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.

12 Responses to “Bedsides”

  1. James Says:

    Interesting and very original post. I have a mountain of stuff. I think if you have no TV in the bedroom (or the house/flat…) then the pile is likely to be bigger. One half-read biography of the explorer Stanley, which I am struggling with, as he struggles down the Congo; a couple of novels; an interesting, and frightening, book “Venus, the Dark Side”… oh, and that number one bestseller, “The Bible”, though not read as much as it deserves! Do Hotel rooms still have a copy of the Bible in every room nowadays I wonder?

  2. Iota Says:

    I have books, the odd magazine which I’ll probably never read, and my daughter’s (empty) piggy bank. She wrapped it up for Mothers’ Day, and when I opened it and said “but this is yours, you might miss it if you give it to me”, she said “I thought we could share it”. Also sundry small toys (including an egg-shaped container full of silly putty, which yes, does stick to bed sheets, and yes, does leave a stain even when you’ve worked at it with Goo-Gone and put it through the wash), a pen or two, a coaster for my morning cup of tea, a sad yellowing plastic alarm clock which is a thing of function not beauty, and a layer of dust.

    Yes, I think bedside cabinets are revealing.

  3. rosiero Says:

    I agree – it can say a lot about the person sleeping alongside it! Mine is piled high with books, some having been read, some to be read, some in the process of being read! Then there are torn-out newspaper sheets with sudoku puzzles completed or half-completed (why oh why do I do these to get me off to sleep?). There are sheets of plain paper and a pen in case I have a world-shattering thought in the middle of the night which, if I don’t note it down, will otherwise be erased from my memory by morning. There is a digital clock (so I can see it in the dark) and a mechanical alarm clock (so I can hear it in the morning – my ears don’t pick up the digital high-pitched whines)!!

  4. carol Says:

    I’ve been reading about mental disorders too – so on my bedside is a book by Oliver Sacks – I brought it because I thought the title was funny ‘The man who mistook his wife for a hat’ – but keep dipping into it and really enjoying it. Think I need to put a dictionary on my bedside table as well though as some of his words are a bit long!!

  5. nuttycow Says:

    I’ve never really thought about my bedside table and what it says about me. I’ve got my most recent book (Julian Fellowes – Past Imperfect… quite good), a glass of water, digital clock/radio (radio 4 lulling me to sleep), mobile phone, my pill packets, huge vase of flowers and a box, crafted from Tusker bottletops filled with odds and ends.

    Analyse if you dare.

  6. Potty Mummy Says:

    I keep the top of my bedside table clear apart from lamp and alarm clock. The shelf underneath, however? Chaos. Make of that what you wish!

  7. doglover Says:

    My bedside table is covered in a digital clock and – oh, nothing else.

    What does that say about me? That I exist – but only just?

  8. Tash Says:

    Wow, this is really soul-bearing…!!!! What a lot you’re going to learn about everyone else… I have to admit to two radios, Mum’s old twiddler which is tuned to Radio 4, and I don’t dare budge it, and my small digital radio to listen (far too rarely) to the BBC World Service when I can manage to pick up Network Africa – I miss knowing what’s going on in my continent. Then – a money plant – Mum’s of course – ever hopeful. A silver Wee Willie Winkie candlestick holder complete with sniffer-outer (but no candle), a torch without a battery, a digital clock, a lamp – which I can’t use if the radio is on, as it interferes with the waves… and books – this week – The Tale of Beatrix Potter, 1953 biography; Bwana Drum, about the Mau Mau; Teatime for the Traditionally Built; and Wild Honey – stories from an African Wildlife Sanctuary… What else? Do an eye mask from virgin airways, and a magnetic collar for neck aches hanging over the bedpost count? And on the floor – diaries from the past four years – french diaries – which I keep needing to go through until finally I WILL do everything I’ve been meant to since Jan 2006!

  9. Kerry Says:

    I have a basket overstuffed with things that were at one point, important, but at the moment cannot remember what they are (time to check the basket). Plus about 6 books. A reading lamp. Chapstick. A glass of water. Some dog biscuits. You describe your mess much better than I describe mine!

  10. kathleen Says:

    I’ve been listening to audio books a lot lately, I also have a couple of books Sudoku and puzzles I work while lisenting hoping this will help the “muscles” of my mind hang onto memories longer. I also have some cookbooks, music cd’s. I fall alseep a lot while the audio book is still going so each night I have to backtrack to see what I remember.

  11. paula Says:

    What I always think is so interesting is the difference between my bedside table and my hubbys! Mine is loaded with books, lipice, shells, photos (but no breakables as my mad cat kocks it all down). Hubby’s is filled with gadgets, GPS, watch (I dont need one in my current life of stay at home, pretend to be writing expat wife!!), phone, batteries, and some sporting mag or the other. Definately a reflection of the both of us.

  12. Hadriana Says:

    Interested that you have a torch for a power cut. I used to have that for Egypt and have carried it over to when in the UK. Although have not experienced a power cut during the night as yet (touch wood).

    I usually have books and books piled around me but as toddler man is sleeping in the same room as me in his ain’t possible to read at night worst luck. I really miss that. Big time. (Must get a head torch methinks.)

    PS: The fire brigade recommend that a mobile phone (charged) is beside one’s bed in case fire breaks out in middle of night. So that..doubling as a torch and an alarm clock is a sine qua non (Roman translation: no brainer)!! 🙂

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