Friday, 9 August 2013

Washing Lines in a Waikato Winter

I have been very remiss in blogging – has anyone noticed? But I have not been completely idle.

And I have been making a few blissful discoveries. The first is ‘spoken poetry’, also known as ‘slamming.’ Basically is a harmonic marriage between drama and poetry. I realise my family have been doing this forever, through the Dutch tradition of performing poems and skits at birthdays, weddings, Sinterklaas etc.   So now I just have a cool name for it. For great examples see the famous Sarah Kay If I should have a daughter if you haven’t already or  Katie Makkai (rude word alert- she drops the F bomb, in case you are particularly sensitive towards it)  Pretty .I have been attending a Spoken Word poetry workshop and preparing myself – poetically & mentally – to get up on stage myself one day.

My other discovery was Margaret Attwood – long time author who has only just introduced herself to me. I love her style, it’s like she exposes all those silly secret thoughts that we all share. So for my writing exercise today I thought I’d write in a style to emulate her – not IMMITATE – I know I need my own voice blah blah, but just to ‘try on her shoes for size and walk around in them a little’. She wrote a whole chapter in ‘Moral Disorder’ on getting up and having toast for breakfast, making it more than readable and interesting , but engaging and entertaining. So I chose something from my everyday – doing the washing (which, with 4 kids and a travelling husband, I have to do daily), trying to write in a style inspired by Margaret Attwood.

This morning I read that if you are not enjoying a book, throw it across the room. Really. Life is short, so you will never read all the books in the world. If there is one that doesn’t live up to you, don’t just stop reading it (which you should)  - throw it across the room, for wasting your time! So, sorry ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’, I hope I didn’t break your spine. I may still watch the movie, but reading emails from the Prime Minister to fishery officials just aint what I call entertaining.

Even hanging out the washing is more entertaining than that.  
The laundry game
Once the children have left for school, the house lies silent but for the aching the of the building itself – the creaking of the wood as it settles into the day, the clicking of the flue as heat distorts the metal, the inexplicable clunks and groans of the plumbing or the gutters, the wind on the downpipes and birds tiptoeing on the tin roof. Outside, fog clings to the windows, the misty- eyed blanket that brings the damp to the flat land down here between the mountain and ridgeline. Inside, discarded clothing dots the floor from the lounge to the laundry and behind all the doors in between. I collect the pieces like a washer woman of old, tossing shoes and belts and hair-ties in their allotted places on my journey towards the washing machine. Fortunately, unlike washerwomen of old, I do not have to spend hours at the washtub, the scrubbing rack, or worse, the river, to deal with the pile of discarded items, which vary from hardly-worn to grassy-kneed to school-uniform-shirt to so-high-its-almost-walking-by-itself. I used to try the ‘smell test’ to decide if something really needed to be washed, but got caught out badly once too often, and now randomly throw almost any item resembling material lying on the floor into the washing machine. Even the cat, which resembles a large fluffy mat, had to screech and run before it was collected, soaked and sudsed, once. While let its complaint be known, the washing machine never has. Well, that’s not true. Once, when the children had been vomiting all night, kindly passing it on, rendering me so deathly ill that my husband volunteered to stay home from work to care for me without having to be begged, the washing machine co-incidentally ‘shat itself’, as the proverbial would have it. Being the pragmatic man that he is, he promptly went online to see what a worthy replacement – for the washing machine, not the wife - would be, called the local dealer and had it delivered that afternoon, to deal with the aftermath of the night’s entertainment as provided by the virus the children and I were suffering from.
The ‘new’ washing machine, which is by now some 8 years old but still holds the title with honour, duly spat out the grime along with the suds, rinsed, spun and repeat, to finally beep inimitably while its little display screen elicits a smiley face with ‘Have a nice day’ inscribed. I kid you not. It also plays the national anthem of New Zealand, Australia and the United States, if you can remember the odd sequence of buttons to push. Unfortunately I do not, nor do I often happen to be standing watching the display screen as it wishes me said nice day, but I still endeavour to have one notwithstanding. Today, as I scoop the freshly laundered clothes from the machine, the fog still hangs about as thick as it was at early dawn. It is one of those Waikato days where it threatens to hang around all day, or at least till one o’clock, when it will rise for about 2 hours before coming back to earth with a thud, bringing an early evening soon after the children get back from school. Using the dampness of the air as an excuse – nothing can dry outside in the cloud- I immediately throw the washing into the drier. Be damned, electricity bill!
Almost immediately, as if to disprove my skepticism, the sun comes out.  Guiltily I remove the still damp washing from the drier and hang it on the line, reminding myself how lucky I am to have a job which allows me to work outside from time to time. The thrush in the bare-branched peach tree sings to keep me company, and a fantail peeps along daringly close. I like to think it is talking to me, a spirit of my dead father or  such, but actually it is probably just enjoying the insects my presence has stirred up in the nearby bushes. Refusing to let the drudgery the menial task of hanging out the washing draw into a mental black hole from which there is no return, I focus on the birds, the fresh air, the smell of bark and mulch and leaves, trying to ignore the stains not quite removed, the holes in the trouser knees, the torn sleeves, and the tired garments which nag me of more menial work to do once they’re dry.
No sooner is the last item duly pinned to the wire rope that strings between the umbrella shaped clothesline poles, than the cloud that once hovered at ground level is swept away by a rush of wind, to be replaced by the more ominous black, threatening kind. It releases its first sporadic, thick drops, with all the glee of a toddler flicking food it doesn’t want to eat, across the highchair onto the floor below. I look up, the portentous cloud hovering resolutely above, daring me to challenge it.
I know when my limits are reached. The thrush laughs outright while the fantail titters, as I resignedly take the washing back down again, lug the basket of heavy, damp clothes, determined to defeat me, back to the drier. The drops fall thick and fast now, covering the driveway with splatters of dark grey on the lighter grey concrete. For a whole three minutes it pours, the rain of a two year old throwing a tantrum at the slightest provocation, screaming blue murder for some minor transgression which has disturbed the perfection of their world, which - just as suddenly - stops, as soon as the toy is returned, the food item  provided, or the hurt cuddled ‘all better’. Likewise, the cloud is suddenly placated and withdraws its threatened flood. The sun pops out again, as if it never said it was going away for long, and I stand, shoulders downcast, listening to the rhythmic hum of the churning drier, as I watch the sun quickly dry the patches of wet on the driveway. A gentle breeze picks up the very edges of the trees, tickling their last few clinging autumn leaves, to create the most perfect drying weather ever.
The game was played.
I have lost.
But my washing will still get dry.   


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