and condign punishments for those who breached the commandments in a deleterious manner. Ignorance of the Law was no excuse for its breach and as for extenuating or mitigating circumstances, stringently drawn codicils provided that under no circumstances were there any!

Making a clothes line dirty was a bad thing, an illegal thing, infraction of which provided penalty that produced music, if ringing in the ear can be described as music.

Punishment for violation was meted out by a hand, the front or back thereof according to the whim of the executioner, that smote the offender or, more usually, the alleged offender with a force equal to the discharge of ten tons of high explosive at sea level and at the speed of light, delivered fair and square to the pinna, as the flap adjacent to the external auditory meatus is described in mediæval ‘How-to’ books on torture.

Next in order of magnitude was breaching or breaking the clothesline; an offence that produced music in stereo, to which, for good measure (although I strongly suspect that it was merely to satisfy the Judge’s need to shed innocent blood), was added a transitory deafness of unlimited and unspecified duration. It was not simply twice as unpleasant as the one-handed slap to a pinna; the pain of having both pinnæ boxed increased exponentially

But the worst contravention that stood somewhere between serial adultery and murder was breaking the line with clothes pegged on it. This crime was only exceeded by having the line break when the clothes fastened thereon were still wet, and so preternaturally attractive to the grime and dust that lay scattered on the unswept yard. If we had had a brush, you understand, it would have been swept at irregular intervals, but although I lived there for close on seventeen years I can testify that the household never was blessed with a yard broom.

Consequently it was never swept, and that ensured that if wet clothes hit the floor, they were ready to be washed all over again. That made no one happy and made sure that no one was happy because although small patches of happiness were individual and isolated, misery was a corporate entity equally shared by all who inhabited the enterprise that was my childhood home.

It could not be called a family in any proper sense, because it did not behave as a family, but as a discrete collection of individuals each of whom pursued his or her own aims and objects without reference or regard to those other individuals who enjoyed collective shelter under the same roof.

The reasons that the clothes line was held in such high esteem and reckoned of greater value than the flesh of infants was that it was harder to get through the weekly mountain of washing from family and lodgers than it was to get through a difficult childbirth, plus the fact that my mother still hadn’t forgiven me for coming in at ten pounds.

For mother, a labour saving device would have been an unbreakable clothes line or a husband that she could control.

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