Someone forwarded me an email about washing/clothes lines and it’s made me rethink. (See picture, if you are puzzled by this apparent anachronism of modern life.) Apparently washing lines have become redundant, just like typewriters, fountain pens that don’t use cartridges, diningrooms, handkerchiefs and Christmas cards. According to this email, people now prefer to use dryers, even in sunny South Africa. I must be the only person in the world who still spends evenings ironing in front of the TV. Perhaps next time I need a new iron they will be as difficult to find as bottled ink. Perhaps those clothes pegs they sell in supermarkets are only meant for closing bags of cereal and catfood, and not for hanging out clothes at all.
My book is set in the past, covering the period 1954 to 1994, during South Africa’s Apartheid years. It is called “Upside Down”, alluding to reports that interrogation officers at John Vorster Square dangled suspects upside down from a high window until they confessed, as well as the topsy-turvy state of society at that time.
What better image, I thought, than a washing line strung with paper dolls, black and white, to give the impression of the chaos and loss of control experienced by my characters. But now I’m having second thoughts. Even if washing lines were in use during the period covered by my book, what does it help to use one in my cover design if readers can’t relate to or, worse still, are puzzled by the image I hope to project?
The good news is that I think I’ve found the perfect designer to do the cover: She’s young and talented so I can trust her instincts. The bad news is that I still need to find the artwork and I’ve lost faith in my vision. Here’s the poem that did it:
A clothesline was a news forecast
To neighbours passing by,
There were no secrets you could keep
When clothes were hung to dry.
It also was a friendly link
For neighbours always knew
If company had stopped on by
To spend a night or two.
For then you’d see the “fancy sheets”
And towels upon the line;
You’d see the “company table cloths”
With intricate designs.
The line announced a baby’s birth
From folks who lived inside,
As brand new infant clothes were hung
So carefully with pride!
The ages of the children could
So readily be known,
By watching how the sizes changed
You’d know how much they’d grown!
It also told when illness struck
As extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes, and a bathrobe too,
Haphazardly were strung.
It also said, “On vacation now”
When lines hung limp and bare.
It told, “We’re back!” when full lines sagged
With not an inch to spare!
New folks in town were scorned upon
If wash was dingy and gray,
As neighbours carefully raised their brows
And looked the other way.
But clotheslines now are of the past
For dryers make work much less.
Now what goes on inside a home
Is anybody’s guess!
I really miss that way of life,
It was a friendly sign
When neighbours knew each other best…
By what hung on the line.