Linen cupboards have exercised my mind lately. It started when my friend, writer Louise Allan, re-posted a Facebook memory about sheets she had folded meticulously. She said, I think with tongue in cheek,
The epitome of housewifeliness — folding the sheets so you can’t tell the difference between the fitted and flat ones.
Hands up those who have tried to fold flat and fitted sheets together and make them neat? And, importantly, who besides me failed dismally? I imagine it’s the sort of activity most of us try once. And then abandon.
Perfectly folded sheets in perfectly tidy linen cupboards played a part in my life as a young nurse. In the olden days, circa 1955, nurses in training were apprentices. No one actually said that word. But we were used (and often abused) in all sorts of ways that no self-respecting nurse would tolerate now.
Nursing was considered women’s work. Women’s work involved cleaning, tidying, sorting. Good nurses were also expected to be good women. The rare male nurse was the object of speculation. Why would any man want to nurse?
Back to the linen cupboards of my youth. Each Sunday afternoon, during one of the twice-weekly visiting periods at Royal Perth Hospital, nurses cleaned. It was assumed that no nursing procedure could take place while visitors were around. And those young nurses had to be gainfully occupied.
The more junior one was, the more menial the task. A couple of steps up from cleaning the pan-room came the linen cupboard. Or linen room, as it may well have been.The step up was a graduation, of sorts. At least there was less contamination in the linen room. And the sheets and towels and pillow slips had a distinctive, almost pleasant odour, fresh from the laundry.
A nurse with one or two stripes on her sleeve, to distinguish her from those junior or senior, entered the linen room. She removed every single item, placed it on a trolley, dusted the shelves and replaced every item. In perfect, perfect order. Folds were placed meticulously, one on top of the one below.
The blankets were grey, heavy. I don’t remember that they were cleaned between patients. They did not smell good, and were often folded haphazardly. We were expected to unfold, shake and refold them. Sometimes on a bad day a young woman did not follow the procedure. But most of us spent our lives in fear of the wrath of the ward sister. Conformity could have been our middle names.
There was a rumour, more than an urban myth, that some ward sisters sprinkled sand between the folds of the blankets. They took pleasure, so the story goes, in discrediting the poor youngster who had skimped the job.
Perhaps my love of neat piles of linen in a tidy linen cupboard stems from those good old-fashioned nursing days.
The house John and I bought to live in four years after we married was something of a compromise, as marital purchases often are. But it had some endearing, even quirky, features. I fell in love with the lovely sunny study. The tiny Harry Potter room under the stairs took my fancy. But when I saw the linen room, I knew I could live in this house.
I still can’t fold flat and fitted sheets the way they do in the Youtube clips, or the way other people have tried to show me. I’ve found a really good compromise. I half fold, half bundle the fitted sheets, and wrap them in the flat sheets. The resulting bundle looks OK, although nowhere as neat as it could be. The defiant junior nurse who lives inside my head wants to shout, I DON’T CARE.
These days, like my friend Louise, I have much better things to do with my life than obsess about tidy linen cupboards.
I’d love to read your comments