Monday was always wash day, Grandma wheeled the Hoover non-automatic out from the scullery, filled it from the hot tap with the help of a rubber hose and pressed the ‘on’ switch. After a few minutes of globberdy flobberdy splisherty splasherty noises and a poke with a blunt stick, the washing, that is, not me, not unless I was being really naughty that day, it was pushed through the mangle and carried out to the washing line, zig-zagged across the street. There the sheets and my grandad’s long johns would billow like sails in the wind, slapping people in the face as they walked past. Ah, them were t’days.
I used to love running down the lines and bashing the washing with my tennis racket, I got into a bit of trouble for that, but it was worth it. The wet clothes made a great thwacking noise as I hit them, unlike the cracking sound as the wet dishcloth hit me on the back of my legs – I think my grandma could have flicked dishcloths for her country, she had a mean aim and always got me.
The Hoover and mangle may have gone, so too has grandma, bless her, but there are still places where the washing is pegged out in zig zag lines across the streets. And in one of our Yorkshire towns this week, they’ve made an art form of it.
The wonderful I Love West Leeds Arts Festival has commissioned artists to produce work to be pegged out on lines in Armley. Fancy clothes, decorated pants, banners, a couple of birds and a sparkly fish flap in the breeze next to residents’ real washing.
I turned up with my camera and chatted to a few folk who were sitting on the doorsteps steps of their back-to-back houses, passing the time of day. We shared stories of what it was like to live in a house with one door, attached to three neighbours and no garden. It was fun, neighbours were friends and no-one was ever lonely. My experience, many many years ago included an outside toilet, shared with one neighbour. Yes, they said, their houses were like that but had thankfully been modernised, the toilet blocks were now bin stores.
They were thrilled with the arty washing, and were slightly disappointed that more people hadn’t turned up to see them. One said she’d ask at the local shops and schools if they wanted to send folk round.
“These are great,” one of them said to me. “We’re right proud they came to our street. I mean, it’s us heritage, in’t it, luv?” Yes it is, it’s our heritage.
The washing will be up until Friday 15 July at Claremont Place and Cedar Road.