Line out

11May09

This morning’s sudden catastrophic collapse of the primary washing line could not have been foreseen.

One moment the towels were flapping merrily in the strong north-easterly breeze. The next moment they were lying in an untidy zigzag across the lawn.

Mrs R. was on the phone at the time and I thought I had a sporting chance of getting out there and fixing it before she noticed. But when I got to the scene of the disaster I knew that a quick fix was impossible.

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that the cause of the failure was not my extraordinarily well-engineered reinforced bolt fixing in the crumbly brick. Which is so robust that Brunel himself would have raised his impressively tall hat in respect. Nor had the crumbly brick finally reverted to dust like a long buried corpse in the South Australian desert during a 50 year drought.

No. This failure could not be attributed to my handiwork.

The combination of several kilos of wet towels and a vicious gust had revealed a weakness in the very core of the fine steel cable of the line itself. In technical terms: over exposure to ultra-violet light (from the sun I hazard) had caused the protective plastic outer sheath to become brittle allowing cracks to form leading to ingress of water to the steel core which in the presence of oxygen (from the atmosphere I presume) underwent corrosive oxidation of the cable strands severely weakening the tensile strength of the structure. Under unusually strong load the cable strands suffered sudden complete failure.

In layman’s terms: the metal in the line got rusty and it snapped.

Some critics might suggest that my maintenance procedures should have included regular inspection of the stress points in the line to detect rust pockets. I have to admit that my audit and servicing regime has focused heavily on the bolt-in-the-wall assembly. But only a very gifted engineer would have anticipated the combination of sunlight, rain, high winds and excessive line tension that gave rise to today’s event.

Mrs R. was surprisingly relaxed about it. Possibly because, as she observed, it was my towel which got dirty. Remarkably she also revealed that she had a brand new, red, replacement line already purchased and waiting in the cupboard.

“Well I knew it wasn’t going to last much longer, not with all those rusty patches,” she told me.

She is an engineering and logistical genius.



11 Responses to “Line out”

  1. 1 Camilla

    If you contact a yacht rigging company they can arrange to X-ray your washing line at regular intervals to ensure it is sound within. I recommend Rig Magic who, rather stonishingly, do cover architectural rigging as well as shrouds – http://www.rigmagic.co.uk/default.aspx?nid=49 . However, the best policy is regular replacement.

    Of course, if you were really an engineer, you would design the structure to withstand 150mph winds and loads of several hundred tonnes. I’m sure that’s what they do with bridges….

  2. 2 Michael Dagless

    Yes, I think I’m guilty of looking at my handywork, picking the best bit and admiring it over and over again, completely ignoring the inadequate.
    While Mrs R might be a logistical and engineering genius, she may need to be reminded of the sheer weight of the water (contained within the wet washing). And that hanging out already dried clothes would prolong the life of all the stress bearing fixtures and in particular, the line itself. Genius indeed!

  3. 3 Fiona

    I am surprised that the washing line has figured so early in the season. I am hoping that the addition of a new component (red washing line) will not cause too much of an issue with the existing functionality (reinforced bolt and crumbly brick) leading to catastrophic failure in the near future.

  4. 4 Mrs R

    Yes, good idea Mr D. Perhaps you could explain in detail to Alex your ingenious idea of installing a wind turbine to power a tumble drier. Do you think it would be easier to set up than a washing line that can hold one load of towels (wet) in a 15mph wind?

  5. 5 alexoutside

    Camilla – good idea about the x-ray. Perhaps I’ll just take the line down to A&E once a year for a quick check. As for 150 mph winds and several tonnes – that is well within my design tolerance (it does get windy in this neck of the woods and with two student offspring periodically appearing the washing tonnage is prone to spike).

    Fiona – now I’m worried. Thanks 🙂 I think that the brickwork is written in COBOL so it should be there for years and years to come.

    Michael – genius! Have you thought about writing a blog?

    Mrs R – that was never a 15mph wind. It was at least 150mph. The seagulls were flying backwards. (Beaufort scale: force 3 – tree branches sway, force 12 – seagulls fly backwards, tall buildings fall over and washing lines fray).

  6. 6 jaytay

    But how will the new line be affixed to the wall? Inquiring minds must know.

  7. 7 Dr R

    Stress induced failure in steel core linear washing lines is also common in the windswept parts of Yorkshire. A full line of wet washing exposed to gale force winds from any direction with no tall plants or structures to inhibit them is subject to forces at the extreme tolerances of these products.

    Having recently returned from Asia I am full of admiration for those washing lines constructed of nothing more than the fibres of coconut shells, teased out and wound together (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/sr1/3494759182/).

    Even more impressive was the manner in which the wet garments were twisted in between the fibres thus negating the requirement for separate pegs, clips or other devices to secure them to the line. Removing these additional points of failure will obviously lessen the chance of sheets ending up in the vegetable garden (or towels on the floor).

  8. 8 Dr R

    hmm – “linear washing lines” my proof reader was taking a shower.

  9. 9 Amanda

    Mrs D thinks that Mr D could well have tested some of his engineering theorem sometime in the past decade or so by constructing some doors for the beautifully designed wardrobe. Now that would be a feat of magical proportions. Perhaps Mr D just got stuck in the admiring over and over phase.

  10. 10 Mrs R

    That may be true Mrs D, but at least the wardrobe is still standing.

  11. 11 alexoutside

    Dr R – welcome. Although coconut shells are difficult to get hold of, I will try to throw my balls accurately enough to win some at the next fairground I visit. Then I will peel off the fibres and twist them together. In a matter of decades I will have a new multi-purpose line and we will save perhaps pounds in not purchasing clothes pegs. Thank you.

    Hello Jaytay – at one end the line is attached to a stout tree. At the other end it is attached to the previously well-engineered and still-working-well bolt in the crumbling brick. I am as confident in the durability of this solution as I am in the integrity of our elected representatives and the longevity of our government.

    Hi Amanda – if there was a wardrobe door construction game on facebook I am sure that Mr D would have built the best doors on the planet by now. I will start writing such a game as soon as I am released from domestic chores for a few minutes.


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