Saturday, 24 March 2012

Tucked up good and proper

Is it at all possible, in these austere times, to buy a Thing? I mean, I know there's a recession on. We're practically scraping by. No-one has any cash; everyone is living on tears and memories. Taste the salty bitterness, people. But surely it should be possible to manage a normal retail transaction without complication? You would think so.

It used to be so simple. You would go into a Thing Shop. You'd find the Thing you wanted and check the price of your Thing. You might speak to the Thing Salesperson before handing over your money and walking out of the place, your Thing acquisition needs well and truly satisfied.

I was reminded of this novel concept the other day when I went to buy a bed. I know. My lifestyle is pretty much full-on rock and roll, isn't it? But we were mindful of the fact that our current bed is a little on the antique side. It is old enough for us to be embarrassed about how old it is. Most people don't ask you "How old is your bed?" in polite conversation, it's true. But if they did ask us, we'd have to shuffle around and look at our feet before murmuring the answer.

If our bed was any older it would date back to the Ottoman Empire. Oh yes, I don't write anything for ages, and when I return it's all bedroom-furniture-historical-reference gags. I spoil, you, I really do.

Our ancient bed could have a relief map, it's so lumpy. Katie has spent much of the last year or so attempting to sleep over a crevasse. It's not conducive to a good night's sleep. So that's why we were to be found in the bed shop earlier this week, where I came to the realisation that buying Things is really tricky.

We found one we liked. We lay on it and marvelled at the experience of a bed that didn't try to hurt us in return. The saleswoman came over. And then we fell through a wormhole into another world.

"Do you want it with drawers in the base?"

"Well, yes, that's one of the reasons we chose this one. Because it has drawers in the base."

"That'll be an extra £120. Although there are drawers in that one, they are extra. Now then, delivery?"

"That would be a good idea. I'm not sure your boss would like us having to come over here every night to sleep on it. It would be very inconvenient if I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night."

"That'll be another £40."

Ok. Yes, I can hear you all saying, "But Phil, that's quite reasonable. What did you expect?" But you lot buy beds more regularly than I do. Come to think of it, you probably buy houses more regularly than I buy beds. But if you really think about it, paying an extra forty quid for the privilege of having the Thing I'd just spent a scary amount of money on actually placed in my house seems, well, odd.

"Now then, what about your old bed?" she asked me, my mind already performing the type of mental calculations usually preserved for astrophysics.

"I don't think it would be a good idea to put the new one on top of it. We'd be too close to the ceiling, for starters."

"We can take it away for you..."

"Well, that might reduce the crowding in our bedroom."

"...for another £40."

Of course. I mean, after all, you will have a truck at my house with a bed-shaped hole. Might as well fill it and charge me some more money for the privilege. I was about to open my mouth at this point, but Katie kicked me under the desk, perhaps worried that I was going to leave the old bed in the front garden, ghetto-style.

"Right," I said, mind suitably boggled. "Please tell me that's it."

"We-ell, you see, there's the protection plan."

"Beg your pardon?"

"What would happen if your bed was damaged in an accident, for instance?"

After a brief discussion, I promised the saleswoman that I wouldn't attempt to drive my new bed down the fast lane of the M6. I didn't buy the cover plan, leaving a spare £75 for two pillows. I was going to baulk at this, but my shins took another under-desk battering from Katie.

We left the bed shop, feeling strangely light-headed. It turned out that the price of a Thing bears no relationship to what you actually end up paying.

"At least we'll be able to sleep better at night," said Katie.

It's just as well. It turns out I can't afford to do anything more adventurous.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Part of the machine

So, how was your Friday night, dear reader? A chance to unwind after the week's efforts, maybe? A little drink, perhaps something nice to eat? I bet you retired to bed and slept a deep, restful sleep.

You lucky, lucky gits.

As my saintly wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, will tell you, bedtime with me is an acquired taste. Stop sniggering at the back there. Being next to me in bed means putting up with a bewildering array of noises. The sounds I make have been variously described as 'chainsawing through a herd of donkeys,' 'kickstarting a DC10,' and 'navigating one's way through the lower colon of an enraged bull sealion'.

She's a fortunate girl, and no doubt.

But the snoring, bad as it is, is a symptom of something else. As I've mentioned before, I have a bit of a problem with the whole 'eight hours of restful sleep concept'. Which is why on Friday morning I paid a trip to Birmingham Heartlands Hospital.

I've had very little contact with the NHS in my 40-odd years; it was a novel experience to be visiting a hospital as a patient instead of being, well, a visitor. I asked for directions to the sleep clinic and was given a laminated card. There then followed a confusing succession of lifts, and corridors. I'm almost certain I crossed more than one time zone; looking through one open door I'm convinced I saw the Serengeti desert off in the distance. Eventually I reached the clinic, where a very efficient technician measured my height and weight (I winced at this latter number) before explaining what was going to happen next.

I'd known in advance that I was going to pick up something called an Embletta. I had no idea beforehand what this device would be. The name suggested it could be one of those small Italian scooters and to be honest I was struggling to understand how this would help. But, as it turned out, an Embletta is not something you'd have seen in La Dolce Vita. It's a digital recording device, designed to monitor and save a whole bunch of data while you sleep. Or, in my case, fail to sleep.

The technician explained how the Embletta would work and got me to sign a form confirming that I would bring it back, or pay the NHS £7,000 if I failed to do so. No pressure, then.

So this is why, on Friday night, I was to be found with a device the size of an old-school Sony Walkman strapped to my chest. I wouldn't mind, but I couldn't even play my Rush cassettes on it. Then there were additional sensors around my stomach (yes, they reached, thank you) and upper chest. My index finger was plugged into another sensor, plus there was a cannula - a tube with little prongs going into each nostril, to measure my breathing.

Katie watched, wide-eyed, as I strapped myself into this array of wires and tubes, little lights flashing. I lumbered towards the bed, wearing a shapeless old t-shirt, looking and sounding for all the world like a Poundland Darth Vader.

"You know, I don't think I've ever been more aroused than I am right now," she said.

She wasn't helping. And so, just to make my position clear, I told her. "You're not helping," I said.

And so to bed. I don't lie on my back as I can't breathe then, and I've found breathing to be quite important. I couldn't go on my front as I had all this hardware there. So I balanced precariously on one side and tried to sleep. I failed miserably.

I don't know what data the Embletta will have recorded. I'm not sure what the sleep clinic will make of my 11:45pm visit to the bathroom to have a pee. Or the fact that I went downstairs for a couple of hours to lie on the sofa, because Katie was snoring loudly (ironic, huh?). I think perhaps there was some fleeting sleep there, but if the machine blinked it might have missed it.

So I think we've established one thing with regards to my sleeping. I can't do it if I have sensors velcroed to me, my index finger in a bulldog clip and a tube up my nose. Fascinating. Who knew?


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