Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Ceiling Space

Rereading ‘Master and Commander’, I came across the following phrase:

“Hanging tables appeared, dropping instantly from the beams …”

What a brilliant idea, I thought.  Although my dining room is certainly bigger than some, much of the floor is taken up with a large table which is used, usually, for no more than two hours per day.  If the table were suspended from the ceiling, the floor space could be put to all sorts of other purposes, such as, I don’t know – a dance floor?

It’s not a new idea of course.  Patrick O’Brian has rarely been faulted on historical accuracy through the twenty Aubrey-Maturin novels, so I’m certain this practice was commonplace in the eighteenth century Royal Navy, especially in a cramped misshapen little brig like the ‘Sophie’.  I first read this book in about 2004; but I realised today that the idea was by no means new to me even then.

In the kitchen of the house, 37 Watcombe Road, where I spent the first eleven years of my life, there was a thing called the clothes rail.  It consisted of, I think, five long wooden slats, held together by two cast iron davits, lowered and hoisted via a system of pulleys and ropes which were secured to a cleat on the wall.  The rail would be lowered, loaded with damp washing, and hauled back up to ceiling level for it to dry.  (If the clothes ended up smelling a bit of fried fish or boiled cabbage, that didn’t matter much in the 1940s.)

The kitchen of my present house must have had one of these devices too at some time, because its cleat is still there, just by the hall door.  I hang spare keys on it nowadays.


  1. Strangely, two instances of similar devices have very recently impacted upon my life. Shall I explain? OK, you've persuaded me:
    Our two kayaks needed a new home in the garage (hedgehogs & UV degradation potentially threatening their longevity on the grass). I devised a means of hoisting them into the roof area with pullies & rope. The construction process is as yet incomplete but once achieved, they will be out of harm's way, though potentially a head-bonking risk.
    During our investigations of possible motorhomes we have stumbled across a wonderful idea for keeping the vehicle reasonably short & getting the sleeping accommodation out of the way - a drop down bed. Electrically operated of course. It seems it is becoming a popular solution. One hopes the button for retraction is adequately far from the bed to avoid unintentional squashing during dream-induced outflung arm moments.
    I well recall the clothes airer at no. 37 (though, of course, left at the tender age of 6). But did it have a remote control?

  2. Yes, the remote control was stored on a large hook on the wall but did need two hands to operate it when the rack was full of clothes!
    Tim, I don't believe the clothes ever smelled of tripe and onions because the 'scullery' where the cooking took place was a different room, off which was the larder. I don't know how our mother coped with that scullery, so small with one tiny window .... no wonder she always disliked cooking.

  3. Richard - hedgehogs eat kayaks? Who knew?
    And, you'll have them strung up just in time to get them out again and whitewater down the Bovey river?

    Sue, I'm sure I remember being made to haul it up, loaded. Our mother wasn't a sadist, though, so I'm also sure she never fed us tripe. And she hated onions.
    I don't remember that scullery - I do remember a grey cooking range - can you let me have a floor plan of 37 please?

    1. Tim, she used to like tripe & onions and tried to persuade us to try it with no success. I can still recall the smell! I can't remember a cooking range but there was a boiler in the breakfast room so maybe that's your memory. I'll try and remember the floor plan but I no longer dream about that house so might get it wrong ....

    2. Maybe the onions thing came in later life and it was more a case of onions not liking her. Correct me if I'm wrong .....

  4. We've got of of those - but we keep it upstairs to avoid getting curry flavoured clothes.
    Pulleys are wonderful things.

  5. Tim, sorry, a classic case of the supreme importance of the comma: it should have read "(hedgehogs, & UV degradation potentially threatening their longevity on the grass)", though didn't I read somewhere that one should not place a comma before an and? The hedgehogs don't, so far as I am aware after exhaustive research, eat kayaks. But my concern was for the poor wee beasties, that they may nestle into the kayak, then awake to find themselves white watering down one of our fine waterways, worse still approaching the paddler from the stern of the vessel to secrete themselves under the seat, which has one or two drainage holes. Can you imagine it?!