Last weekend we had nine people – all family members, from three generations – sleeping at our place, so I spent a lot of time making up beds. I wonder how many beds I’ve made in a lifetime of nursing and motherhood.
Of course, to many people, this is one completely unnecessary chore, in fact sometimes I think the world is divided into those who cannot leave the house without making their bed first, and those who never do. You’re just going to mess it up again that same night – what on earth is the point? they say; my argument is that if you take that to its logical conclusion, you’d never clean the toilet either.
Getting into a made bed is one of life’s most sensuous experiences. It gives a sense of instant calm. And a made bed, especially with a nice bedspread smoothed over the top, magically transforms a room from squalid into charming.
Even among those of us who make our beds religiously (many of whom went to boarding school as young children), things have changed in the bedding department over the years. By and large, blankets have given way to doonas, or duvets as they call them on the other side of the world; I use a combination of both, depending on the weather.
I don’t know when fitted bottom sheets became commonplace. When I was a kid, all sheets were flat, and there was a strict routine in place for changing them. Every Saturday, the bottom sheet came off and went to the wash. The top sheet was demoted to the bottom, and a clean one went on top. You can’t do that anymore (nor, just incidentally, can fitted sheets ever be folded to my satisfaction).
There were ways of making sheets last, too, in a world where money was scarce and everything was repaired until it disintegrated. Mum ‘turned’ old sheets that were worn through in the middle by slicing them cleanly up the centre and sewing the unworn edges back together in the middle – good as new.
As student nurses we created perfect hospital corners with military precision, the openings of pillow cases all had to face away from the ward door, and the bedspreads had to be taut enough that you could bounce a coin on them before the patient got in.
I’ve never wavered from my preference for pale, plain colour sheets, but for a while there – was it in the seventies, the eighties? – most people had bed linen covered in vivid florals or swirls.
In India, ‘bed sheets’ are sold and used for all sorts of things – to sleep on, as tablecloths, to wrap around you on an overnight train trip, to create a patch of shade in the brutal midday heat, to dangle a baby in an instant hammock underneath your cart. They are bright and beautiful and I have used them over the years to cover ugly couches and bare walls or to hang in place of curtains. It’s hard to resist buying fabric that is so colourful, so cheap, and is usually sold with the line, ‘Madam, madam, you want to buy bed shit?’
The term ‘bed sheet’ also covers the most divine mirror-work wall hangings of which I have several at my place, bought over the years by my parents and then by me. My older daughter took a photo of me in a stall at an Indian desert town called Jaisalmer, grinning as I stood next to one of these gorgeous hangings, which had a large label on it in capital letters:
NO NEED FOR
To me there’s a bit of magic in all bed sheets. Cool in summer, cosy in the winter months, slipping between sheets makes me feel like a kid again, protected and safe, with the worries of the day banished and hours of rest ahead. As I go from room to room making up beds for my family, I wish healing sleep on each person who rests in them.