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And so to bed . . .

I am told that if I lived alone I would not, as I have always believed, eat straight out of the saucepan, but that owing to my conventional upbringing I would continue to lay a place at the table, decant the contents of the saucepan into a dish and then onto a plate, place a napkin across my knees, and eat my meal in a refined manner. Having, of course, first washed my hands and passed a comb through my hair.

Though I am somewhat dubious about this (for when left on my own even for the smallest amount of time I note a certain slackness in my domestic behaviour, why , for instance, plump up the sofa cushions when they will be sat on again tomorrow?), the lessons of my childhood do seem to exercise a more powerful influence than I had supposed.

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For there is this question of going to bed. Sometimes, indeed very often, I become drugged with sleep while watching the television in the evening. So comatose am I it seems doubtful whether I can reach my bed before losing consciousness. The obvious, and indeed the delightful thing to do would be to grope my way into my bedroom, climb onto the bed fully dressed, and fall straight into the arms of Morpheus.

But no. Custom dictates that I should make elaborate preparations for the night, that I should undress, wash, clean my teeth, get into a nightgown, cream my face, roll my hair into curlers, say my prayers, open the window. By the time these arrangements for oblivion are complete, I am so wide awake I could conduct a discussion on Wahabiism or recite the whole of The Ancient Mariner. When finally I turn out the light I lie in the dark, alert as a robin, making mental shopping lists or pondering on the mutability of earthly greatness or trying to remember where I have put my driving licence, and it takes me ages to get to sleep.

The foolishness of this procedure is obvious, and yet I cannot bring myself to do the sensible thing, to lay my wholly clothed body, wholly made-up face, wholly sleepy person onto the bed, and hang the conventions! Although I would not see it, I do not like to think of so much crumpled tweed, of nylon all awry, and hair spread untrammelled o'er the pillow. To my mind such a sight would be the acme of decadence, an insult to my dear old mother, and even, perhaps, treasonable.

And there would have to be an awakening. Think of the horror of that! No, far far better to follow the virtues of godliness and cleanliness with sleeplessness than to spend a restful night in squalor.

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