When she sits up in bed in this bedroom, this now bedroom, this 2014 bedroom, sometimes, just sometimes it takes a moment for her to orientate herself, to actually see which bedroom, which year, hell, what decade.
There have been many bedrooms, some shared, some solitary, chaotic, tidy, large, small.
This bedroom, the 2014 model is probably both the neatest and the nicest. Furniture picked up on day trips to Brighton, a stuffed swan that moults the occasional Snow White feather onto the Arctic white duvet, heaped with grey white pillow slips. Sometimes she is amazed that there are so many shades of white, so many names and that she can name them, can move confidently around a Farrow and Ball paint chart, is quietly surprised that she cares enough to choose one shade of white over another.
In the past, that other country, all bedroom walls were painted white, just white, in large industrial sized tins, marked economy white paint and applied quickly often to cover up more serious horrors underneath.
And it’s that first white bedroom that she remembers now, 19 Argyle St, Norwich. Escaped from student halls, student houses into her own tiny house, part of a row of terraced homes, snaking around the new high-rise blocks. Built by the Mustard Kings to keep their workers warm, to keep them close, A few short steps between home and the factory, out before the hooter, home at lunch and thenlater a wave of workers heading home for tea.
The bedroom in this house has remained untouched,floor still covered with Lino patterned to resemble floorboards, which then she saw as simply tacky, but now she recognises the meta texturality and feels a concept coming on, the lino marred/improved with mysterious gouges where nobody would set furniture and the wallpaper, an eclectic mix of shepherdesses, roses and brown trellis.
From this bedroom,this now, 2014 bedroom, she sees this wallpaper with different eyes, kitsch, post modern, ironic. She might even seek it out for knowing feature wall decoration, but then, white paint was the only answer. Everything, walls, doors, dado rail, skirting boards covered with layers of cheap white paint, reducing the room to a dazzling cube, a box of nothing and in the centre,exact centre, dead centre, centre stage……
The bed, the bed that even now, her shoulders, hips and elbows remember, the ghost of an ache, the memory of a stiff neck, the feel of pillows burying her face, the warm weight of too heavy quilts, needing a superhuman effort on a crisp winter morning to kick out, unfurl body from foetal curl and …..leap, leaping, sometimes creeping into another day
This bed, that bed, the White room bed was about so many things,secrets and gossip and whispers and truths and lies .Slept in at a time when sleep came easy, not need to lure it in, chase it down like a frightened faun and then grabbing hold, trying to stop it leaving. A time when simply rolling over, a deep sigh was enough to push her into a dream time, a sleep time, emerging a glorious 8 or 9 or 10 hours later, binging, gorging on sleep, before she even knew that sleeplessness might be more than just a life style choice
That bed welcomed her when unthinking, dressed or not, day or night, she fell into it and into sleep, comfortable enough in her own skin that anyone could join her for cups of tea or cuddles or badly rolled spliffs or even sleep.
Of course, the room did not start with the bed, the bed came later, before that there was just a mattress on the floor, easy to reach out for ashtrays, books, half eaten slices of toast, everything she could ever need just a stretched hand away.
But she grew to see that she deserved better, needed more, some permanence, some hint of structure and so, the pallet bed was born, timber and space reclaimed, made hers, made by her.
She had no car, but in the ramshackle, do it yourself community in the terraced houses, she knew a man who owned a hearse, which turns out to be almost the perfect shape to transport pallets and so, for several weeks, he would kiss his lady, pat the dog and wave a slouched farewell to children, some his own, and friends and the mad boy who lived in the back bedroom who only ate brown rice and then only late at night and the two of them, man and a woman not his lady, would go a pallet hunting.
The pallets piled up and finally she knew she had enough to make a princess bed, so rounded up the men and formed them into a chain gang.pallets from garden to staircase to emptied bedroom, ready for transformation.
In her mind she could see her new nesting place, off the ground, big enough for impromptu tea parties, wide enough for a many lovers as could be tempted up the wooden staircase, past the chipped paint and into this room.
The bed,when she has finished, is vast, takes 2 mattresses, many pillows, a heap of nesty duvets.
She lashed the pallets together, using rough rope, a life raft, something to cling onto in a stormy sea of desire and doubt and deception.
The bed was perfect, she haunted jumble sales, found old lady bedding, hand embroidered pillow cases, a precious feather quilt, sheets in stripes and checks and dubious colour choices.
She found candles to balance in chipped willow pattern saucers, balanced on corners of the giant bed and then stuck frangipani and frankincense joss sticks , chosen more for their names than their actual smells, in the half melted wax dripping from candle to saucer to sheets. Generally, she avoided major fires and incendiary incidents, just the occasion singed pillow and a slight aroma of burning feathers.
And this is the bed she discovered how to love, how to love love itself, how to love those other sweat slicked bodies in that perfect moment when experience outweighs ignorance and before bodies themselves have begun to droop, to slide.
Yes, there was a lot of sex in this bed, the best sort of sex. Playful, self-congratulatory, caught in mirrors left artfully to lean against walls, catching a glimpse of twined, entwined, engulfed.
But it wasn’t just about sex, there was a lot of other love in this woman made bed, the obligatory gay best friend, pots of earl grey tea and smudges of nail polish left on the sheets, when they became too raucous painting each other’s toe nails.
And of course there were the friends, in a house with dubious heating, it made perfect sense to cuddle up under feathers, an intimacy of language, shared secrets, half shared desires.
And the good nights on her own, reclining on her royal barge bed, held tall by a tower of pillows, the book she should have been reading and the book she actually was, the crumpled packet of chocolate biscuits and cigarettes, always cigarettes and an ash encrusted saucer.
She would writhe against the sheets, feeling not solitude,but space, room to move, room to grow.
Sometimes, she would read all night for the pleasure of seeing the sky lighten, the street lights click off and then, satisfied by her lifestyle choices, would burrow under the duvets and sleep until lunchtime.
And then she remembers the other nights, lying alone, in the days when sometimes, just sometimes being alone felt like the worst thing possible. Her stomach a knot of misery,head thrust Under pillows, blocking out this nights pain, this nights recriminations.
A loop of loss and pain and loneliness.
When finally, the little mustard houses are, ironically, knocked down to provide low cost housing for ordinary workers, the bed is left behind, the only piece of furniture in an empty house. She rationalizes that it’s only student junk, that it’s too hard to get the pieces down the steep narrow stairs with the killer sharp bend 3 steps from the bottom, that it will not fit into the new flat.
But actually, she knows she cannot share this bed with anyone else, it is too heavy, but it’s not the wood that weighs it down.
Several Saturdays later, she makes the pilgrimage to IKEA, buy a collection of blond pine struts that will, after several attempts, become a bed, but never the bed and decides that from now on her bedding will always match and tone in with bedroom walls that will never be white again and that she is simply too old to light candles near a bed.
The irony of that last decision only becomes apparent 25 years later.