A bed

In the UK, or at least in my experience sharing flats in London, as a tenant you don’t usually need to have your own furniture. Many places come furnished, even with beds. I remember when I moved into Castle Aspenlea at the beginning of my crazy London years, Blacksnake mentioned he’d considered swapping the beds over between what would be my room and his because his had a dip in the middle. I got the comfy bed in that house. Similarly, the bed in the flat where Mr Chewbacca and I first lived together was part of the package.

A crappy shot of a profound exhibition in the National Museum of Australia about home and belonging. Very apt.
In Australia it’s different. You’d rarely get a furnished place. It’s great to have your own things when you first move out of home, but beds are expensive so futons are big amongst the young flatties. I had one I bought for $100 and used for years, it was great, and my mum still has it, some 15 years later. I bought it because I got my first serious boyfriend and I only had a king single at home. Funny, seems childish to think of that now!

When we moved to Sydney we ended up with a furnished place. The landlady, who lived above us in the mansion, was Chinese and apparently they are very big on hard beds. Ours was hard as a rock, and squeaky. But we liked not having to buy one and luckily we enjoy a firm sleeping surface. It was in this bed that I went into labour with my son. And that was when I started to think about the significance of a bed. We spend more time there consistently than anywhere else, a third of our lives prostrate on this surface perfected according to designs developed and redeveloped over hundreds of years. Yet we don’t think much about who’s been there before and why. Because that’s kind of gross to think about I guess!

We bought a fantastic bed when we moved from that first Sydney place, the best mattress in the world, it would seem. We loved our bed. It was an incredibly painful process to go through to sell it, realising with horror that the new owners were only willing to spend a quarter of what we’d paid, an eighth even, because it was used. By two people. For three years. Yet, inexplicably, somehow those same people would pay double that to stay one night in a hotel, sleeping in a bed they’d never seen, in which a plethora of strangers had done who knows what for years, a bed whose sheets may or may not have been cleaned to the standard required… The lack of logic is unbearable! But such is the way of things.

When we got to Canada, we bought another lovely mattress, brand new. I think we did it mainly because we thought there was a good chance we’d stay. And because we were sick of lying on some ancient, stained single mattress and there weren’t second-hand options around. We didn’t spend quite as much, about half what we’d spent on our Aussie bed, but it was still a great mattress. There’s nothing more comforting than a nice, comfy bed.

And of course, when we left Canada, yet again we had to sell our lovely bed. I couldn’t believe it when people began enquiring and were just interested in the frame, or didn’t particularly care what kind of mattress it came with. We eventually sold it to a Brazilian couple who’d just moved to Toronto for about a third of what we’d paid less than a year before. Yet again it struck me how extraordinary it is, the way we think about and treat our sleeping surface. Particularly because that point marked the beginning of a long period of sleeping on uncomfortable surfaces. Hotel beds, which are usually great, then the plane, horribly uncomfortable but temporary, the beds at my mum’s which involved a choice between an ancient, soft mattress that gave Mr Chewbacca a back ache or a fold out couch with a chunky futon whose contents constantly redistributed themselves so you could feel the wooden frame beneath. That had been my couch when I lived alone, years before. We were grateful though, to have somewhere, and to attempt to readjust to Aussie life, transitioning gently in this place that most consider paradise in Australia, the Byron Shire.

The sleeping arrangements became yet more complex when we eventually hired a campervan and embarked on our journey down the east coast of Australia from Brisbane, stopping along the way at caravan parks and with friends. We invited ourselves to sleep in the spare room at some good friends’ house on the NSW central coast and in Canberra my dad put us up in a nice serviced apartment but other than that we slept in the campervan. It was actually really comfortable sleeping up the top above the driver’s seat but it sucked getting up and down to deal with Thumper who of course never sleeps through the night. The kids shared the other double bed at the back of the camper which would also have been okay if it weren’t for the night wakings. While it was really fun driving and staying in campsites along the way, we were clearly all pretty over not having any fixed abode. We stayed with some other good friends when we got to Melbourne and were so grateful to have an ensuite room all to ourselves with little beds either side of ours for the kids.

Once we’d decided to go back to Canberra to live, we knew that beds were the beginning of piecing our lives back together. Staying with my dad was really difficult in a one bedroom place which isn’t really set up for us. The day after we arrived we had an amazing stroke of luck whereby we went to look at a place we didn’t think we would get because we had no income, yet because the landlord was desperate for tenants and the agent could see we were genuine, we found ourselves signing a lease that afternoon! So suddenly we had a house, after two months of being without. We bought some airbeds (which, incidentally, are freezing cold to sleep on if the air surrounding is in the slightest bit cold!) and once again realised just how important beds are.

Reading a bedtime story on the makeshift floor bed, towels on top in case of accidents
This time we didn’t buy new. We didn’t have the money. We cut it so fine actually, down to our last few dollars before receiving a first pay packet and suddenly everything was okay again. So we got a couple of second hand mattresses for the kids – one was free, I think, brought by an incredibly kind and generous mum of a good friend. Our mattress we bought for $30 off a lady selling her house to move in with her ageing father. She told me she paid $2,000 originally and I’d believe her, it’s super comfy. She also sold us a Dyson for cheap (although it turned out to be clogged up with urine-infested cat hair and gunk). We’ve not bought a bed frame, and frankly, that feels like an extravagance and somewhat unnecessary. We’ll see how we feel come winter.

Anyway once we had beds, then we could finally relax. A couch, tv, kitchen table, other bits and pieces, all great, but the beds, those are the fundamental building blocks of a home. Without beds, you have nowhere to rest. The bed is home.

Rattlesnake vomits

I moved into a place which I (or someone along the way) dubbed ‘Castle Aspenlea’. There were five of us there, with various other hangers-on, dossers, dodgies, friends, losers, freaks, units from all over the place lobbing in from time to time. A fairly typical antipodean sharehouse, the Castle was the temporal junction point (of the entire space-time continuum – just wanted to use that line!)… no it was a London sharehouse dream – we should have had a camera installed, would have made an awesome reality tv show.

One Saturday morning I got up about 11am to find Rattlesnake still drunk from the night before. He clearly hadn’t been to bed yet, and wasn’t planning on it for a while, as he sat muttering and drinking a Fosters on the couch. A tall, lanky, messy haired, Aussie, Rattle was the quintessential occa bloke. His drunken, drug-fuelled ramblings were some of the most priceless speeches ever uttered in the history of antipodean dodginess in London.  I hung out with him in our converted kitchen/lounge while I had a cup of coffee – perfect comedy entertainment to start the weekend, and I was feeling fairly good myself, not having gone out the night before.  It was a fairly normal occurrence, for Rattle to still be up after a big night, but by this point he was usually on the downward turn to crashing out for a few hours before doing it all again on the Saturday night. Today he was clearly going for a record.

I popped out to Sainsbury’s for some breakfast items, probably for about 20 minutes at most, and when I came back through our front door, there was a nasty surprise just in front of the doorstep.  On the tiled area leading to the street pavement was a significantly large pile of regurgitated beer.  I side-stepped the revolting deposit and yelled out, ‘Rattle, did you throw up out the front?’ as I came through the front door. The man was adamant that it had nothing to do with him, when it was clear it was his. He claimed initially that he’d never vomit, it wasn’t his style, that he was a hard arse, a ‘unit’. I hadn’t heard that term until I moved to London – coming from Canberra I don’t think I was a very typical Aussie, and a lot of these types of expressions were foreign to me.

Anyway, so finally, Rattle said, ‘well there’s nothing wrong with throwing up, everyone’s done it. You wouldn’t admit it but you’ve done it.’  I laughed because I’m famous for being sick from drinking too much. But he wouldn’t let it go, obviously feeling a bit stupid for being sick.  Eventually, Siggy, our token South African flatmate, came downstairs and I told her about the vomit. ‘Rattle!’ she shouted, half laughing, half revolted.  Then her boyfriend Jim came down and saw the vomit too; he promptly retreated back upstairs in disgust.

By this point, Rattle started to feel a bit guilty – ‘you can’t just leave it there, someone will step in it, it’s gross!’ I said.  So as I cooked my breakfast, he sat quietly sipping his beer on the couch, then stumbled out the back for a cigarette. ‘I feel bad,’ he said, when he came back inside. He did his ‘hovering’ act, when he’d elect to lean precariously against the kitchen bench, can in hand, and I’d almost hold my breath looking at him, thinking he could drop the can or keel over at any moment.  Dear Rattle, I thought, he has a good heart, despite his drunken rampages and being a general menace to society more often than not. ‘Just get the bucket and wash it away with water,’ I suggested.

So next thing I knew, he was stumbling up the hall with our handle-less bucket, full of water.  I couldn’t miss this moment of comedy gold, but I didn’t want to distract him from cleaning up – the only time we ever saw Rattle clean was when he couldn’t get to sleep on a Sunday after 12 hours of coke the night before! I crept after him down the hallway and ducked into my room, which was right at the front of the house, used to be the lounge. I didn’t dare lift the wooden blind on the bay window, so I stood and listened to the water sloshing across the tiles, washing the offending material into the gutter. Suddenly, I heard Rattle’s voice over the trickle of water. ‘Hey ladies. Just doing some cleaning. Someone vomited in front of my house.’ I laughed out loud as I heard the poor innocent girls walking past giggle and groan in disgust. ‘Ewww!’ Rattle, true gentleman that he is, gave us yet another priceless moment. ‘So,’ he said to the girls, ‘you ladies fancy coming in for a drink?’ I burst out laughing and ran back to the lounge to relay the turn of events to Siggy.

‘All sorted,’ said Rattle, wandering back into the lounge.  He gave us his signature smirk-cross-intoxicating smile, realising I’d told Siggy about his pickup attempt whilst simultaneously cleaning up his own vomit. ‘Yeah,’ he said, taking another sip of beer and sending the empty bucket flying across the kitchen floor – almost outside. ‘They were keen, you know.’ We fell about laughing, it was pure gold!