Hanging out to dry



There are some things in life that you don’t buy very often… not because they don’t get used, but simply because they don’t wear out very quickly. A particular example is clothes pegs (pins). It’s probably 20 years since I bought any new ones and at the time the problem of plastic waste did not occupy my mind, although I can remember cursing about my old plastic pegs breaking. I think I looked for wooden ones, but couldn’t easily find any and so bought a (plastic) basket of (plastic) pegs from Woolworths. The basket has long since disintegrated and I made a felt peg bag some years ago. Recently, however, there has been an outbreak of exploding pegs. The plastic is finally breaking down and I’ve been cut several times as a peg snaps whilst being squeezed to open it. Some pegs have even snapped whilst in place on the washing line – leading to even more cursing and some essential re-washing.

My very old wooden pegs (given to me by my mum about 30 years ago) are still going strong, although they probably need soaking in something to get them clean, as I think things may have started growing on them. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them. So, a purchase was required. In this case I did not need to do any research because I knew exactly what I wanted. Years ago I read about a company in Scotland that was selling a product called K-pegs – strong metal pegs capable of holding washing on the line in the windiest of conditions. A little bit of hunting around and I found the company (Exquisite Scotland) and placed my order. They arrived a few days later and I have been very impressed. I’ve already tested them out in windy conditions and to secure a heavy mat and I’ve had no failures. There’s no plastic and they are easy to keep clean, so I think I am on to a winner…. and will probably never have to buy another peg again in my life. Oh, and wonderfully they arrived in re-used packaging… a company after my own heart.

My laundry issues did not stop there, however. I also have some plastic ‘smalls’ driers. I really like these because it means that when the inevitable rain comes, all those little things on the washing line can be brought in quickly and with minimum effort. Like the pegs, though, these elderly plastic items were starting to disintegrate. One was thrown out a few years ago and the remaining ones have started losing pegs and arms:


gradually deteriorating

Replacing these took a little more research, but I found that several metal options are available. In the end I chose a version that does have plastic cables to suspend it, but that is mostly metal. The pegs are good and strong and, although the hook does not grip the washing line, the new K-pegs can be used to secure it.


lots of pegs

So, I’m now all set for many years of hanging the washing on the line – no matter how windy it is.

A rosy view

I think that we all have the capacity to regard the past with nostalgia. It is all too easy to think that ‘things were better when…’ to long for some sort of historic utopia that probably never existed.

Looks natural, but it isn't: planted trees and a canal

Looks natural, but it isn’t: planted trees and a canal

As an ecologist working on habitat restoration, this is something I know all too well. Human beings yearn for the native vegetation of their countryside… for a time when the whole of Britain looked like a Constable painting or a Capability Brown landscape: rolling hills, artistically placed trees and agricultural labourers, meandering rivers. And it can be quite a disappointment to realise that this rural idyll never existed; that the countryside is a dynamic place, which has been used, changed and manipulated by man for a long time; that Capability Brown ‘designed’ his landscapes based on a romantic notion of the countryside; that unless we put a great deal of energy into it, our countryside will naturally change into whatever vegetation is best suited to the prevailing conditions. As conservationists, we need to exert a significant amount of effort to maintain, for example, species-rich meadows or ponds suitable for dragonflies.

And it’s the same with human society – the past where everyone had a job, could sustain themselves and lived in a village with a shop, a post office, a pub and a fully functional community is simply not real. It is a story that we tell ourselves, it gives us comfort. This post is probably coming across as very cynical; it has all come about because of a song called The Liverpool Lullaby. Do you know it? If not you can listen to a version of it here and read the lyrics here.

Well, I was reminded of it the other day because of a chance remark by a friend on Facebook. I always found the song upsetting as a child and decided to listen to it as an adult in order to explore these feelings. As it turns out, I still find it upsetting, but am haunted by it and by some of the imagery of life in working-class Britain in the 1950s and 60s. One thing in particular that struck me (child abuse aside) was the reference to The Lune, which as a child I had misheard as ‘the loom’ (you can tell I grew up in the heart of wool-producing country where big mills were part of our history).

What, I wondered, was The Lune – my initial thought was that it was a pub, after all the song refers to the boozer and dad drinking all the money away, but a quick search on the internet revealed that The Lune was a “laundry and dry cleaning works”… and not just any laundry, but a vast place. Householders sent their laundry there, as did hotels. I was astounded when browsing the memorabilia on the Lune website to see endorsements written in the 1930s from as far afield as The Gleneagles Hotel (Scotland), Somerset and Hove in Sussex. I had no idea that 70 years ago anyone would have dreamed of sending their linen on a 540-mile round trip simply to be laundered. In my head I have an image of small, local laundries for those who could afford them at that time, but it turns out The Lune was huge, and it was not the only one of its kind.

The Lune Laundry (from the Wavertree Society Newsletter: http://www.liverpool.ndo.co.uk/wavsoc/news08/page7.html)

It was founded in 1905, but I can find no record of when it closed, just that the building was demolished in 1987 and that the company has now been dissolved.

And so, on reflection I acknowledge that much of our past –  in the lifetime of those of us who might be reading this – is less than rosy. Whilst there were communities who supported each other, there were also terrible working conditions, abject poverty, abused children, and affluent people who could afford to have their linen shipped half way across the country simply to be washed. Let us not forget that, whilst there are real problems in the modern world, many of them are not new and some of the old ones have disappeared. Let’s not wallow in nostalgia, wishing for a return to a world that never existed, but work towards a more equitable and sustainable world with a modern vision.

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