If you happen to drive through our village and you see a woman furtively darting in and out of the house, disappearing and reappearing from between rows of bizarrely arranged laundry, there’s a good chance that woman is me. While I confess that I’ve always been somewhat more focused than the average person on caring for clothes – in other words all things laundry and ironing – we’re talking about a whole new level of obsession now.
You see, it’s winter. And here in the Minho, there’s a lot of rain. As in around 1350mm (53 inches) per year. That means that drying laundry is a problem. Of course you’re thinking “what’s her problem, that’s what tumble dryers are for”, but that brings me to complication number two. While our furnished rental home does have a dryer, it seems to be better at tumbling than it is at actually drying anything. Add high electricity costs and the eternally spinning dryer quickly became a less desirable option. The next solution was to dry clothes indoors, but as those who live in high humidity climates know, the result may be temporarily dry clothes, but also a lethal mix of mould, mould, mould and depression after you’ve seen the state of your clothes and shoes. It’s a bit like a horror movie in which an evil fungus takes on superpowers and turns everything green while growing ever stronger. You can almost feel it creeping closer and closer… Anyway, you get the picture of my distress.
The next solution was this: I would wait (sometimes for 2 weeks) for a sunny day, after having neurotically checked the sky and the weather forecast a dozen times, erect the collapsible clothes line on the only place that is big enough – the deck outside our bedroom – and wash three loads in quick succession. Okay, I figured, this is looking good. But, as you probably know, solutions only seem great until the next problem reveals itself. I would be inside the house after having just put the laundry outside and would hear a sudden THUNK!
Evidently that high deck catches quite a bit of wind and the cursed light-weight clothes line tips over at the merest hint of a breeze. Next plan – and for this I have to thank Tom – leashes made out of nylon rope and carabiners (also known as quick links) to tie the leashes off. So, even if I had to resort to some mountaineering tools, I had my clothes line, bright orange leashes and all, but by this time I was so happy that I told myself not to be embarrassed by the contraption that was so visible to all. Oh, it was great. I washed linens and towels and at all dried beautifully.
And then came the day of the mixed load.
As I put trousers, t-shirts and sweaters on the line, I had a smile on my face. But then I looked down into the basket and immediately saw my next problem: underwear. This is the point where I have to explain the views we have, but also, and rather more importantly, the views the world has of us. In the distance there’s the river and Spain – quite lovely – but closer and more relevant is a nursing home, what seems to be a communal vegetable patch (i.e. popular meeting space) and the road that leads up from the village past our house. Note that when I say “up from the village”, we’re talking 40 metres away, with a great view uphill, exactly where my newly born laundry area is. I paused. For the moment that vegetable patch was deserted, but down the street three villagers were chatting. Across the way a nurse could be seen helping an old man into the nursing home, while two others were taking a smoke break in the sun. And coming up the stairs passing our little house and deck was the rugged man we’ve christened the “tractor guy” for obvious reasons. I raised a hand in greeting and as I did so, I panicked. Was there a lacy unmentionable flapping in the wind at my shoulder? Fortunately he was gone quickly and if he noticed anything, he gave no indication.
I looked down at basket again. How could I possibly display these delicates for all to see? Twenty metres away, an ambulance was parked in front of the physiotherapist’s office and a group of loudly chattering young paramedics were looking in my direction. I needed camouflaging manoeuvres and I needed them fast, so I decided to reorganise the existing laundry so that they would obscure our undergarments at least a little. And this is what I continue to do. First the bigger items, then the smaller (but still decent) items, and finally, the inner ring of knickers. I am so embarrassed by them that I duck into the house very quickly after hanging them, for fear some villager will start a conversation while there’s a pair of underpants waving a merry hello on the line next to me. As a further sign of my obsession, I started to look at other people’s laundry. And saw this.
And realised that everyone was desperate to dry their laundry in this wretched weather. I was one of many and truly didn’t need to fight this anymore. At least we have a) underwear and b) they’re relatively nice. So yes, I guess I should feel less self-conscious and should try to come to terms with my knickers dancing in the wind for all to see. Most likely no one will even notice them. Right? Right. But I still won’t tell you the name of our village. Google Earth might just catch me and my delicates at an inopportune moment.