My Dad's family moved to Australia from England in 1959. One day my sibings and I were trying to work out what might have prompted such a move, so we asked our Grandad for the back-story. With a glint in his eye and a smile on his lips, he said he would tell us why he chose Australia over anywhere else in the world.
When the kids were young and they lived in Liverpool, he said, he and Nana used to have to hang the washing up in the kitchen. It was hung up high, and when he got up in the mornings to make some Ribena for the little ones, water drops from the washing would fall down the back of his neck. He hated that sensation, and dreaded it, but there wasn't anywhere else the washing could go, so he just had to put up with it. One day he was complaining about the water drops falling down the back of his neck to a friend, and his friend said, 'You know, in Australia, you can hang your washing up outside, and it's so hot that by the time you hang up the last thing, the first thing you put up is already dry!' Grandad jumped up and exlaimed, 'That's the place for me!'
Now, my Grandad had a tendency to tell a funny story over sad facts, so needless to say there were other reasons for the move, but I still like the idea that water droplets from washing could provoke someone to move their whole family to the other side of the world.
Water drops do suggest slightly larger miseries, of course. England's weather is one of the reasons why so many of my Australian friends and family looked at me with complete and honest incredulity when I told them I was moving to London. Why would you leave the luxury of being able to hang up your bed-sheets on the arms of a glorious Hills Hoist in your own back yard, watching contentedly as they ripple and billow in the warm breeze, absorbing the light of the sun? Why would you exchange that for a mouldy little line off of a city balcony, a rickety drying rack clogging up a living room, or a dingy Laundromat where your sheets flail around in a horrible black space, injected with artificial air and deprived of every sheet's dream: sweet sunshine?
I explained to the incredulous that I wasn't moving to London for the weather. (To be on the safe side, I also clarified that feeling pre-emptively sorry for my potential future bed-sheets would not stop me from moving there, as I assumed most British sheets are born knowing that they will not be able to aspire to a life in the sun. Instead they must limit themselves to a more modest hope: perhaps a lucky day when they might stretch out within a massive tumble-drier all alone, not having socks or underwear bashing them in the face and guts.)
No, I moved to London for other reasons. But now that I have lived here for nearly two years I will admit that the clothes-drying solutions I have had to come up with have taken some getting used to. I can see why Grandad must have reached the end of his rope. In my Whitechapel flat I started drying my towels in an inexplicably hot storage closet. I could only wash one towel in any load, and then I'd hang it over the clothes-rail inside the roasting cupboard, returning to rescue it from an advanced stage of rigor mortis the next day. It seemed... unnatural.
After all sorts of imaginative responses to 'The English Laundry Predicament', I returned to Australia for a visit last month, stepping out of Sydney airport into one of those impossibly heavy 43-degree days. I had a thick black coat with me, and my suitcase was packed with clothes that had been dried in a Putney Laundromat. When we finally pulled up to the house, the first thing I saw was a fitting surprise organised by my Dad. There, strung up on our giant Hills Hoist, bearing the spray-painted inscription 'Welcome Home Sarah!', was a white bed-sheet waving and fluttering in the sunshine.
A sight like that must have been Grandad's dream.
NB: I guess I should point out that it is quite possible to hang things up outside in the UK Summer. Provided that you own an 'outside' to hang things up in, that is. I've come to the conclusion that British bed-sheet oppression has as much to do with living conditions as the vagaries of the weather. Of course that's not doing much to 'sell' London to my Australian nay-sayers. I've just pointed out that not only is the weather bad over here, a lot of people don't even have their own outside area from which to scowl at it.