PC 61 Somewhere to lay your head

It may be that you catch up with my postcards in bed, getting ready to sleep; I hope my banging on about this and that doesn’t keep you awake or indeed produce a soporific state? If I get my mathematics right, whilst this won’t be applicable to any of you, there have been some twenty five thousand two hundred and eighty something times when I have laid my head down, ‘to sleep, perchance to dream’, and whilst I can’t remember every place …..  a few come to mind, some generic, some particular.

I recall laying my head down on bunk beds, iron bedsteads, futons, slatted beds; sofa beds – wow, have you ever had a decent mattress on a sofa bed?; adjustable beds in hospital; water beds, so cold and clammy; on a car seat, waiting for a ferry; on a floor in a half built house in Aachen, Holland on a hitch hiking holiday aged 17; in a railway sleeper carriage, the ‘clickety clack’ rhythm rocking you to sleep; in a sleeping bag on a blow-up Lillo; on an apartment floor a few years ago, trying to get comfortable on old coats and cushions; or even on an aircraft seat – once you’ve experienced an upgrade it’s difficult to opt intentionally for discomfort!!

I get the basic sizing of beds, as in ‘single’and ‘double’ but then we get to ‘Queen’, a bit bigger that a double. The late Queen Victoria was extremely small; our current queen only average, so why it is bigger than a double? Then the king – as in “I need a bigger and better bed that my wife” and jokingly Emperor. One of the last great western self-styled emperors was Napoleon and he was famous for having small man syndrome – so you name the largest bed size after the smallest …….?

You put your head on someone’s lap for a little nap – an expression of intimacy/closeness. Firstly you hear the gurgling torrent that takes place the other side of the epidermis and then in the background the sound of the beat of the heart – well, that’s a good think to hear but you really can’t fall asleep with the noise in your ears, can you?

Talking of sounds, many years ago I went off to Manorbier in South Wales to make a reconnaissance of a live missile firing facility. My Battery Sergeant Major accompanied my small party and we were accommodated in a wriggly-tin roofed Nissen Hut in the nearby training camp. Across the road that ran beside the camp was a small, single track railway line that was used by the occasional cargo train. After a supper in Tenby we retired to bed. The bed itself was comfortable, my head hit the pillow and I was soon asleep. At some stage in the night I was shaken awake by the sound of a train rumbling past outside. Sufficiently compos mentis within a minute or so, I realised it was actually the rattling sound of the Sergeant Major’s snoring from next door.

I have sailed around the waters of Britain, extensively in The Baltic, occasionally in the Mediterranean and once a long haul across the Atlantic to the tiny islands of Bermuda. Up in the bow, in the forepeak as it’s known, under sail you suffer the rise and fall, the crash and shudder, the rushing noise of millions of gallons of water just past your head; difficult to sleep but exhaustion normally kicks in. Amidships, the port and starboard berths required a certain athleticism to clamber into. I once saw the opposite berth almost vertically above me as we broached (sort of capsized!) in a dramatic squall in the North Sea – water poured in, the mainsail ripped but then the yacht righted itself.

In charge of the directions we should take to Bermuda, I had the associated navigator’s bunk. With the chart table in constant use, getting into my berth was difficult; I had to double up, before straightening out and sliding my head under the table. Feeling queasy when sailing at the best of times, being claustrophobic, with the underside of the table 6 inches from my head, did not make sleep easy!

When you’ve had a tiring day, nothing better to fill the bath with steaming hot water, fill a glass with some crisp white wine*, and ……. soak! Gradually the issues of the day drift away, you drift away …… and you wake up later in a cooling bath with wrinkly skin! Nice Huh!

Part of Louis de Bernière’s latest novel “The Dust that Falls From Dreams’ covers the First World War and he describes the horror of living and sleeping in the water filled trenches. You will imagine that in the early weeks of my officer training at Sandhurst, we dug many holes and some we occupied for a day or two; some were dry and others filled with water in the pouring rain. Sleeping half standing up was not the easiest position to adopt but needs must. I also remember actually falling asleep standing up on the third day of a long exercise. Up a couple of hours before dawn, trekking to the start of some manoeuvre, and then waiting and waiting. Only woke up when the chap behind me moved forward and bumped into my back!!

In the steaming jungle in Belize in Central America, we first made the A-frame by chopping down some suitable saplings with a machete, then lashing them together. You tied the poncho to it, as a hammock, got the mosquito net in place, and settled down for the night. Of course ear plugs are essential in the jungle for the noise of the other inhabitants is deafening!!

Many years ago I tried camping again when going for a walk-about in the Australian island state of Tasmania. This is a dramatic, remote part of the world, one of rare natural beauty and delightfully uninhabited. As part of the circumnavigation, I hiked into the Freycinet National Park, complete with freeze-dried food for supper that night. I was awoken in my tent in the early hours by a Possum chomping its way through a bag of Chicken Supreme. Poor thing – it rushed off but not before it had completely emptied the little aluminium sachet – I often wonder what happened when it got thirsty and drank ……. (Dried food expands very quickly when it meets water …..!!)

But, for all of the above, when all’s said and done, there is nothing remotely as pleasing as one’s own pillow, in one’s own bed, on which to lay your head!

Richard 6th February 2016 – richardyates24@gmail.com

*Although I gave up alcohol fourteen years ago it doesn’t mean I can’t recall the delight of a glass of a NZ Cloudy Bay or a Pouilly Fuisse!! Yum! Yum!

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