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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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt