....

Setting the Sheets Free

Over the course of their commission with residents in St. Georges Court, Heather Parnell & David Mackie have been exploring the basic realities of cleaning laundry and putting it out to dry in the public gaze. Something many people still have to do, either through financial necessity or an innate desire, in this age of labour saving white goods with an insatiable supply of expendable energy.

Working in close collaboration with a core group of residents, who have travelled along fellow artist, Glenn Davison’s Yellow Brick Road, the artists have conceived a series of exquisite and tactile sculptural — but equally functional — washing line posts, the like of which haven’t been seen before.

These unique works of art made exclusively for the St. George’s Court estate feature concrete poetry epitaphs derived from an evocative poem created by Claire Potter and the residents (presented below) that draws on their poignant stories about laundry culture of the past and present.

The artists’ bespoke Poetry Washing Lines give voice to a common culture of the past, a longing for a more communal engagement in the future and a fitting tribute to an older generation who care deeply about their community and sense of place, against all the odds that austerity brings in the South Wales Valleys.

 

Washing is Work

Woman’s. Scrubbing board blisters on my knuckles, the old tin bath,

No bathroom, no softener, bucket for soaking, bending, plunging,

Purita and coal tar soap, Carbolic, blocks of Fairy to rinse out the swearing

so we’d be blowing bubbles for weeks, and no wash on a Sunday,

just chapel and cooked dinners. The mangle turning on a Monday

made everything tidy — good creases pressed with elbow grease.

Better the Line

than the dryer in the wet room — the fumes make us cough,

keep us inside, the tumbler on relentless, no open window,

just a pipe; the wall under my window is black. It’s all to do

with the filter. Better the line where I used to see Yvonne

and go for a cup of tea, our keys under the mat, our children

and chores shared. Better the line for joining people.

You need a bit of flap on your washing, both breeze and wind,

and a little bit of human connection; we’re all related anyway.

The Old Ways (Though the Effort was Immense)

My mother’s glass scrubbing board, tough and thick

Reckett’s blue bags to whiten the whites

Transformed grey hair made from age and worry. How

the clothes looked alive the way they waved

in the wind. We pegged in the frost, the bedding

stiff as boards, fresh, clean, glistening — good sleeping.

Dolly pegs and the washing dolly, bent backs, piles

of laundry, ever growing. Washing is work, is memories,

is pain, is motherhood.

Remember your Mother

teaching you to do it? To Peg? Mothers teach

daughters all sorts. I remember my mother’s words,

“Two nappies three pegs” you could share a peg

and a nod and chat with your neighbour; she enjoyed

that as her, setting the sheets free, the napkin

blowing white in the wind. My friend used to ask me

how do you get them so white? I boiled them as she’d boiled

them, in the bucket with an aspirin or false teeth soaking

tablets, they chattered alright on the line as my mother

nursed me Welsh fashion; the only way mime would go to sleep.

Underground

for thirty five years — my husband.

When the nappies were no longer needed

I sewed them together, made one big towel,

all squares and the best money could buy;

he’d bring it home pit-brown and his clothes

shaken and soaked overnight and shaken

and soaked and wrung out and empty

and washed and dried and ironed

and dirtied. My father trapped underground

in the fifties and Six Bells sadness. The past

and present; the clothes look alive.

Its Like an Ending

When there are no lines, just machines and clothes-horse windows

though it’s surprising how much they dry out of my window

where I sit and not be seen, think on days of folding

that was a choreography, kisses over the sheets, being

out of sync with my husband, but me and mam would fold the same

and wouldn’t have to say anything. My father’s jacket on the back

of the door, kept his shape. The shape is a lovely thing and smell, too,

though to that day, I’d washed all my boy’s clothes, bedding, freshened.

When we came home without him there was nothing left in the

basket or on his bed that still had his scent, nothing to cuddle,

to cwtch. So some people say they love doing their washing

watching it blowing in the breeze, but when something like that

happens, it’s an ending, an ending of everything.

Remember the Line

            and the wind that blows all things

                        share a peg if you’re short

                                    sew things together

                                                we’re all related. Laugh

 

Clare Potter and the lovely ladies of St. Georges.

..

English
Cymraeg