Goldenbridge: It all comes out in the wash

There is such an ongoing high gust of wind outside. It prompted me to wash my Egyptian sheets, duvet cover and pillow-slips. So, I did something that has always been part of my nature. I steeped them for a while in cold sudsy water then hand-washed them in very cold water. There is a washing machine available, but still and all, I’ve gone out of my way to do them in this particular fashion. Old habits die hard.
I know that I took the opportunity of washing them on a day that good Roman Catholics in general would not wash clothes. The Lord’s Day! A Day of Rest! A day of Sabbeth that would be displeasing to the Lord – who is cognisant of every move we make.
In the interim whilst the bed-linen is dancing in the Donnybrook breeze I was transported back to Goldenbridge… from whence the root of the old habit first gave birth.
I was on the lower rung of the Goldenbridge ladder and that meant I was always chosen specifically by Ms. MD to do the lowliest of tasks at the institution. One of these tasks entailed gathering up the destroyed (full of excrement) sheets (as they were commonly called) every morning from St. Joseph’s babies dormitory and the wet-the-bed Sacred Heart dormitory. Another child of approximately 11 years old and myself would separate the wet urine sheets from the destroyed sheets and then open some of the driest of the wet-stained sheets and place the destroyed ones in them. We then knotted the sheets at the four corners to keep them intact and firm for gripping as we dragged them down the flight of stairs. We had to do this denigrating task with one hand held firmly to our noses, as invariably the stench was nauseating. Luckily – this job was all done in the early hours of the morning before breakfast, otherwise we would have puked something terrible.
We then had to heave the soiled sheets by their knotted ends down the brown linoleum back-stairs that were close to the babies dormitory. We were not allowed to go down the front stairs near the Sacred Heart. Those particular stairs led directly to the front-hall porch. It would have been deemed totally out of order to be seen by nuns and others alike in charge trampling down a good front flight of stairs, leaving a grotesque whiff behind us. It would automatically render a punishment. We could have accidentally bumped into the priest at that hour of the morning. Who knows. Those stairs would have been used only by children who had to wait in the dark cold cloister until the priest had arrived at the convent  chapel to say mass just before 7.am.
When the smelly sheets finally arrived at the end of the stairs – after great difficulty trundling them – there was a large door that led us into the prison yard. There was an arm off it that was known to us as the end of the yard. To the right at the end of the yard there was a Victorian laundry-room nestled underneath a silvery-blue corrugated verandah that brought one right to the top of building. I never once went up that verandah in all my 12 years in Goldenbridge. It was in the antiquated old laundry that we plonked our dirty wares. We then repeated the same task till all the dirty sheets were gathered on the stone floor. By this time, mass could have been over and we would then go to the dining-hall to have breakfast. We faithfully arrived back in the laundry-room and started washing the excrement off the sheets with cold water.
There was always an older girl there doing cleaner type of laundry-work with the help of a washing machine with an attached mangle. She washed jumpers and socks and clothes of that ilk. We helped separate the laundry for her and stretch the cardigans and put them into the massive industrial tumbler. The vent outside was used by us to dry our wet clothes and keep ourselves warm. It always came in handy as well for children such as Bernadette Fahy who used it to dry her hair in preparation for outside school. Children also secretly used it to dry their underwear having first washed same down dormitory toilet the night before. You see, children had to show their underwear to the religious and were severely humiliated and beaten if they were found to be soiled. In fact they were hung up on a pole for all to see in the work-room.
When the sheets were bereft of the excrement, they were put into the washing machine and then the tumbler, as it was called and were folded by us. It was then time for so-called *school*. I always remember a huge white ash-stick that was hidden behind the tumbler. Some girls were sent to this laundry-room to be beaten in secret. It was the one of the two most scariest of places where children went to be slaughtered by the nuns. We stank to high heaven by the time we arrived at so-called *school*. Sr. F. would turn her nose up at us if she encountered us on the corridor. She would call us dirty things.
When I lived in a hostel for Irish girls at Medway St. London in the late seventies. I had the insatiable need to steep my sheets in cold water in the bathroom that was luckily situated nearby my cubicle. Sr. Raphael, who resided in the cubicle along-side bathroom was always asking residents ‘who left sheets steeping in the bath’. I never owned up. It had to have been a throwback kind of behavior pattern from my Goldenbridge incarceration days.
I’ve been to many homes of survivors of Goldenbridge. I was amazed at the meticulousness of them indeed. When I commented on that fact to one or two of them, they pointed out that it was because of all the cleaning, scrubbing and general dogs-body work that they were forced to do as children that caused them to be overly house-proud. As one of them aptly put it, “cleanliness was always the next best thing to Godliness in Goldenbridge. It was basically inherently inbuilt into us to be spotlessly clean”.
So betwixt the hosing of excremental sheets in cold water in Goldenbridge in the past and the Egyptian sheets currently blowing in the Donnybrook wind, ‘It all comes out in the wash’!
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