Friday, 09 May 2014

Blizzard proof nightie or birthday suit?

VG Lee goes undercover and reveals the truth about a (very un-British) trend

Recently, I read a survey suggesting that nearly a quarter of British adults choose to sleep in the nude, whereas our continental counterparts are twice more likely than we are to wear pyjamas in bed. Intrigued, I decided to broach the subject of sleeping attire, if any, with my neighbour Ted who is a man best discovered outdoors, humming an unrecognisable tune as he potters amongst his far-tooearly allotment seedlings.

Down on the south coast it is well into spring, so Ted and I take coffee and tea breaks sitting on the bench in my suntrap front garden.

‘Ted,’ I say, resting the tray on an ornamental concrete toadstool. ‘In the six years I’ve lived next door to you, I’ve never noticed any pyjamas drying on your washing line.’

He popped an entire finger of Battenberg into his mouth. ‘That’s because the seagulls dive-bomb and splatter ’em.’

‘But I’ve seen your bedding hanging out.’ I fight an unwelcome image of a naked Ted bedding down for the night on straw in a nearby byre.

‘My bedding’s white,’ he explains. ‘Doesn’t show the splatter.’

Ted reclining on splattered sheets is not a pleasant image either. I deadhead several perfectly innocent tulips.

Growing up in a time before central heating, when Jack Frost didn’t confine himself to just drawing patterns on the outside of the bathroom window, I became used to preparing for bed as if setting off on an Arctic expedition. I wore my brother’s cast-off pyjamas (I recall for warmth, he also sported a selection of balaclavas) plus a knitted bonnet-style hat that buttoned under my chin, a scarf, cardigan and bed socks.

Having finally achieved the luxury of a centrally heated home, my common sense told me, ‘Val, it’s tropical in this bedroom. You could forego that bonnet now.’ But it was too late. During cold snaps, the bonnet stays on!

‘So,’ Ted stares covetously at the last remaining cake. ‘What do you wear in bed?’

‘You saw me in my nightclothes last Sunday in the corner shop. I was buying a newspaper and box of marshmallows.’

‘What? Those baggy emerald-green pantaloons and the hooded fleece?’

I incline my head modestly. ‘I do also have a nice nightie for fire, water and natural disaster emergencies.’

Our discussion is halted by the arrival of my friend Micra Mary, for a change on foot rather than in her red Micra car. Ted greets her with: ‘You look like a woman who goes to bed in the nude.’

(I am concerned that Ted’s increased intake of sugar is encouraging an unpleasantly ribald, ungentlemanly side to his character.) Fortunately Micra Mary is well able to defend herself. Showering us with Old Holborn tobacco flakes, she asserts, ‘I like stylish nightwear in charcoal grey or navy cotton jersey. I do not like anything with cute kittens or puppies on the pocket. In fact I don’t like pockets. You stuff a tissue in them and we all know what happens next.’

Ted and I look blank.

‘They go through the washing machine and the rest of your clothes come out speckled.’

I’d done a little research of my own on the naked-or-not-in-bed debate and received mixed responses. My brother, who I still imagined to be championing flannelette pyjamas and a balaclava, told me that he’d ‘lost his pyjamas in 1960 and never looked back’. This rather surprised me as brother’s central heating has always seemed inadequate to non-existent but he assured me that a nude dash across an icy bedroom floor was invigorating.

Emma of Peckham explained that she didn’t confine her nudity to the bedroom; she also indulged in nude gardening, despite her low perimeter fences and liked nothing better at this time of year than to run naked through bluebell woods.

My local postmistress said, ‘None of your business, cheeky,’ and winked, while my oldest friend Deirdre admonished me with: ‘There’s a time and place for nudity and I’ve never found either.’

Ted tries to distract my attention from him reaching for the last Mini Battenberg by telling me that Winston Churchill was renowned for wearing little more than a silk dressing gown in his Cabinet War Rooms, however Neville Chamberlain had favoured striped pyjamas.

‘Wasn’t he the villain in The Towering Inferno?’ Micra Mary asks, rolling up a roll-up.

‘No, that was Richard Chamberlain. He was in The Thorn Birds and could you please smoke over by the gate?’ I reply.

‘Of course Cameron wears pyjamas,’ Ted says gloomily.

‘Would that be Doctor Cameron of Dr Finlay’s Casebook?’ Micra Mary lights her roll-up. ‘Did you know that Marilyn Monroe slept in the nude apart from a squirt of Chanel No5 behind her pressure points?’ 

Ted and I cough and frown pointedly. Yes, we did know.

I turn back to Ted. ‘Purely for research purposes, can you confirm that you’ve always worn pyjamas in bed?’

He adopts a particular smile, indicating that a Second World War anecdote is imminent. ‘The last time I went to bed in the buff…’ I wince. ‘A doodlebug came down outside our house. We all had to exit p.d.q. After that I was known in the street as Big –’

‘Thank you, Ted,’ I cut in quickly. ‘So once again you were the victim of dive bombing?’

‘You could say that, but I haven’t finished my story.’

‘Well I think you have. You’ve certainly finished the Mini Battenbergs.’

Always You, Edina, by VG Lee (Ward Wood Publishing, £9.99).

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