I started reading as a kid after bedtime, under the covers with a torch. Literally. I’m not sure where I would have got a torch from as an eight year old, but the memory is pretty vivid. Famous Five, Secret Seven, I had to finish them in one go. They mirrored my daytime life, out on the street where I lived with a bunch of kids, kicking around, riding bikes, playing ball. Our houses didn’t have secret passageways in them, and my dad wasn’t an eccentric scientist who made ‘blueprints’, but the Five and Seven made up for that, with lashings of ginger beer thrown in.
A decade later, I discovered the classics – in bed. It was the end of my degree and we’d been out on the last undergraduate party night. I collapsed in somebody else’s bed – no other occupant was harmed in the doing of this, she’d gone home to her parents already. But she’d left the contents of her bookcase in that tiny room, and in that bed next to a window flooded by sunlight, I spent a morning with Anna Karenina and began the rest of my life’s reading.
Soon I was living in London with my own income, and there was nothing better than visiting Foyle’s on Charing Cross Road for a paper bag full of crisp paperbacks. I bought the Sunday Times and read the Review section voraciously, in bed, scouring it for the latest tempting releases. I read far and wide – Sarah Paretsky in a bedsit in Brixton, John Irving in a basement apartment in Kentish Town, owned by an American woman who had once worked as a human cannonball. She had great sheets, perhaps it was the desire for a soft landing, and I read in her bed soothed by a fine threat count of apricot Egyptian cotton. I was so hunkered down that one day my housemate came in and helped herself to my makeup without noticing I was there. Possibly I was reading A S Byatt – so engrossing I couldn’t be bothered to reveal my presence.
Time goes on and children arrive and for a while my bed was not my own. Small people with sharp elbows took up space and left me with less time for reading for myself. Together we discovered the joy of children’s books and went where the Wild Things were and chuckled along with the Gruffalo in his cave from the safety of bunk beds and forts made of blankets. Sometimes I fell asleep before my children did, with Allan Ahlberg on my chest.
Now they’re teenagers and not only do I read in my bed, I write there too. I’m well set up with a breakfast tray for a desk and wifi in all corners of the house. In the evenings it’s my sanctuary. I retire to my bed early with Jackson Brodie – lucky me. Sometimes my daughter finds me there slipping into unconsciousness, and I feel her gently taking my glasses off and turning the light out. But not before she’s carefully put the bookmark between the pages of my Carol Shields.
On the evenings when Maggie O’Farrell’s urgent prose is keeping me awake, the rest of my family call in to say goodnight. Sanctuary and reading are rudely interrupted. I’ve seen them at dinnertime so why are they bothering me now when the Crawdads are Singing? My giant fifteen year old son, he of the sharp elbows, towers overhead and my daughter drapes herself over me for repeated farewells. I put Ian McEwan down and try to contain my impatience. Finally my husband appears in the doorway, bringing a draught with him. ‘I’m going to bed,’ he announces. ‘Okay, off you go then,’ I say in my head. He sleeps in the guest room as I’m a snorer and he’s a light sleeper. This arrangement facilitates midnight reading so I’m quite content with it. What can I say, I’m menopausal.
At last they’re all gone and I can return to my lifetime of reading in bed. When they carry me out of this room in a box, I’ll have a paperback clutched to my chest.
Apple Island Wife – Slow Living in Tasmania by Fiona Stocker is available in paperback and e-book. Buy now online.
First two images courtesy of Pexels, Sasha Prasastika and Taryn Elliott.