The laundry bay
by Inge Wilson
What’s your favourite spot in St Beuno’s? That’s the question three of us were asked on a St Beuno’s team day earlier this year. In response, I took the members of the team to one of the less glamorous corners of the building. It is the laundry bay where you leave your sheets and towels at the end of a retreat; where vases get filled and emptied; where buckets and brushes are kept and where there is a sink you can use if your footwear got particularly muddy on a walk. Just in case you think I am heavily into cleaning and doing laundry let me explain.
When I first came to St Beuno’s on a retreat I was invited to visit the cutting garden. As someone who has spent several decades in London, where you’d probably get fined if you picked flowers, it was a new experience to be encouraged to pick flowers (from the cutting garden only, mind!) and take them back to my room. I quickly found myself sitting for hours in the flower garden and noticing all its visitors; Beunos bees, birds, retreatants and of course Steve the gardener and his dogs. Dead heading became a daily meditative ritual.
Now, as a member of the St Beuno's team, arranging flowers is part of my job. This takes place in the laundry bay. In the summer I quickly discard the ‘3-flowers-and-2-sprigs-of-green-per-vase’ instruction issued by Sr Anne, as the abundance of flowers I’ve brought in from the garden is just too glorious (Sorry Anne if you’re reading this. I can’t resist!) Even in winter the different shades of green, the textures of sticks and cones make for joyful gathering and arranging. It’s easy to lose track of time and I find it irresistible creating vases of flowers that are just for ‘wherever someone might enjoy them’. For someone who had only ever put a bunch from Tesco in a vase this is a new experience for me.
Yet that’s not all I love about this spot in the house. It’s a wonderful place of connection. There are the lovely members of the housekeeping team who magic all the bedrooms into clean, inviting spaces. Their cupboard is just by the laundry bay and we have regular chats. Or sometimes I just listen as they count towels, share out tasks and collect cleaning materials. I’m always struck by how many kind, calm and pleasant words I hear, even when they are under pressure. One day I was taught how to fold a towel into a swan.
Recently scaffolders were passing through the laundry bay carrying long planks and I found myself wondering where the tree had grown that made the planks. I had a quick chat with the men as I dodged the plank and marvelled at the way they navigated tight corners, just missing things hanging on the walls.
And then there’s Tom, our maintenance man. He fixes everything in St Beuno's, from leaks to jammed doors and even solved my issue with a printer once. Yesterday he showed me a photo of his baby nephew and tells a joke. Next Peter, one of the team, pops by and shows me a hilarious YouTube video. Retreatants stop to ask a question, or simply say they like the flowers. It’s a corner of the house where inside and outside meet, where different people connect, where there is quiet and noise, clean and dirty. It’s tucked away yet often feels in the middle of things.
On a summer’s evening the door to the square garden (which is right there) is often open. Sr Anne, while she was still here, might pop by and we chat, fill the fountain, do some weeding. In winter the door is shut, the evenings are quiet and I am peacefully alone. I might pray for all who pass through this laundry bay and for all those who will have the flowers in their rooms. I thank God for flowers and enjoy the stillness. Over and over I find myself feeling very grateful.
That’s why I love the laundry bay! Next time you’re here at St Beuno’s, drop by sometime.