Line of least resistance


It was a blustery Sunday lunchtime. We sat at the table. Outside the clouds scudded by, the washing flapped and seagulls wheeled above the field. Teenage son raised his fork to his lips and said, “Oh, the washing line just fell down.”

You might be surprised at the number of separate components required to secure a sturdy steel-cored plastic-covered line between a large lime tree and garage wall. You might be more surprised to learn that not all of these components have been replaced at least once in the last two years.

First there is the garage wall, pockmarked with cavities in the crumbling red brick where previous lines have been attached. Then there is a plastic expansion plug rammed into the brick and expanded to grip tightly by component number three, a large screw-in bolt with a ring head. The bolt carries a small steel shackle with a screw gate which secures the end of a twenty-five metre plastic coated line. At the other end of the line there is a fine figure of eight knot which creates a loop, through which a thirty-year-old alloy carabiner is clipped. The carabiner, a simple one with snap gate, not the more secure screw gate type, is also clipped to a one metre long sling of 7mm nylon climbing rope, once used on a number of classic rock climbs in the English Lake District. The nylon rope sling is doubled and threaded through another loop in the end of a short length of blue polypropelene rope, also 7mm in diameter, which has seen good service on a car roofrack on several occasions. The blue rope is tied firmly around the trunk of a 100-year-old lime tree, about two and a half metres above the ground.

It is a complex piece of engineering. I could tell from the expression on Mrs R’s face that she was not ready for me to explain that the mean-time-before-failure of the various components was dependent upon a large number of factors and it was not easy to predict the exact timing of catastrophic breakdown.

In fact I have growing evidence that the actual moment of washing line failure is directly linked to the importance of the laundry on the line and the muddiness of the ground beneath. So it was worth remarking that just one hour earlier I had dug the vegetable patch on the leeward side of the line and that the line was laden with white school shirts needed the very next morning. But at that particular instant it was clear that Mrs R would not be interested in phenomenological analysis.

Instead I pulled on my wellies and helped gather up the soiled clothes. It was the blue polypropelene rope which had snapped. That has never happened before.

10 Responses to “Line of least resistance”

  1. 1 Camilla

    Undoubtedly UV degradation, which is the main issue for polypropylene. Blame it not on the 50mph winds on Sunday but on the extensive sunshine this summer (if indeed you had any).

    • Hmm. This raises doubts about choice of polypropylene as a component for equipment that is generally only useful on dry sunny days…

  2. 3 Fiona

    I am assuming that all components get an annual check for safety (similar to the bridge that collapsed in Cumbria).
    That being the case I think you can use the excuse of unexpected weather being the cause.
    Is teenage son not of an age where he can take over the maintenance of this item of kit – thereby removing you from the firing line should it fail again?

    • Fiona – I’m sure the teenage son would be happy to take over maintenance as soon as I can find I way to allow it to be done online via a games controller.

      Something like “Line of Duty 4”.

  3. 5 Phil

    It’s that time of the year when a good stockingfiller book is often required. Could I suggest a compilation of posts (along with selected photographs?) of ‘Tales of the Washing Line’? Surely it would be a must-read for all sorts of professions: structural engineers, climbers, laundrettes, weather forecasters, tree surgeons ……

  4. 6 Mike S

    Could you not use the age-old excuse at times of service failure?

    i.e. “Sleeves on the line”?

  5. 7 Andy F

    There comes a time in the life of all products where the cost of servicing and maintenance exceeds the cost and value of the original product and then its time for a full replacement rather than partial upgrade. I would suggest that time has come and you need to ditch the washing line and all its components and buy a new set. Alternatively go for a diffent set up entirely such as a rotary washing line.

  6. 8 Becky Stafford

    Rotary washing lines are the work of the devil! I’ve settled into my new home and I put my foot down there. No rotary for me!! so the man of the house (my significant other!) had to go utside and construct a proper washing line. I wasn’t too popular I can tell ya….

  7. Phil – that’s a good idea. I could also do a compilation of washing line related songs played on the tenor sax: “We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried line”, “Wichita Linesman”, “White Lines”, er…

    Mike S. – ‘sleeves on the line’. Made me snort.

    Andy F. – I think we are still far from the day when replacement is better than repair. There is a recession on. Make do and mend is the national motto. I am being patriotic.

    Becky – Hooray for you. I will be very happy to provide washing line consultancy at my usual rates. Make sure he rigs it so high that only he can reach it and then you will never need to do the pegging out.

  8. 10 Becky Stafford

    Thank you for the offer on consultancy Alex, should it snap or fall down can I get you to come and do repair work? I trust of course you will charge more for repairs than your consultancy fee?
    I’m pretty sure he has rigged it only so high that he can reach it, I’m just not sure he has realised that yet! 😉

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