Have you ever considered that a bedside table reflects the nature of the very person who climbs into the bed beside it every night?
Not just their preferred reading material. But the people they are.
My own is testament to the hopelessly untidy individual I am. Books and magazines are piled high so that my glasses and nightime bottle of water teeter precariousy atop a backlog of the Spectator and a literary wish list. And my morning cup of tea battles for space so that I must extract required reading with consummate care.
I am rendered perpetually frustrated that there’s so much to read, so little time; when I do fall into bed, I only manage a page or two before stealing sleep begins to mix up the words so that they start to swim out of the field of my vision and far, far away from my diluted concentration. I know that sleep is close then. A sometime insomniac the feeling of impending unconsciousness is always delicious.
I have just finished Michael Greenberg’s glorious, sad Hurry Down Sunshine. I wept. Mental illness, in this case bipolar disorder, is a cruel thief of lives. And light. And sun: the word features often in the stories of those stalked by Black Dogs and similar beasts: the poet Gwyneth Lewis paints a vivid picture of her Depression in Sunbathing in the Rain. There is, inevitably, a book about madness at my bedside.
Madness or something approximating it, or translated as similar, or deviating from the Norm (whatever that is?): I’m reading William Fiennes beautiful, beautiful Music Room now. His imagery takes my breath away. He paints a before-the-storm summer afternoon ”sultry and close, the air thicker than usual, planes trawling through it like swimmers”. And he describes his brother, whose brain was scarred by persistent seizures, and his unique view of the world: the cafe, he said ”was a palace of knives. ‘My heart sunk’, he said, after the plane took off. ‘Didn’t yours?’. And I think: what perfect observation. What perfect, perfect articulation. For a man mosty institutionalised.
Beneath that is a book on OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder. A tome. I pick out the bits that are relevant to what I need to understand. I flick through pages seeking the pertinent words and phrases and skim the rest. It’d be too overwhelming otherwise.
And then there’s the Good University Guide 2009. To prove – lest the job of ascertaining exactly who I am is left entirely to a study of my bedside table – that I’m trying to be responsible. And normal. Ish. Amongst all the literature on almost-insanity.
My diary lies sandwiched between a copy of Vogue (purchased in a rash moment of insecurity, to prove I am a real woman and like shoes too) and The Week (so that I feel more In Touch). Every year January is tightly filled in, my language careful and considered. By mid year though ”Can’t remember what I did today, haven’t written since Easter …”. I’d like to be a real diarist. Simon Gray’s Smoking Diaries. Next on my reading list. It’s here somewhere.
There’s a torch (for powercuts), my mobile phone (for same: the screen serves as useful illuminator when the torch’s batteries go flat), a bedside lamp whose small head is angled towards my pillow.
And a vase of paper flowers crafted by Hat almost a year ago. She placed them there shortly after we moved house. Their colour has faded a little and they don’t stand with the same newly folded and starched A4 erectness that they did once.
But they are very lovely.