High Performance

“Clean lines, elegant fixtures, strong enough for an entire load, and best of all, it folds like a dove closing its wings.”

There was an elegant model gracing the images on the telly, dressed in white with a perfect tan, standing on her back porch with a basket of white laundry.

What?

I sat there staring with my mouth open. It was an ad for an outdoor clothes drying rack, the kind my mother used to have in the back yard at home. It was the same design, the same folding mechanism, only this one was better with plastic coated wire strings instead of the old nylon ones.

This was a high performance drying rack.

You would never, ever see an ad like this in the States. No one hangs laundry, anywhere in the US; at least not since the proliferation of the tumble dryer. Even in the Texas summer, where a load of laundry would dry out before you finished hanging it, no one uses a drying rack.

But, here in Britain it is common practice. Everyone hangs their laundry. The ad looked like it was filmed in Spain or Greece with blinding white sunshine. But, here in Scotland people gamble, hanging their laundry even on cool, cloudy days, ready at a moment’s notice to dash for it when the rain starts falling. I’ve become a gambler too and watch the rain closely; sometimes it only sprinkles a bit, not enough to wet the load.

Brits have drying racks in the house, too. We picked up an old fashioned one designed for the high ceilings of the old houses. It hangs from the ceiling on pulleys, raised and lowered with a rope tied to the wall. The ceilings are high enough that one can go one working beneath the wet laundry without having to stoop.

For those in the newer homes with lower, more energy efficient ceilings, there are drying racks that stand on the floor with fold out with wings on either end and, with careful planning and balancing can hold a full load. I’d never seen one before coming to Scotland.

I’m not really sure why the Brits are so serious about air drying their laundry. Maybe it’s for ecological reasons? Maybe it’s because the condensing dryers on the market take ages and ages to dry a load (well over an hour to dry one load). Maybe there’s just not enough room in the smaller British homes to hold both a washer and dryer? Maybe it’s purely an economic thing? In the post war years, when tumble dryers became popular in the US, things were a bit spartan over here. When America was tasting its first real prosperity in the early 50’s, Britain was still rebuilding, literally and figuratively from the devastating effects of the War.

Whatever the case, even when a household contains both appliances, people still hang their laundry on racks, indoors during the winter and outdoors in the spring and summer. Americans would stare at a TV ad for a drying rack the same way an Eskimo would stare at an ad for a refrigerator.

Just one of many small, but culturally significant differences between these two cousins.

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