Spring Is In The Air – what the change of the season really means
Forget daffodils. Forget apple blossom, and cuckoos, and the lovely lime-green of new leaves. Do you know what the first sign of spring is? It's washing. Washing on a long line, drying gently in benign sunshine and a soft breeze under a cloud-sprigged sky.
I love my washing line. It runs from a post at the bottom of the garden to the shed, where the other end has been wound around a couple of rusty nails hammered into the wood. I love the fact that drying sheets or towels on it is both free and environmentally friendly. I love the way the washing smells of outdoor goodness when it is dry. I even – being slightly nerdy – like the methodical act of pegging things up. But this winter, I nearly lost my washing line completely.
Recently, we decided to remove a concrete path in our garden. We devised a brute-force plan to take it out, which involved whacking it repeatedly with a sledgehammer to crack it, and then prising up the resultant chunks with a crowbar. Naturally, my husband, who at 6’2”can call on eight extra inches of gravitational assistance, was appointed sledgehammerer extraordinaire.
Unfortunately, the path was next to the washing line, a fact which became painfully obvious when my husband took a particularly energetic backswing, caught the washing line with the sledgehammer and then, unaware of the extra traction, brought it forcibly down. Amazingly, the line itself did not break. But the rusty nails attached to the shed? Gone.
The new drying season was approaching fast. What we needed, I decided, was one of those metal fixings with two prongs, one facing up and one down, around which a cord could be wound in a figure-of-eight fashion to secure it. I’d seen them used for blinds, and had always been impressed that something so simple could be so effective.
However, I was very aware that if I wandered into a hardware store asking for 'an uppy-downy thing to wind a cord around’, I would probably be laughed out of the shop. So I googled it, and the item I needed, it transpired, was called a cleat hook. A 150mm galvanised cleat hook, to be precise.
I showed up at the hardware shop feeling terminologically invincible. The ironmongery stand, however, wasn’t promising. There were indeed two cleat hooks on offer, but both were too small, and obviously for indoor use.
Behind the counter was a Ronnie Barker type, busy fixing the till roll, and his David Jason sidekick. I spoke to David Jason, gesturing vaguely towards the ironmongery as I did so.
‘Do you have some larger cleat hooks?’ I asked.
He came over. ‘We have these,’ he said, picking up a standard coat peg.
‘I was after a cleat hook,’ I repeated.
‘Or these?’ he suggested, picking up another twisted bit of metal, that was clearly not a cleat hook. I picked up the small one from the stand. ‘One of these,’ I said, ‘but larger, and probably galvanised, to go outside.’
‘Ah!’ he said. ‘Galvanised!’ And, seemingly galvanised himself, he bounded around the little shop, returning all of ten seconds later.
‘No,’ he said, ‘We don’t have one.’
I paused. I was sure there would be the right cleat hook somewhere. There was one last option: I had to go to the top. Till-Roll Barker was my man.
‘Excuse me,’ I said to him, ‘Do you have a 150mm galvanised cleat hook?’
He looked up.
‘Of course,’ he said, bringing out a box from behind the counter. ‘Right here. £1.95, please’.
Words are peculiar. Knowing the proper names for things is all very well and good, but they’re worthless unless those to whom you are talking understand them too.
Washing lines are the same: without any washing on them, they are just a bit of pointless cord stretched annoyingly across the garden, impinging on the view and threatening to take out your neck. However, hang out the towels on a fine day and their engineering is faultless.
I took my precious cleat hook home, screwed it into place and admired the result. It was perfect. But there was one thing missing: washing.
So now I’m waiting: waiting for a change in the weather. And you can keep your lambs, your fluffy chicks and your primroses. Bring on the First Drying-day of Spring.