Lez Miserable: "Bed is the one place where shame wields no influence whatsoever"

Musing on the concept of Bedfulness, Eleanor Margolis finds her self questioning her own unhealthy relationship with her Ikea Malm.

Some mornings I have to roll out of bed. Literally. Sometimes hitting the floor is the only way of divorcing my torpid, jellified self from its pillowy joy nest. If I were less considerate of those who live with and near me, I’d probably spend most mornings screaming, “WHY?” repeatedly. I’m sure Freud would’ve had a lot to say about this daily re-birthing routine, complete with (albeit internal) primal scream. But he’s dead and thought that women are sad because their vaginas are excessively un-cock-like, so whatever.

An article last week about the Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori – young people who confine themselves to their bedrooms for months or even years at a time – left me questioning my own unhealthy relationship with my bedroom. More specifically; my bed. Even more specifically; the concept of Bed. Bedfulness, if you like. So, what does Bed mean to me? I was born in a bed, I lost my virginity in a bed and maybe I’ll be lucky enough to die in a bed as opposed to, I don’t know, being mauled by a school of disgruntled tuna. What’s more, whenever I can, I work from bed. I’m typing these words direct from my Ikea Malm. Proust famously worked from bed. I like to think this makes us kindred spirits, when in fact it probably makes me the kind of oversized infant who should don an animal onesie and give up on life.

Bed is the most private place in the world. It’s that anarchic realm where you can watch weird porn while devouring an entire birthday cake with your bare hands. It’s where you fart freely, cry over YouTube clips of cartoons from your childhood and get creative with masturbation techniques. In fact, Bed is the birthplace of the “crank” (a cry and a wank). What happens in Bed stays in Bed; it’s the one place where shame wields no influence whatsoever. But only when you’re alone. Introduce a second body to Bed and suddenly there are rules. If the second body belongs to someone you don’t know very well, for example, things can get very tentative.

For anyone with an elevated sense of bedfulness, one-night stands can be surreal. Almost dauntingly so. Not necessarily because you’re getting into another person’s bed, but because you’re getting into Bed with them. Bed is where they’ve spooned partners, where they’ve had their filthiest thoughts and where they’ve cried off broken hearts. It’s hard to get into someone’s bed without at least dipping into their emotional sphere. When this someone is a stranger you drunkenly got off with, it’s all the more bizarre. I once went home with a girl who turned out to be a hardcore sleep talker. I decided not to tell her that she’d woken me up at 5am with a dramatic monologue about Fearne Cotton stealing her pizza. Getting into a discussion about that night’s Bed experience with someone I barely knew seemed like it would overstep a serious boundary.

From Manet’s “Olympia”, to John and Yoko’s Bed-Ins, to those nauseating Dreams Bed Sale adverts where tall, athletic, Scandinavian-looking couples have euphoric pillow fights; Bed is an emotionally convoluted, addictive hub of sex and death. When a psychiatrist once suggested that I wake myself up by getting out of bed early every morning and going for a run, I practically laughed in his face. Let’s be realistic – why would I opt for a Spartan exercise regime over being extremely comfortable? It felt a bit like telling a heroin addict to try nibbling on a carrot every time he’s about to shoot up. I think that getting out of bed will always be terrifyingly birth-like for me.

Now read Nicky Woolf on why, despite it being awful, he can't imagine life without insomnia.


A woman lying on a bed, circa 1956. Photograph: Jacobsen /Three Lions/Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Labour must reclaim English patriotism if we are to beat Ukip and the Tories

We can't talk about the future of our country unless we can discuss the past. 

I was a parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, but the place which I currently call home is Hackney, London. This distinction is worth explaining. The questions of Labour and Englishness – what exactly is the English problem that we’re trying to solve, why do we need a progressive patriotism, does it already exist, if not why not and if we had one what would it look like? – are, above all, questions of identity and place. We need to build a patriotism that includes and resonates with residents of both Hackney and Thurrock. Currently they are very far apart. 

I’m the little girl who sat on her dad’s shoulders to wave a flag at Princess Anne’s first wedding. And I was also, like Sadiq Khan, waving a flag at the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I’m an ex-Catholic, I’m a Londoner, I’m English and I’m a woman, and all of those identities are important although not necessarily equally so and not necessarily all of the time.

But I’m also a member of the Labour party, not only as a candidate, but now as an activist in Hackney. And that is where I see the difference very strongly between Hackney and what I experienced in Thurrock. 

Thurrock was Ukip ground zero last year - 12,000 people voted for Ukip in a general election for the first time, on top of the 3,500 that had voted for them before in 2010. Most of those 12,000 people had either not voted before, or had voted Labour. 

This isn’t just about being in two different places. Sometimes it feels like more than being in two different countries, or even like being on two different planets. The reality is that large swathes of Labour’s members and supporters don’t identify as patriotic, fundamentally because patriotism has been seized and colonised by the right. We need to understand that, by allowing them to seize it, we are losing an opportunity to be able to reclaim our past. 

We do not have any legitimacy to talk about the future of our country unless we can talk about our past in a better way. We have tried but our efforts have been half-hearted. Take Ed Miliband's call for One Nation Labour, which ended up amounting to a washed-out Union Jack as a visual for our brand. It could have been so much better – an opportunity for an intellectual rebranding and a seizure of Conservative territory for our own ends. Ultimately One Nation Labour was a slogan and not a project. 

There is a section of the left which has a distinct discomfort with the idea of pride in country. It has swallowed the right-wing myth that England’s successes have all been Conservative ones. This is a lie, but one that has spread very effectively. The left’s willingness to swallow it means that we are still living in a Thatcherite paradigm. It is no wonder progressives revolt at the idea of patriotism, when the right’s ideas of duty and authority quash our ideas of ambitions for equality, opportunity for all and challenging injustice. But we risk denying our successes by allowing the right to define Englishness. It’s England that helped establish the principle of the right to vote, the rule of law, equal suffrage, and the fight against racism. 

If Englishness is going to mean anything in modern England, it needs to be as important for those who feel that perhaps they aren’t English as it is for those who feel that they definitely are. And a place must be reserved for those who, though technically English, don’t see their own story within the Conservative myth of Englishness. 

Although this reclaiming is electorally essential, it is not an electoral gimmick. It is fundamental to who we are. Even if we didn’t need it to win, I would be arguing for it.

We need to make sure that progressive patriotism reclaims the visual language that the Conservatives use to dress up their regressive patriotism. Women need to be as much in the pantheon of the radicals as part of the visual identity of Englishness. Women tend to either be there by birth or by marriage, or we are abstract manifestations of ideals like "justice" or "truth" – as seen on city halls and civic buildings across the country. But English women need to be real, rather than just ideal. Englishness does need to be focused on place and connection, and it should include Mary Wollstonecraft and Sylvia Pankhurst as well as Wat Tyler and Thomas Paine. 

We can’t pretend that we’re always right. The most patriotic thing you can do is to admit sometimes that you’re wrong, so that your country can be better. I love my country, for all its faults. But I do not live with them. I try to make my country better. That is progressive patriotism. And I know all of us who want to be part of this can be part of it. 

This article is based on Polly’s contribution to Who Speaks to England? Labour’s English challenge, a new book published today by the Fabian Society and the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester.