Once upon a time when Britain was an island next to Europe, and foreign holidays and habits were the province of the rich, nightly we shivered as a nation beneath sheets and blankets. Duvets, or as they were then called, "continental quilts" were alien bed inventions. But to us in Olde Englande, they were mystifying.
How can they sleep with just a single cover? Would they not be very cold? Ah you see, on the continent, it is always hot and smells of garlic, and they do not suffer our bitterly harsh island weather. But then, how on earth do they adjust the temperature of the bed downwards in the heat without a multitude of layers? Ah you see, they have a special bed-tool called a TOG. With their TOGs they can vary the temperature of the Duvet, so that in the 45 degree winter heat, they are able to remain relaxingly cool.
But, (and here was the big one) if they sleep beneath this big single floating cover, how do they tuck themselves in? How do they not wake up in the middle of the night bereft of covers and exposed to the night air and blood-sucking malarial mosquitos? How do they not fall off the bed in their sleep and break their necks only to wake up paralysed?
Eventually we had the decimalisation of currency, yoghurts in every corner shop, brie available all year round, and duvets on every bed. Before then, we had cotton sheets and itchy woollen blankets, tucked in hard under the mattress, and we slept comfortably swaddled and crushed, dreaming of nuclear war.
Growing up in the cold war, knowing the exact location of the 19 Soviet missiles permanently pointing at me, I had regular vivid dreams of the end of the world. They included sirens, the sky flashing and darkening, the descent into shelters, contaminated food and water, radiation sickness. I knew about radiation, I knew about fall out, and I knew what the lyrics to Hard Rain's Gonna Fall were all about, although I preferred Bryan Ferry's version, being more of the glam era than the hippy. When I was 11, I was still in the choir at church, though it was well past it's sell-by date for me. To take part properly and drink wine, you had to be confirmed. I wanted the wine, so I got confirmed. There was no pressure, this wasn't a Catholic church, I just wanted the wine. I was stealing it already anyway. Plus, you got to add a new name upon confirmation, if you wanted. My sister added my mother's name. Touching. I stuck it out long enough to hear the Bishop of Croydon publicly bless me "Radioactive" which he did without batting a diocesal eyelid. My parents, who were then giving me valium, assumed it was a fad, possibly designed to humiliate them. What they didn't know was, I was palming the valium, and starting to come out of the mental and emotional fog. It was an act of existential self-realisation. I added Radioactive by deed poll when I was 18.
Back to bed. I was 7 or 8. I would wake up in terror. The world had ended, civilisation was a thing of the past. I could feel the house listening. I knew there were unspeakable horrors nearby, malevolently mouthing my name, hungry for my soul. I didn't move a muscle in case they knew I was awake and decided to kill me there and then. It often took me 20 minutes to summon up the strength of will to get out of bed. It would either be a calculated leap and run, or else a stealthy silent-as-possible creep. There was only one destination - Mum's bed. However tired and troubled she was, she never excluded a scared child. My Dad patiently indulged her. Sometimes she would briefly wake to assess how we were, more often than not she would just let us in next to her. I don't know how often I arrived in the night, wide-eyed, heart beating fast, scared out of my wits, but I never remember being sent away.
In the big bed, I was safe, and slowly would calm down. Very often, I would fall asleep and wake up 30 minutes later incredibly hot. Then I would edge carefully away from Mum until I was lying off the bed, around the side of the mattress, where the sheets and blankets were tucked in like a sail. Here I would sleep until morning, free from fear, suspended a couple of feet above the bedroom floor, in my coccoon of English bedding.
This was my place of maximum safety.