Monday, October 24, 2011

Decades of Difference: In your bedroom

In your bedroom
The First Decade
In your first decade you probably sleep in a greater variety of beds than at any other time in your life. In the next two decades, including a possibly promiscuous twenties, you may sleep in a great number of beds but they probably will not vary as much as the list in your first few years, which could include: cot, Moses basket, carry cot, floor, car seat (in recline position), pram, pushchair, parental bed, toddler bed, sofa, travel cot, sofa and ‘proper bed’.
As a baby, you probably don’t have your own bedroom at all, sharing a room instead with your parents and invading their privacy with plaintive cries of ‘feed me’, ‘wind me’, ’keep me company’, ‘I’m wet’, ‘entertain me’, ‘why have you put me in this little bed when yours is much bigger and you are in it and you’re warm and the food is there?’.
Your parents must be relieved to finally have some privacy when you move out of your Moses basket or cot or their bed into your own room.
Your own room has been made from new for you, with your baby bed, cot or Moses basket. A changing table, blackout blinds – essential for any parent wanting to sleep beyond the 5 am dawn chorus of a sunny summer’s day, the soft toys, your books with bold shapes to stimulate the brain, your mobile, the baby listening device. Even though you’re tiny, it’s a wonder you fit in the room at all.
Even when the baby paraphernalia is eventually removed, you still share your room with toys and books and eventually perhaps, horror of horrors, with a small sibling.
The Second Decade.
In this decade, the luckiest children have the most fun with a bunk bed. A bunk bed can become a cave with hidden treasure...or a dragon, a pirate ship, a hospital, a submarine, a bus, a school, an underwater labyrinth, a jungle, a rocket, a bunker, the moon, a tardis, a tank, a laboratory for cloning. With the helpful addition of some blankets, extra cushions and soft toys, the bunk bed can become anything and anywhere you want it to be. You’re probably old enough for sleepovers now, so your bedroom may become the sweaty haven of flushed excitement after too many electronic games, too much sugar, lots of tickling laughter and ghost stories.
In the latter part of this decade your bedroom becomes your solitary teenage haven. A place with, perhaps, your own t.v. and i pod dock. Maybe a computer and some games. It’s a place to try on different clothes because you just need to be wearing the right thing on a Saturday night. It’s a place to store your make up, your illicit drugs and cigarettes and booze – although your parents will almost certainly know about those things and perhaps steal them from you every now and again. Your bedroom is for sullen phone calls, reading books and sexual exploration. You still have sleepovers but now they’re more often drunken and occasionally philosophical and you only sometimes tell the scariest ghost stories and call them urban myths.
You can explore yourself and your friendships and your body and your sexual preferences in your own room and, if you’re lucky, you don’t have to share your sacred space with anyone else as you hibernate your way through those hormone years.
The Third Decade
How much time do you spend in your own bedroom in this decade?
You will almost certainly, by now, have your own bedroom, probably away from home, maybe in your own house. You will either have bought or borrowed or been given the decor, the bed and the pictures on the walls. You may have moved from posters and postcards to framed pictures and maybe some original artwork. You may have a bedroom that reflects your status as a singleton, a bachelor, a playboy, a married couple or parents.
You probably already have habits that need to be accommodated, ear plugs, eye covers, blackout blinds, a bedside light for reading and a pile of books beside the bed.
You may have sex toys in your bedside cabinet or gathering fluff unhygienically under the bed. You may have a t.v. in there, some music, an alarm clock. If you are a child of the 60s or 70s, you may remember this time as the move away from the heavy weight of childhood blankets to the liberty of the magical duvet.
The Fourth Decade
Perhaps your bedroom is all about decor now, your bed may have become more complex, with throws and scatter cushions and valance sheets. Are you married, divorced, single, re-married, parents? By now your bedroom habits will be firmly established and you may find it difficult to accommodate a new partner or child into your sleeping routine. You may have to tolerate sharing your own bed with a snorer, an insomniac, a sleepwalker, a baby, a crying baby, a sleeping baby a daily sloth and night gymnast.
You may delight in the pleasures that sharing a bed brings you. So much so that you tolerate or enjoy the foibles of your bed sharer.
Or you may loathe and despise the night time complications that you have to perpetually negotiate and so you:
·         If wealthy, have separate bedrooms
·         Fall asleep on the sofa in front of the tv
·         Divorce
·         Always sleep alone
If you have children, your bedroom is probably a place for trampolining toddlers threatening broken limbs with every bounce. Or tickling babies and squashing children. Your rest will be constantly interrupted, when you’re reading your book before bed or having sex or enjoying the warm solitude of bed or in your REM stage of sleep, by children who are hungry or thirsty, have chicken pox, or have wet the bed, have had a nightmare, lost the favourite teddy, would like a book read and are just plain AWAKE at 5.30 on a Sunday morning.
The Fifth Decade
If you have kids, they may be older now and if you’re lucky, allowing you some sleep. Your bedroom may be your sanctuary again, although your bedside cabinet may be a haven for HRT and Viagra.
You may also find that your older kids still call at bizarre hours to say hello, they love you, maybe after a drunken night out, or when they’ve broken up with the latest fling. Sometimes you wake up in the early hours; positive that you have heard little pattering feet and then realise they long ago left find that you are waking earlier, unable to get back to sleep. The books on your book shelf are hardbacks, or maybe electronic books whose font you can adjust. You may have bought a telescope to look at the stars, or maybe your tiny teeny computer comes to your bedroom now, for some illicit work or reading or porn.
The Sixth or Seventh Decade and Later
You will almost certainly have purchased a new bed sometime in the last twenty years, to stop your back aches. You may get a new bed, in this decade, with an electronic motor that propels you up and out in the morning, an L shaped modern aid to the shaky muscles of old age.
Your double may shrink into a single bed. It is a reality that death creeps in and you may now, once again, sleep alone. You no longer need a double desert of space and a single, smaller bed is easier to keep warm.
If you’re lucky, you will die in your bed, peacefully, in your sleep. You will leave the paraphernalia of your bedroom and your life for your spouse or children to sift through tearfully.
Perhaps everything shrinks as you move your whole life out of a house and into a room in a nursing home and your bedroom becomes your life as you wait for your death.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Bench

The Bench

When I picked my daughter up from school that day, she ran around excitedly, always armed with at least thirty seven new pieces of information to share with me. She was looking a bit strange but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was odd because she didn’t stand still for a moment. She carried on moving and talking, never seeming to run out of her ceaseless energy. She circled the room again and shouted to me from the opposite end of the room.
‘Mummy, mummy the bench has disappeared’
Sure enough the old style long wooden school bench had been moved out of the room. It had probably been commandeered for an assembly by one of the primary staff. Nonetheless, my daughter’s face was begging for a response, her body stilled momentarily as she waited for my conclusions on the mystery of the missing bench that held such fascination for her five year old self, so I played along.
‘Oh no, where has it gone?
‘I’ve eaten it’ she replied with a delighted laugh.
It was then, in a quickly disappearing moment of stillness before recommencing her flight around the room, that I noticed the rather large rectangular shape emerging beyond the sweater shape around her midriff.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Club

The first rule of book club is...’Don’t talk about book club’. I know, it’s stoles from the film ‘Fight Club’, but it was a rule comically invented for us bibliophiles who love reading so much that we can’t curb our enthusiasm until the book club night. We just want to chat about the book with our book club colleagues when we see them at work, at the supermarket. The danger is that talking about the book outside of the confines of ‘book club’ will take away the pleasure of the evening itself. So the first rule of book club is...’Don’t talk about book club’.
I love book club and sadly, I am not currently a member of one, although am in the early stages of trying to set one up.
The first book club I belonged to was in Doha. For many years it was super book club, with literate, well read people gathering together to eat and chat and choose books. I was teaching English at a British school and was invited to attend book club with Teresa, the school librarian. We didn’t really like the first book club we went to. Some of the people were a bit overbearing and although the discussion was interesting, some of the book choices were a bit odd.
Teresa was a vibrant and energetic woman. She introduced me to the joys of reading teenage literature LONG LONG before the advent of Harry Potter. She was also always up to date with modern trends and when I asked her if she had the latest new thing, she’d often just ordered it for the library. Living in Doha in the late nineties, this was a real feat for her, to be on the forefront of modern literature.
So, not resting on her laurels, Teresa decided to branch out and she set up her own book club, with an advert in school and word of mouth, we soon established a great group of women (men were welcome but only occasionally  seemed to make it). We were all ex pats living in Doha but with varied roots: British, Bangladeshi, Canadian, American. We had a range of jobs: teacher, librarian, telecoms, engineer, and our shared passion was reading.
We met at each other’s homes, cooked, ate, chatted about the books and had some fantastic evenings discussing, amongst other things, politics, religion, magic and women! The American in the group did get teased quite a lot when we read anything about the environment or war; she was teased for all of Bush’s sins. One of the most memorable evenings for me was when we’d all read a giant of a book called ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’, a great magical realism adventure. When we started discussing the magic in the book and suddenly the stories started coming out about myths and cultural legends in Bangladesh, about an encounter with a shaman in China. What a great night.
There weren’t any rules at book club; we just tried to make sure everyone contributed. Teresa had some terrific idiosyncrasies. At the beginning of book club, we’d all have to look at the front covers and as we had often bought our books in different countries, or had older or newer versions, the differences were often fascinating. Teresa loved to look at the visual aspects of the cover. Surprisingly with a Margaret Drabble book one year, we discovered that the American version had a completely different chapter added to the end of the book. We couldn’t quite believe that American publishing houses had been that patronising to their readers as to add another chapter to explain the story.
Teresa’s other funny quirk, often at the end of book club, was to ask whether we thought the book would make a good film. This often prompted us all into a whole different outlook on the book.  For some reason, the chemistry between the group members was great. Supportive, funny, thought provoking. We had some good, good years. Members changed, people came and left but somehow, we had a solid core of people and we loved to read and loved to talk about reading
Sadly, Teresa left Doha, I had two babies, people were leaving Doha and then book club dwindled away. I joined another book club when I arrived in the UK but felt frustrated when much of the discussion turned to village gossip.
I was excited when I found Teresa on Facebook last year and we shared a few messages about new books we’d read, The Hunger Games being one we’d both loved.
Sadly, last week, I found out that Teresa died unexpectedly. She is a great loss. Her vibrancy and absolute love of literature will be a lasting legacy. I hope to, one day, be a member of another lively, long term, entertaining and erudite book club but I have a feeling than any future book club will be measured against my memory of Teresa’s and found wanting.