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Sunday, 7 April 2013

A Good Night's Sleep


Sleeping consumes a third of our life, and as I insist on living my life to the full, I also recognise and want to sleep my sleep to the full. I decided to write this blog post as part of the Silentnight Spring Bedroom Makeover Challenge’, as they promise up to £2k for a bedroom makeover – and much as though I love my bedroom, I do realise it is beginning to look a little bit worn. So, the prospect of some redecoration money has inspired me to write about what it is like to really know what a good night’s sleep is and how to have one.

Born in 1955, I was the runt of the litter. My body had arrived in a rather deformed state. I was a victim of Rickets, a rather common disease before the 1960s particularly when rationing had led to nutritional shortages for many mothers, who had fed their children rather than themselves. My rickets was not from malnutrition though, either of my mother or myself, but rather because my body simply did not absorb Vitamin D. My bones were soft and misshapen from the moment I appeared. A doctor’s report from the time said “your child is like a wrinkled old man” and gave me less than 6 weeks of life. Clearly I paid no attention, as I am now approaching my 60s and becoming that wrinkled old man in reality.

The consequence of having rickets was that the first four years of my life were spent mostly in hospital. I remember very little of that experience; the pink of the hospital walls, the coarseness of a hospital cotton blanket, the sweaty feel of a plastic mattress. However, not all memories of this time are bad. I remember suddenly seeing the words and what they meant in the Ladybird book ‘Down on the farm’ – much to the surprise of everyone as apparently I was not even three. I also remember large spoons full of Cod liver oil, and the red glow from a revolving UV light, like that in a lighthouse, at the centre of a large room in which myself and lots of other toddlers sat in a circle. We wore just our pants and thick red goggles on our eyes, as the forerunner of what was to become a sunbed forced our metabolisms into recognising Vitamin D.

Eventually I was to return home, and I moved into the bottom bunk of the cramped council house bedroom in which the five children slept. I started school, and did well despite my peculiar speech – lack of being spoken to whilst in hospital meant I did not know that consonants existed,  which along  with my bowed legs and humped back were to clearly label me as different. The bullies did their best to make my life a misery, but I barely noticed them, certainly not in comparison to the two things that really bugged me.

The first involved having to get to school before everyone else so as to do endless repetitive and painful exercises in the gym before classes started. They were to continue until I was sixteen. The second was my bed. My two sisters and two brothers each had a mattress and two pillows on their beds, whereas I just had a thin piece of foam on a board.

I hated that board. I hated it because I knew that every night I would wake up from the pains it imbued in my hips, ribs, knees, elbows, and even my ears. Everyone else would be fast asleep, but when I woke in the dark my mind would go into overtime. On still nights, I would hear the sound of the trains, as if they were ghost trains going along invisible tracks down the centre of the street. I would look out of the corner of the curtains, terrified at what I might see, but they were never actually there. On other nights, the screeches from the owls would become the dreadful howling of horrifying ghouls, which I expected to appear before me at any moment.

The final straw came one wet Sunday afternoon when we watched the 1948 film, ‘Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein’. 

That was it.  Every night I would wake in pain, and also in petrified terror. I would make plans of how I would hide under the beds so that the monster could not see me. Sometimes I would manage to break out of the paralysing dread and sneak into the bed of one of my brothers or sisters. Of course they would wake up, furious with me for daring to disturb them, and the next morning I would get a good whipping from dad with the plastic badminton bat which he used to thrash us.

These night terrors went for years. Then, on my fourteenth birthday, I was blindfolded and taken upstairs to see my ‘big’ present. I was to open my eyes, and there on my bed was a mattress and a pillow. I never used the pillow. In fact, I wasn’t to use a pillow until 30 years later, when after major surgery I was required to sit up in bed to sleep. Post-surgery, I spent the first few nights very painfully pulling at and throwing the pillows onto the floor. The night sister would then arrive to give me my injections, and immediately she would lift me up and put the pillows behind my back once more. Eventually I gave up and learnt to love a decent pillow or two.

The mattress though, was wonderful, I could not have had a better birthday present. It was cloth covered foam, only four inches deep but it was like going to heaven. I could sleep all night, and the ghouls and ghosts gradually left me, and my nights of sleep became truly treasured. Even now, though, when working away and in a hotel, or when my wife is away, I still sleep with a light on, but I do at least sleep.

My wife, Sarah, refers to me as the 'Prince(ss) and the pea'. I was always fussy about our bed, but now she believes I have gone truly too far. Ironically, the Vitamin D shortage I suffered as a baby has contributed to the poor health and multiple sclerosis. Once more I suffer from bad pains in my body, and so my determination to have a good night’s sleep is one of the key aims of my waking life. It also means I am incredibly fussy about the quality of sleep our children get. People have often taken the time to tell us how wonderful and nice our kids are. I respond, and truly believe, that much of their confidence, their kindness and tolerance of others, is down to the fact that unlike most children they do not spend their days permanently tired. We taught them to sleep well as soon as they were six months old, and I have tracked down good beds and bedding for each of them from the day of their birth.

We now have a bedroom designed (by me) to make sleep an absolute certainty. Key ingredients include it being small, so it has to be kept neat and tidy. It is also kept cool, so there is every reason for cuddling under the duvet. The wallpaper is black. Our decorator could hardly believe his eyes when he saw it, and he made it quite clear that he thought I was mad. That was until he had decorated half the room, and then announced that it was so good, he was going to recommend it to other customers. There are blackout curtains, and dark Blackwood wardrobes. After looking through hundreds of colour cards of white paint, the ceiling is the brightest white paint we could get. It reflects the daylight and sun which settles into the room in the early afternoon. It also perfectly reflects the time from our projection clock, meaning we don’t have to move to see the time if we wake up. When night comes, it is like a cosy cave, safe and certainly away from monsters.
 The Bedroom 

Following a hard day's work there is nothing to equal the sinking of one’s body into the perfection that comes with the soft cloud of support created by a four inch down topper upon a best quality 1000 pocket sprung medium firm mattress. Accompanied by two Siberian goose down pillows, a pure down quilt, and 400 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton bedding, it is a haven of sleep akin to a heaven.

I do now have good nights, thankfully without the terrors from my childhood and without much of the pain that otherwise my rotten body suffers in the daytime hours. However, I suspect it is probably only those who have not been able to sleep who can really appreciate what it means to have a good night.

‘This blog post is part of the Silentnight Spring Bedroom Makeover Challenge

Silentnight Spring Bedroom Makeover Challenge