I am not a natural ironer. Nor am I any caper of domestic goddess. But I love beyond measure smooth icy cotton sheets.
And the mystery of how clean sheets are always icy has always intrigued me.
I have bored two men in forty-seven years with my astonishment, though both have patronised my enthusiasm. Nevertheless.
That measure of steam and heated bedroom always results in the same polished slide into ice.
And let nobody kid you that that’s achieved without force. And hard labour. Regardless of where you are.
Let’s imagine you’re in a posh hotel, laid back in the Egyptian linens, 800 weave at least, whatever that means, a few feather pillows piled, telly tuned to CNN and a fag on. Because, of course, who’d be in a posh hotel and taking instructions off counter staff about their personal health.
And aren’t you even now treasuring that twenty seconds of sliding down, chilled to the bone. Before the slow warming up.
And room service at your elbow. A double Jamesons, thank you.
Is it bed bugs or what, that warmth you get out of unwashed sheets. The creeping bacteria in the mattress, perhaps.
You’d not really want that in a public bed, regardless of how exhausted you were. It wouldn’t be a pleasure to you. And pleasure is what clean sheets are about.
It’s the chill of the clean, even if it’s spread over your own unpleasant mattress. Even over your best duck down.
The best sheet I ever encountered was one I dragged up out of a 50p barrel on Huddersfield market.
For my trousseau as it turned out. Not that I had the proper meaning of trousseau in mind that afternoon.
I was in the middle of a nasty fight about name changing, and the more pissed off we got, the more strenuous our hauling up of what appeared to be the longest sheet in the world. She was of the opinion that I should keep my name because I’d had it for twenty-odd years and she wasn’t inclined to change what she called me. Which wasn’t remotely like the name we were arguing over. Dance, she said. Have sense. You’ll always be Dance, regardless.
She hauled an armful of sheet, slung it over her shoulder like a toga and stood back.
Delving head down in the barrel, my view was that I was about to marry a different man next week, the former husband was kicking off about my keeping the shared name, and I frankly didn’t give a flying. Just look at this. Belfast linen. And some woman’s hemmed it.
I can’t believe you’d just give in, she said. I’m fed up with fighting, I said.
And we went down for another armful.
But the sheet kept coming. You’re right. Belfast linen, she said. Putting it to her mouth.
And so did I.
By the feel of it, it was. True Belfast. Cool as ice and twice as dead. Silk fine, and bigger than any bed I’d ever seen. By the time the hem turned up we were laughing, astonished, friends again. And there, as our reward, to amaze us both, white on white. two embroidered initials. VI.
Can you believe, some woman in the last century had slogged over the sodding embroidery of our argument, the whys and wherefores of names and husbands.
But she whoever she was has set about hemming quality material before she took up the invisible. Wise woman.
Which settled the whole thing. VI in slick white happy cotton.
Time for a drink, girl. We set about winding in the bundled miles of sheet. Who’d ever believe that. We went to the Albert to celebrate that sheet. VI in neat white embroidery.
I have it ironed, draped down to the floor on both sides for special occasions. Not often.
I’m a big believer in sheets. Not superstitious. But inclined to sidle into that heavy linen, knowing I might sometimes be surprised, might sometimes bother with the domestic. The initials were a gift, a pair of careful lies, in my case. Not hers, I hope. That good embroiderer.
I still appreciate that chill, that giving in. I hope she was a laughing sort of woman.
Nevertheless, I sleep well on the celebration nights. Her initials are what I fought against, she hoped for. Trousseau.
Trust me. This is not a metaphor. Sometimes you wrestle sheets out of barrels. And you have a friend as baffled and as furious on the other side. And in the end you lay them on the bed.
And the best bit is what you love, that astonishment. That story about when you were furious and cold. And then slept and slept easy. In the arms of a friend who’ll fight you and laugh with you and never ever call you anything, in the early hours, but Dance.