Bedded bliss

I dread the clocks going back in winter and depriving us of early evening light. Except in this sole aspect: for one night only we’re all awarded a bonus hour in bed. What would I give for that exquisite pleasure to be extended to me every night (quite possibly my savings and my soul). The stolen 60 minutes that you can parcel up and reallocate to a deliciously horizontal activity, whether that be sleep, lovemaking, reading or maybe just gazing out of your window at the stars and feeling glad you’re not marooned in the infinite, cold darkness of space. For there is nowhere in this great, grand universe I’d rather be than under the eiderdown. Ideally, with my best beloved but even when he’s absent I am the truest, happiest version of myself between the sheets.

My role model has long been Evelyn Waugh’s character Julia Stitch (of Scoop fame) who receives guests from her divan and conducts business and social planning from her bedchamber. I already do most of my journalism in bed and have given up any pretence of using my desk. Instead, it’s become my bedside table, covered in novels, magazines, mugs of half-drunk tea, a bottle of sherry and bags of Montezuma’s 74 % cocoa chocolate buttons. In fact, I’m pretty much set to hibernate ‘til April. Key to this is the fact I invested in a deluxe electric blanket with dual controls for maximum partner satisfaction. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s revolutionised my life with its highly-economical toastiness – essential for anyone who daren’t turn on the central heating for fear of bankruptcy.

We agreed that boarding school and Scouts had a LOT to answer for

Despite the fact beds are the engines of domesticity – where relationships are forged and small humans made – we don’t invest in them as we should. Many hang on to badly sprung bedsteads, while splashing out a fortune on fitted kitchens. But does anyone spend a third of their life slumbering on a granite-topped kitchen island? And let me tell you from cold-bottomed experience, sex pushed up against a sink or fridge is overrated. The wisest two hours of my life were the ones I spent bedhopping in John Lewis, while I worked out which mattress was right for me. Due to the advice of a JL matriarch, I went for the “soft” option (organic, with a layer of sheep’s wool) because she told me that “although people – mostly men – insist they like hard beds, that’s not what they say after sleeping on something with a bit of give.” We agreed that boarding school and Scouts had a LOT to answer for, including indoctrinating blokes into thinking they liked discomfort.

But now the Joy of Sleep has met its ultimate challenge. I am talking about the worst French invasion of our isles since the Normans: la punaise de lit, or bed bug. Social media is awash with photos of people sporting angry red bug bites and the varmints have even been spotted on the tube. Some of us have faced the foe before. In my thirties, I regularly spent a couple of nights a week in some of London’s cheaper tourist hotels, so I didn’t have to bolt for the last train. This worked out well until one sleepover was followed by the appearance of huge red weals all over my body and face. It transpired I’m very reactive to bedbug bites and the hotel duly refunded me. A month or so later I woke up at home with a couple of large, angry lumps on my leg. It was clear that a bug or two had hitchhiked on my bags (they do this) and bred in my cosy bed.

I phoned the hotel and politely explained that their little problem – which I’d been very quiet about (no angry rants on tripadvisor) had become my problem. The lovely manager, who’d become quite a pal, was mortified and instantly offered to send their own pest control experts to my Cambridge home. Two days later, a discreet white van arrived outside my home and a man with a spaniel disembarked. That’s how I discovered that the tiny vampires are best detected with a dog’s keen nose for the metallic scent of blood. If the spaniel started barking crazily it indicated bugs had taken over a room. Luckily, the only affected space was my attic bedroom, which was duly sealed off and fumigated. But those were the happy days when poison worked. The new variety of bug is, we’re told, super-resistant and very persistent.

It is, perhaps, a timely reminder that a comfortable night’s sleep (and a cosy arena for making love) is a recent luxury in terms of global history. Our ancestors, on straw and untreated wool pallets, would have expected their night’s slumbers to be ruined by biting insects, Viking marauders, or family members kicking them, because shared beds were normal practice for warmth or lack of space. Just as most would have risen at cockcrow to get on with the chores before darkness fell. We often reflect that it’s a blessing to be born in the age of modern dentistry. But, my god, we’re lucky to be born in the golden age of the bed.

Rowan Pelling is co-editor at Perspective and former editor of The Erotic Review

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Columns, November 2023, Serendipity

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