Sunday, 21 July 2013

And so to bed

The meaning of the bed has changed drastically over the centuries. Nowadays beds are just something for sleeping, having sex or recov-ering from illness. But during the Middle Ages they were mainly a sign of social status.

While the poor had tiny beds made of canvas and straw, often slept in by an entire family, the rich had large and elaborate beds with canopies and curtains and lots of pillows. Some of them were so luxurious and worth so much they would be bequeathed in a person's will.

When bedside tables were invented, they too became a symbol of wealth and social status. As did the number of beds in the household, Louis the 14th having more than 400.

A rich person's bed was so impressive that they would often receive guests or preside over meetings while in bed. A big contrast to today, when receiving guests in your bed is seen as totally disreputable and degenerate.

The poor of course would justify their spartan bedding by saying that anything more extravagant was just a sign of self-indulgent pampering. Pillows, they insisted, were only necessary for sick women and invalids.

It was only in the 19th century that beds started to lose their social status to other possessions, and comfort became more important than how fancy your bed was. All people want to know today is whether they will sleep soundly or toss and turn all night. Or whether the bed springs will squeak embarrassingly as they pleasure a new lover. Or whether the bed's so narrow you and your loved one will be rather too intimately entwined.

In a hotel bedroom, I also want to know that the bed is clean and bug-free and not bearing traces of the previous occupant's frolics or nausea or greasy takeaway. And that the bed linen isn't threadbare from a thousand washes. And that the bed won't collapse in the middle of the night.

If I could also have a bed that guaranteed blissful and beautiful dreams, instead of the anxious and scary ones I usually have, that would be an added bonus. But I don't think the neuroscientists have cracked that one yet.


  1. To surmise: You clearly don't frequent four or five star hotels.

    " ...whether the bed springs will squeak embarrassingly as they pleasure a new lover". Let's leave aside your rather quaint phrasing, and not go into the question why it should be embarrassing: What of pleasuring an OLD lover? Will the springs be less noisy?

    Sweet dreams,

  2. Ursula: The occasional four star hotel - where the beds are usually very satisfactory! Quaint phrasing? What would you prefer - as they lick a new lover's clitoris? And assuming an old lover would be heavier than a new lover (big assumption, I know), then the springs would probably be MORE noisy.

    Sweet dreams to you too, N

  3. May you have wonderful dreams and always enjoy quietude in your bed springs, Nick...

  4. An interesting history of beds. I never understand how people can backpack for weeks and sleep in sleeping bags on the ground. I'd be miserable after one night. Any bed is better than no bed.

  5. e: Thank you! Actually I can't personally recall any instance of bed-spring embarrassment. Clearly I've always been favoured with perfectly-made beds.

    Bijoux: Me neither. I went camping for a fortnight as a teenager and it was a horrible experience. Never again. Jenny and I slept on a futon for a while but eventually decided it was no substitute for a proper bed.

  6. I love my bed. It's perfect for just me! I spent a lot of time choosing it and it's so totally girlie and decadent.

    As for hotel beds...the worst bed I ever slept in was pretty much the size of 2 double beds put fact I think it was. It wasn't sexy, it was just vast. When we moved to a Travel Lodge the day after, we were much happier in a small, lumpy bed.

  7. Rosemarie: Pictures, pictures!

    I think I'd also hate a giant bed, it would feel a bit intimidating. A giant bedroom, on the other hand.... We once had a room in a Marriott hotel in Boston that was about the size of ten normal hotel rooms. It was fantastic!

  8. There will be pix eventually! :-)

    My partner runs hot, I run cold. In a normal bed, I 'chase' him until he gets to the edge, then he tucks the duvet between us to keep me off of him and we snuggle, all totally while we sleep.

    In the big bed, neither of us slept well. We kept waking up too far away from each other. The bed was so big, when I was awake I had to roll over 8 times to get to his side! Horrid.

    Big, but not too big! Pretty much covers everything really!


  9. Rosemarie: Ah, I see your problem! Jenny and I actually have separate duvets, which totally solves the one-person-pulling-the-duvet-over-to-their-side issue.

  10. The most embarrassing springs of all time were in my in-laws' house in their bed (to this day I can't remember where they were sleeping at the time) and my mil barged in to see what we were doing ON HER BED that was making so much noise.

    I think parts of my face are still red and that's a long time ago.


  11. www: I bet that ever since then you've tested any new bed very thoroughly for possible bed-spring debacles. Of course quiet bed-springs are of no avail if one or both of you are prone to a high-volume vocal finale....

  12. Singing bed springs are like old houses, you never hear the creaking and squeaking after about a week!

  13. Well, there you go! You really do learn something every day!

    I do a bit of genealogy, when the mood takes me. During my last burst of genealogical energy, I discovered one of my ancestor's wills, and he had indeed bequeathed his bed! I thought it was rather strange at the time, but now I see how it could happen.

    On another note: OH did have a hotel bed collapse under him once!

  14. I love my bed. It's about 38 years old and it, including the foam mattress, still works just fine.

  15. Grannymar: I'll take your word for it, having never been plagued by squeaky springs!

    Jay: Well, there you are, bequeathed in a will! And no doubt fought over by several possible beneficiaries....

    Jean: Thirty eight years? That's impressive. Ours is twenty years old and also still in service. Not everything is subject to built-in obsolescence!

  16. It truly beats me how people in the olden days could stand the kind of beds they had. Quite apart from the horror of vermin, they used to have to share beds with strangers in inns, and often with siblings at home. I went to Mendelssohn's house in Leipzig and was amazed at how tiny the bed was that he shared with Mrs. Mendelssohn ... surely they could have afforded something a bit bigger? But apparently not. Or else they ... well, I dunno. I suppose they were used to it? But I simply don't think I'd ever have got used to it!

  17. Jenny: I know, sharing with strangers used to be very common. In fact inviting your guests to share your bed was the done thing, I believe. Indeed, beds used to be much tinier, I suppose partly because everyone was tinier in those less healthy times.

  18. I love my bed, too. All the bedding is white - down comforter, soft blanket, Egyptian cotton 600 thread count sheets, fluffy pillows. You spend so much time there, it ought to be comfortable. It makes me happy just being there. I generate heat at night, so I usually end up kicking off the covers. And yet, when I'm with someone, I like to have contact all night as I sleep.

  19. Agent: Your bed sounds totally luxurious! Very true about comfort and the time spent in bed. I also generate heat when I'm asleep and end up peeling off the duvet. As I say, Jenny and I have separate duvets so we can each make our own adjustments!

  20. How interesting. I love my bed, I think I will be buried with it! As for hotel beds, I check everything is absolutely clean before I will get in. This was caused by encountering the most disgusting hotel bed I have ever seen while travelling in the country years ago. We slept on top of the beds! Boy did I let the manager have it next morning. Once in Queensland I actually took the pillows into the holiday rental agents and said they could sleep on them. I still have nightmares!!

  21. Bonsaimum: That bed must have been pretty vile for you to have to sleep on top of it! I know someone who once slept in a chair rather than have any contact whatever with the bed!

  22. I didn't know that about beds being status symbols.

    I love my bed - as I frequently say as I get into it at night. No matter how comfortable a strange bed may be it's not mine.

  23. Liz: Very true. A different bed never feels quite right, does it? Especially if you know hundreds of other people have slept in it!