Today's song is ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’. This song was recorded by the Carpenters in 1971, with instrumental backing by L.A. session musicians from the ‘Wrecking Crew’. The song went to Number 2 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’chart. ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ was the duo's fourth Number 1 song on the ‘Adult Contemporary Singles Chart’. However, the song failed to chart in the United Kingdom until it went to Number 63 in a reissue there in 1993. ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ was certified Gold by the RIAA.
The song was composed in 1971 by the then-unknown composers Roger Nichols and Paul Williams. It was released as the first track on the album ‘Carpenters’, popularly known as ‘The Tan Album’, and the B-side on the single is ‘Saturday’, written and sung by Richard Carpenter.
I recall as a child that women of the household would allocate specific days and times in which they would dedicate the doing of certain household tasks. Other days of my mother’s week be allocated to other things to do, places to go, and people to see.
Being the oldest of seven children, there was always a mountain of washing to do, constant hanging out on the line and all the ironing in the evening between 7:00 pm and past midnight. Mum rarely rose and retired during the same weekday. During the late 40s and early 50s, there were no machines and labour-saving devices for a housewife and mother to use. Neither did one see two buses stopping on one’s road within the same hour of the day. When you wanted to go somewhere, you walked and what you had to do, chore wise, you did with your hands and the sweat of one's brow!
There were no washing machines then, and use of sinks, scrubbing boards, mangles and many kettles of boiled water were the only utensils to hand. After washing, the clothes would be hung out to dry in the garden; and where no yards or gardens were to be had, washing lines would be erected in a criss-cross fashion across the terraced streets that provided rows of identical houses for the working classes.
All washing would be done on a Monday in the area we lived but other areas would often have Tuesdays designated as their washing days. The Forde family were fortunate to live on a newly built council estate called Windybank Estate. All the houses were blessed by large gardens that provided sufficient space to hang out the family’s washing. They can say what they want about the efficiency of washing clothes today in modern machines and tumblers that rotate over 1000 revolutions a minute: they can use modern electric washing machines that have more programmes on their control knobs than my mother had socks and shirts on her washing line. But whatever they can say, they cannot say that their washed clothes are any whiter today than they were in 1940/50! Instead of being able to wash and dry clothes today indoors with the convenience of all the mod-cons available to one, try washing and drying them in the open streets where children played and kicked balls and dozen of nearby factories and foundries belched their black smoke from their bilious chimney stacks, suffocating the lungs of humans and blackening the stone of their houses.
Whether we use 'whiter than white' washing powder today, clothes never washed as clean and as white today as when they were soaked in hot water, rubbed in carbolic soap, scrubbed down on a washboard, rinsed thoroughly and wrung dry through the mangle before hanging out to dry in the natural atmosphere of God’s wind. Washed properly in the 1950s, even the pungent smell of the carbolic soap would evaporate in the fresh breeze before the garment dried on the line.
Before I was six years old, my mother had taught me always to peg shirts on the washing line at their tail ends, where peg marks mattered less if they didn’t iron out; and never by the sleeve cuffs. There is simply no way that any modern young person knows how to wash, peg out, or iron a shirt today.
The next important thing I learned about Monday washdays when I was a child, was how to double up with pegging the clothes, to save on the number of pegs used. Then, there was the order of where to hang this garment and that garment, and whether one garment should be hung alongside another garment or was better in the middle of the washing line or at its end. It was all to do with the order of folding and placing in the washing basket, determining which garment sat on the top or bottom of the wash basket. To draw public attention of prying neighbours away from the woman’s knickers and her husband’s underpants, it was never advised to hang such private garments alongside each other.
To the observer of 2019, a washing line is a washing line, is an old piece of rope; but it wasn’t regarded as such in the 1940s and 50s. During the days of my youth, a washing line, what was hung on it, and how such garments were arranged for drying was nothing short of a neighbourhood Morse code. A person’s washing line was the 1980’s equivalent barometer of ‘keeping up with the Jones’. One’s washing line; if not the mirror to one’s soul, was undoubtedly the indicator of one’s prosperity or poverty.
There was an unspoken accepted rule of what was proper to hang on washing lines and what clothing items weren’t. Just as England experiences the age of Aggression today, back in my day, England and all its citizens represented the age of Pride. It mattered not whether one’s purse bulged with coins or was empty, what lay inside the purse remained unknown to all except the purse’s owner.
People who lived during the 1950s, whatever their station in life, they were proud to the core. And while we are all concerned in some measure today, as to how others see us and what they think about us, we are most definitely less concerned today than in my day, and often couldn’t give a toss. The simple truth is that from Victorian times, right up to the late 1950s, it did matter more than it does today what our neighbours and wider community thought of us and how they regarded the ‘family name’.
These were the days when whatever the poorest of the poor had, they had nothing if they didn’t have their good name, and would do everything and anything to preserve their ‘good name’. The greatest shame of all then was to shame the family name and to lose respect in the eyes and opinion of others.
There were several ways whereby the family name could be shamed. Liars, thieves, workshy layabouts and anyone who broke the community code and neighbourhood custom by their behaviour would be ostracised and not brought back into ‘the respectable community’ until they had shown sincere signs of having changed their ways. The community code was that no child crossed an adult disrespectfully. No child fighting their mates ever kicked their opponent or failed to stop fighting when the beaten one ‘gave in’ by raising his arm in the air. Stealing apples from an orchard or a shop outside one’s own area was forgivable, but stealing from one’s family, friend, neighbour or within one’s own community wasn’t. The shaking of hands was all that was required to clinch a deal between two men, and once given, no man would break his word. The breaking of one’s word was considered so sacrosanct, that anyone breaching a promise of marriage would be heavily punished by the court of the land.
During these times where pride was a majoir concern, the majority of the population held the view, ‘Better to lose the belt of one’s trousers and have everyone see your bare arse than have you lose your self-respect! It would be better for you to break an arm or a leg in a street fight than to break your word! Far better to be put into prison than to be put to shame by your friends and neighbours and drag your family name down into the mire also! And such a rigid community set of values could be observed on one’s washing line!
With regard to washing and hanging one’s washing out, the loss of the good family name could happen when one did not know what not to hang on the line and which clothing items to hang most prominent to the public view of one’s neighbours. Rule one was never to hang clothes that were too worn, holed or torn. Examine the sock drawer of any young man today and you’ll see more holed socks than we’d see in my day. No sooner than we’d holed our socks, mum darned them. Holed socks never found their way to my mum’s washing line.
Our next-door neighbour, Mona Lord was a woman who always tried to live up to her aristocratic name, and she would use her washing line to impress the neighbours. She would often complain about a certain type of under-classed person who was now coming onto the estate to live and lower the standards. I never knew if her Christian name was ‘Mona’ or ‘Moaner’, but it didn’t matter as I always called her Mrs Lord.
Mrs Lord would always wash and hang out her clothes on a Monday like the rest of the estate, but she would hang out twice; once in the daylight hours and again at night-time when it had darkened. It was rumoured that she only hung out the Sunday best clothes of the family on the washing line during daytime hours. Her old rags would be hung on the line in the dark of night. If I rose before 7:00 am the next morning before Mrs Lord got up, I could see her old washing on the line awaiting taking back indoors before the residents on Eighth Avenue arose to start a new day.
Whether ones washing line hung in one’s back garden or across a row of terraced streets, no woman would hang out old knickers. It was permissible to hang out the coal-stained underpants of the miners but as far as the fairer sex went, baggy knickers that drew the neighbour’s immediate attention to the size of the female wearer or unfashionable, unbecoming and outdated undergarments were never hung outside.
One of my old textile mates I worked with at a Brighouse mill was called Albert. In his teenage years, the only time Albert went inside a church was to steal the poor box funds or rob the lead from the roof for its salvaged cost. Between the ages of 18-24, Albert played cricket for his county and lived a life of drunkenness, womanising and debauchery. All that ended, however, when Albert met his beautiful wife-to-be. While Albert was far too streetwise ever to fall for any scam, he would always fall away from reason whenever he came into collision with the stunning looks of a beautiful woman. After their marriage, she converted the Godless Albert to Methodism and reformed his character.
While Albert had since his marriage, managed to abstain from drinking, swearing and being Godless, he always retained his wickedness at heart. The only addiction Albert couldn’t give up was smoking, and while he wasn’t allowed to indulge in ‘this filthy habit’ at home, he would smoke his pipe non-stop and with relish when he came to work in the mill. He would frequently remind us that whenever his wife would say ‘this filthy habit’, he could see her disgust being spat from her mouth.
He would tell us tales during our morning and lunch breaks and while we always listened to his stories in delightful anticipation, to tell the truth it didn’t matter whether they were true or false, as they were always enlightening, entertaining and often educating.
One break time, Albert made us laugh all morning long with a story he told us. In fact, it was more of a throw-away comment he made instead of a one of his stories.
One of our workmates called, Terry had been having a fling/ affair with a married woman. Terry was of single status and didn’t consider his involvement to be too terrible, but when Albert found out, he began to tease him intensely. Since converting to Methodism after his marriage, Albert could sometimes come on too strong with his moralistic tone of the argument. We never knew when he was being serious or wickedly teasing in his expressed comments. On the day in question when Albert learned about Terry carrying on with a married woman, Albert started acting out the pretend role of the strict Methodist and began to reprimand Terry for his sexual exploits. Terry reminded Albert of the rogue Albert had frequently boasted of being in his younger years ‘before his wife had roped him in, branded him, reformed him and tamed him’. This retort by Terry obviously irked Albert, and he replied angrily.
Whenever Albert got annoyed or angry with one of his younger workmates, he’d call them ‘a young whippersnapper with the same amount of venom and tone of disgust that his Methodist wife would use whenever she rebuked Albert for indulging in ‘that dirty habit!’
Albert replied to Terry, “Nobody tamed me you, young whippersnapper, not even my lovely wife. Whatever control she ever had over me, I let it happen, but nobody can ever control your mind. The thoughts and memories you hold in your mind are yours alone.”
Then, in his own wicked put-down way to get the last word in, Albert said to Terry, “Do you know my secret pleasure, you, young whippersnapper? When I leave the mill on an evening after finishing work and I walk the half-mile home, I can guarantee that from all the washing lines I pass on my journey home they’ll be a good number of pairs of knickers that belong to a former girl I knew before I wed. I’ll always walk past those washing lines with fond memories of my wilder days and with a smile that reminds me, ‘I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt’. And when I get back home, my dear wife will have my tea ready to eat and she’ll be none the wiser the next time she hangs her knickers out to dry, that I’ll be thinking as she pegs them up on the line, ‘ And I’ve been inside those also!’”
These are the washing lines and washing day memories of my youth and later years.
I dedicate my song today to Ellen Barrett and her husband, Colin from Lourdes in France. Thank you for being my Facebook friend, Elland. Have a nice day x
Love and peace Bill xxx