We took a night off recently and went to a lovely hotel (market research, you understand). The bed was a huge super-kingsize - big enough for an entire family. The beds at Starnash Farmhouse are mere kingsize, but roomy enough, we think. What we have in common though is crisp, white Egyptian cotton bed linen.
When I was a girl, I used to go and stay with my grandmother in Yorkshire every school holiday. My grandparent's house was our second home and she was a stickler for doing things just so. The household chores were taken very seriously and my grandmother and all her friends would launder on a Monday, whatever the weather. Beds were stripped of their candlewick bedspreads and candy-striped sheets. Windows were thrown open, curtains billowed and doors slammed but nothing got in the way of my grandmother and her Hoover top-loaded twin tub. It was a beast which would shake violently throughout the washing process after which we would wrestle all the soaking wet sheets from the washing compartment to the spinning compartment and then I would hold the grey rubber outlet hose over the sink to prevent it from snaking out of control, gurgling and spluttering, as the water was spun out of the sheets. The washing machine didn't have a huge capacity so we would do load after load, taking a whole day to do all the laundry in the house including Grandad's shirts, seersucker tablecloths, linen napkins, embroidered handkerchiefs and - how my grandmother's brow would furrow - the antimacassar from the back of Grandad's chair to get the Brylcreem stains out. Once washed, we'd hang all the sheets on the washing line outside on a fine day or, if atmospheric pressure was low when Grandad tapped the barometer, there might be a chance of rain, so the kitchen fire would be lit and we'd drape it all on the laundry airer which hung above the fireplace. By the end of the day my grandmother would be all a-glow with the effort of it, but all was satisfyingly in order and crisp cotton sheets were ready to be stacked in the airing cupboard above the emersion heater to safeguard against mildew.
Then came Brentford Nylons selling quick-dry, non-iron, bri-nylon sheets and pillowcases in flamingo pink and powder blue. Getting into bed in the dark produced sparkling displays of static electricity. Everything was nylon, including nighties. Getting up in the morning entailed a prickle of electric shocks, a nylon nightie clinging to your thighs and hair so charged with static electricity that it stood on end until tamed with a wet hairbrush. But what was not to like about this to my grandmother's generation, if it meant no more labouring over cotton bed-linen?
The pendulum has swung back and in our opinion nothing beats slipping into bed between fresh cotton sheets dried in the open air. They just smell lovely. This can't happen all year round of course, but when we can we do, and following a fine tradition we launder on a Monday, drying all the freshly washed sheets on the sturdy washing line at Starnash. It's a two person job to peg out the washing on a breezy day. The wind whips across the fields and the sheets flap and crackle and dry almost iron-smooth in a just an hour or so. By harnessing the power of the sun and the wind to do most of the work we can have all our bedrooms clean-sheeted in a day, and there is something timelessly pleasing and meditative about the unhurried process of pegging out laundry to the sound of birdsong beneath a clear blue sky.