“I’ve no more knickers,” my mum has just announced.
This sort of comment, which suggests the need for action taken for her sole betterment, is rare, as my mother so dislikes being a bother (unlike my children who seem to take a delight in making demands).
But a lack of knickers (underpants to Americans) can be definitely bothersome, especially for the generation to whom “going commando” raises images of some sort of guerrilla warfare in foreign parts instead of going, well, knickerless, which is not totally unknown to the aforementioned demand-making children.
“I’m about to do a load,” I say helpfully. Clean, dry underwear is no more than several hours away.
But then I remember. This is England and, like over half of the households here, we have no dryer.
What we have is a washing machine that sounds like a 747 at take-off and two clothes lines, one outside in the garden, the other in the laundry room.
It’s so much more complicated to dry clothes here in England and the rest of Europe than in most households in America, where all you have to do is shove the wet, clean clothes into a dryer conveniently situated no more than a foot away from the washing machine, push a button, and come back an hour later or at the end of the day.
There is no quick way to get the laundry done using a clothesline.
If all goes well, and you have a day of sunshine, or at least a stiff breeze and no rain, you can get a load of laundry drying outside, which will take most of the day. Like everything that you’re not used to doing, it’s a real pain to have to lug the laundry outside and then, one-by-one, peg up the items. By the time you get to the socks, you will feel like flinging them over the line rather than pegging them up but you must resist this impulse: the socks will end up blown all over your garden/lawn or worse, into next door’s garden.
If it’s raining or rain is in the forecast, you must dry the clothes inside, which is like dying them outside but without the benefits of being amongst the birdsong and the pleasant sunshine and breezes.
But once you’ve taken the clothes off the line and folded them, you’re still not done. The final part of the process is to put them in the “airing closet,” a space off the bathroom that houses the water heater to, as it’s said, “get the damp out.”
It was a real pain at first, but after a month or two of drying clothes on a line, it became no big deal. I found that I got myself into a schedule of washing and drying. This meant that I don’t end up with the heaps of dirty clothes that I occasionally have in America where I know that clean clothes are only two hours away. Instead, here I just kept the clothes cycling through the washer, the clothes line, and the airing closet, with the added benefit of getting my warm, clean clothes out of the airing cupboard or being outside in the garden amongst the sunshine and outside air and the singing of the black birds as they make their nests.
Plus, I’m saving money and electricity. I have read that a dryer is the third most energy-sapping appliance after the fridge and washing machine. An estimated yearly savings of using a clothesline is around $400 in electricity costs, plus you don’t have to buy the the dryer in the first place, saving another $500-$1,000. I’m now so taken with line drying that I’m going to keep doing it here in the UK, and when I get back to America, I’m going to install clothes lines in my laundry room and return to drying my clothes the natural, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly way.