Sweet dreams are made of free duvets

Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column.

Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column appears weekly in the New Statesman magazine.

Curly has decided we need a new duvet. The one we have is rather small and our nights together have become a Darwinian struggle for survival. It’s usually Curly who loses, thanks to my unbeatable “tuck’n’roll” manoeuvre.

It can’t be any old duvet. He’s been researching it on the internet. It has to be super-king-sized Hungarian goosedown – light and yet warm. Cashing in at an eye-watering £250, this is the bedding of fat cats and oligarchs. We are not going to let the fact we can’t afford to renew our car insurance hold us back. If those bastards deserve a good night’s sleep, hell, so do we.

In preparation for this major investment, Curly has acquired a nought per cent finance credit card. We plan to pay off £25 per month over the next year using our child-benefit money. As he argued, with unanswerable logic, it’s in the children’s interests that we sleep well.

Clearly many people are making similarly daft calculations because Westfield is heaving. Everything is too bright, too shiny: the marble-effect flooring, the sparkling shop windows, the glistening spotlights. I haven’t been anywhere this clean for ages. Security guards strut about like peacocks on steroids. Initially I assume there has been a stabbing, such is the crowd in Carphone Warehouse. But no, it’s just a lot of people who like mobile phones.

The atmosphere in John Lewis is marginally more civilised. We head for the bedding department, palms sweaty with excitement. And lo, there it is, on the top shelf – the king of duvets, its outrageous price tag winking beneath the strip lights. It is so long since we bought anything expensive that I feel sure we will be apprehended at the till and told to put it back.

We select a duvet cover and some sheets, pay and leave carrying our bounty. We are halfway back to the car before I notice Curly is looking peaky. In fact, he is practically hyperventilating. “The lady at the till,” he pants. “She charged us for the sheets but not for the duvet.”

“Are you joking?”

“No.” He holds up the receipt. Sure enough, we have paid only fifty quid. The helpful John Lewis lady must have removed the security tag and then forgotten to put the duvet through the till. My mind is suddenly in a frenzy of frantic calculations. Clearly, we should take it back. John Lewis! The shop you can trust! Stealing from John Lewis is like shagging in a church, or swearing at a granny. It’s just not right. Now, if we’d been in Tesco . . .

We prevaricate, stricken, in front of a brightly lit EXIT sign. Its green arrow seems to be pointing us towards a new, more reckless kind of life: Curly and I, screeching off with the duvet in the boot, outlaws on the run. We could be like Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Badlands, only warmer and better rested. But no, we turn around and trudge back to the checkout. Us middle-class types are mugs, right?