Just outside many houses and apartment blocks throughout Estonia you might see triangular metal frames, fixed to the ground next to the trash bins or under a tree. Rusty but sturdy, they resemble children’s swings but without the seat, and seem to be a bit of throwback to an earlier time when people had perhaps more time for diligent household chores – they are in fact frames for hanging rugs and carpets on, to facilitate cleaning them by a good old strenuous beating!
The first time I did this was not without a degree of nervousness. Carpet beating is a noisy activity and I was suddenly conscious of my tentative strokes thudding loudly across the yard and echoing stridently from the other apartment blocks. This was Estonia after all, whose inhabitants value their peace and silence – and here was this Englishman, thrashing inexpertly at a very heavy and ornate rug, suddenly feeling extremely self-conscious at making such a din! It is no accident that Estonians sometimes refer to modern dance and techno as “carpet beating music”, and not in a positive light I suspect.
I stopped for a rest – this is surprisingly hard work! – and while speculating that the vacuum cleaner could do this job just as well and a lot more easily, realised several things. Firstly, nobody was complaining. Someone must have done this stuff before; I was certainly not the first and the old frame was here for just such a reason, situated rather pleasantly under a beautiful birch tree that was just beginning to turn gold as autumn approached. There were no angry looks, or even any curious ones.
Secondly, it really was a lovely morning and the sun was warm and golden on my arms and face. I could see the clouds of dust billowing copiously from the suspended carpet, dancing in the sunlight, seemingly never-ending no matter how many times I beat the thing. If it had been cloudy weather, I might never have seen any dust and finished the job a lot sooner but not so effectively. I started to doubt whether the vacuum cleaner would even be as effective as I was…. our machine was not the best and in fact really sucked. In any event I was now enjoying the exercise and the feeling of movement, moving to a new area only when the sunlight no longer revealed anymore dancing dust.
Thirdly – thump thump thump…… I was thinking about techno rhythms being described as “carpet beating” when I noticed that the closer to the rail I hit the carpet, the higher in pitch the resulting impact… it was much deeper when I struck lower down.
High up I had a “Pa Pa Pa” sound. Further down there was a deeper “Poom Poom”, and on the very edge I played a deep wobbly “POOM!” In effect I had a carpet drum, a sort of dull gong made of cloth and fibre. Maybe it would be a good idea to reward any listeners and watchers – although my fears had been groundless and the neighbours had not appeared to listen, appraise or grumble – with some more than usually melodic and rhythmic approaches to outdoor dust removal. Once a drummer, maybe always!
Top to bottom: “Pa pa pa poom Boom BOOM!” “Pa pa pa poom poom BOOM BOOM POOM!”
“Pa pa pa pa boom boom bediddly POOM PASH!” – although you need two hands for this one. The answering echo is very rewarding however, almost achieving a kind of Steve Reich-like phase shift.
It is sadly too wet for carpet beating now that autumn is fully here, although the heating has gently started up at last, almost imperceptibly shifting the indoor air to a no-longer-cold state. Maybe I will have to buy a small drum instead.