A Bedtime Yawn


Is it not regrettable that we spend almost eight out of twenty-four hours, that is, a third of our lives sleeping? What a great loss. That means that I personally have spent almost seventeen years comatose, in a cot, a bunk, on floors, in various states, and in several family heirlooms passed down along with mouldy mattresses decanting the effluvia of dead generations. So intimate are we with those ghosts that we even dream their dreams.

Yes, our beds and good sleep are vital to our functioning.

It was said of Thatcher – probably by that liar Jeffrey Archer - that the superwoman only required three hours sleep a night. It’s nothing short of a miracle that with her conscience she got any. It was said of Churchill that he required six hours a night. But he made up for it by being semi-conscious most mornings on whisky.

At the opposite end of the scale was another stout Briton, that dead old dame, Barbara Cartland, who held the Guinness Book of World Records for being the top-selling author of over 700 romance novels. In her baroque mansion, reclining in bed, and flashing the world’s longest false black eyelashes at her Pekinese, she went through dozens of secretaries by dictating an average of one novel per month, which is why she hadn’t time to get out of bed and lived to the age of 98.

Bed is such a major part of our culture that it has ubiquitously entered our vocabulary in all sorts of ways of which we are not even conscious. When a chore of work is finished we talk of it “being put to bed”. When someone is grumpy and not functioning we talk of them “getting out of the wrong side of bed”. We lecture those who bring problems on them selves with, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” However, away from the metaphorical, men actually mean what they say when they ask complete female strangers in bars if they would like to “go to bed”.

And, of course, life can be “a bed of roses” or “a bed of nails”.

Those of us middle aged (infants when West Belfast was a ghetto of the Third World under Basil Brooke) were probably born in the bed that a great grandparent wore down and died in, before it was passed on. It’s got nothing to do with genes that families on the Road are all the same size and have the same shape and slump as their forbears.

Our broken backs, our sloops, were determined by mattresses with inferior bedsprings manufactured in - you’ve guessed it - England! That country deliberately flooded Ireland with lumpy beds and killed a fledgling domestic industry, which goes on to explain the disproportionately high rate of Disability Living Allowance claims in nationalist areas.

Children of my fine generation were born at home in bed often without the need of a vet or the knowledge of our Das , who never heard of contraception and were convinced until the mid-Sixties that babies were left under cabbages by storks. After giving birth Ma would go shopping, come home, do the ironing and then make dinner as usual. At six weeks we were out of nappies, walking at three months, and by the age of four we were ready to clean chimneys and bring in a wage.

Modern babies, however, are delivered between 9 to 5, Monday-to-Friday, in maternity hospitals, surrounded by two midwives, four nurses, six domestics, twenty porters and a newsagent.

Some are even born in Jacuzzis (water-births, I think they are called), to the fragrance of burning lavender candles and to Phil Coulter on piano.

Traumatised children, and, often, larger picnic parties, including aunts and uncles, are forced to look on as the courageous father-to-be videos the goblin’s head spinning around like a scene from ‘The Exorcist’. Meanwhile, mom is high on pethidine and is circling the ceiling with Curt Kobaine. It must cost the NHS a fortune.

And what do the parents do with home movies such as ‘Afterbirth of a Nation’? Invite the neighbours around on Saturday nights with a carryout and a Chinese take-away? To think that the same people protest about the screening of ‘Reservoir Dogs’ - which is actually less disturbing and less bloody.

Yes, the old values and the old days are gone. Gone are blankets and quilts that lasted a hundred years and in their place we have duvets filled with white goose down, weighed in something called togs - which used to be things we wore when we went swimming in the Cooler.

Which reminds me. Finally, I have to apologise to my fellow columnist Fra Coogan who holds the franchise on superior nostalgia and not this nonsense I have been talking about for weeks now. It has been a long summer and I can’t wait for it to be over, can’t wait for our political representatives to return from their holidays, so that once again I can write about what I know best - the never-ending crises in the peace process.

Ta bron orm.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison