We slept six to a bed in those days. You kids probably take having your own beds for granted. Of course, they were bigger than the beds we have now. I’ll admit that. On colder nights I could sometimes hear my nearest bedfellow’s stereo playing across the duvets. He had awful taste, but most of the time I didn’t hear it. Blankets are great mufflers.
On Tuesday evenings I liked to visit the bear. He was two over, nearer the middle of the bed. You could do it in twenty minutes if you got the right spring going. Walking across bedspreads is a skill I’ve never had to remember, sadly. Proper beds were gone by the fifties. It was flatpack furniture, I suppose, that spelled the end for them. Who wants a good big bed when you can have something in the standard size for a fraction of the cost? Those grand old beds are a lost art.
Off I’d set from my own place bouncing away across the sheets. I’d do a big skirt toward the middle of the bed so I wouldn’t have to see the neighbour next to me. Him with the music system. He was a lodger who’d moved in when Mrs. O’ Rourke was short on funds after having to hire a professional to deal with the squirrels. After she got the bad leg, she couldn’t get in past the bedside to collect rent and those that didn’t feel like coming out to her didn’t. So there was the next door neighbour (his name might have been Mitchell), and another gent I never heard much of but sometimes you could smell the hops he was brewing from the foot of the bed when the bedroom window was open. These two at least were hiding out nearer the wall and there could have been more. It was hard to be sure.
The bear had a bit of a nest going in the winter months. His hibernation he called it. I don’t know where he’d found so many pillows, but he built walls out of them like they were bricks. I don’t believe he spent much time in there, he just liked to sit outside the pillow fort smoking his pipe and identifying constellations in the stippled plasterwork on the ceiling.
‘The lady will have you out on your hairy ear for keeping a fire in bed,’ I’d always say by way of introduction. He had a small fire bucket on three-foot legs on the sheets with a little wood burning in it most evenings. There was a scattering of burn holes under it from jumped sparks but the bear always attended it carefully so nothing serious ever took off.
The bear and I never spoke about much. He’d give me a little toke on his pipe and I’d lend him a few bites of whatever I’d brung in from the bedside. It was dark and silent but for the distant glow of our bedfellows’ lights and the hum of their guests, if they had them. When we spoke it was the future we discussed. I was work-hungry in those days. I thought it would bring me my own bed, a single bed. My own room, even. It did, of course, eventually, but that meant something different by the time I had it. The bear made no secret of his desire to find a sow bear and a nice double to settle down in. A bed big enough to raise a family in. I hope he found them both.