We were in John Lewis, in the soft hubbub of the mattress department. People shedding their coats and shoes and clambering about, watched with twinkling tolerance by the John Lewis personnel, who would occasionally step forward to offer some guidance.
“You, sir, are a Light, so you would suit a softer mattress.” One of them was addressing the couple lying on the bed next to us. “Whereas YOU, Madam,” (grave twinkle) “You are a Heavy and would benefit from something a lot firmer. Madam, if you could roll onto your side, that’s the ticket! Now, sir, do you see the shape of Madam’s hip, so different from your own, and how that hip needs to be accommodated, so that it rests in the same plane as her shoulder?”
Full of awe for his relaxed authority, I listened to him recommend a Zip-up Duo*. Then I left S snoozing, and tried out a few more beds, feeling like Goldilocks. I settled on one of the more expensive ones, made of silk and angora, and watched all the other people lying down.
There were singletons as well as doubletons (yes, singletons sleep on beds too). Opposite me, a very pretty woman, Medium to Heavy, reclined, half-smiling, on a number of Canadian Goosedown Pillows. She was watching a Singleton Male, oldish, but very fit-looking, a bit of a Woodsman, with grey dreadlocks and an all-weather onesie, I watched him too, leaping, and rolling, and bouncing, accompanied by a thoughtful-looking John Lewis man. I could have watched people for hours, but S came into view, accompanied by a small, spry man called Ashley*.
I was nervous, but it was fine. I stood up, and he pronounced me “medium”, which he was delighted about, because S was medium too. “Makes my job a lot easier,” he said, with a nod and a wry grimace at an iller-matched pair. Bathing in his approval we hung on his every word.
He said it wasn’t just about our weight, it was also about our preferences. “Some people like sumptuousness, you see, whereas others are reassured by hardness.” He showed us the high end mattresses first, just for interest, because we’d told him the very most we could afford. I went to lie down on one – a Viscount Hanwell*, the Rolls Royce of mattresses – but he held me back, smiling and shaking his head. “Not if you can’t afford it. You’ll be giving the other mattresses too much to live up to. “ I trotted sheepishly behind him to the middle range area, throwing glances over my shoulder at the Viscount Hanwell. He lay us on various beds, and listened to us describing our experience, as deeply attentive as a psychoanalyst. Through a painstaking process, he identified the mattress that suited our body weight, our preferences and our budget. I was still wistfully eyeing the posher ones, not the Viscount, that was ridiculous, but the ones just a couple of hundred quid too much, on account of the angora, and the silk, and the complexity of the springs. But the one he’d selected was a perfectly nice mattress, and we waited, lounging happily, for a free till. S and Ashley got into a very technical conversation about spring-within-spring technology, and I switched off and gazed around again.I noticed a same sex couple, male, in matching red jumpers, and both as round as each other, so they definitely wouldn’t need a Zip-up Duo. I just loved it that their JL man was so proudly unfazed by Doubleton Males, leading them to a very firm mattress, and getting them to lie in spoon position. I was watching intently – yes, staring – amazed by their almost uncannily similar build. But then…. it was a slow-drip realisation. They were both bald, and both had glasses, but… they couldn’t be. Could they? It was when they both looked over at me, obviously disconcerted by my attention… and I quickly smiled, but then my mouth fell open – yes, they were totally identical twins! Hats off to their John Lewis man… no wonder he was so firmly relaxed. I felt horrified, and had to get up and walk quickly away. I went to the loo, and got lost on the way back, and found myself in the Clearance area.
It was much noisier than the rest of the shop, and nowhere near as civilised, with frantic people running around like it was Musical Chairs. But there was a mattress, a big fat one, it looked like – could it be? Yes, a Viscount Hanwell, down to quarter price! So only slightly more than the one we’d already chosen. I lay on it. It felt a lot weirder, lying down in Clearance, but the mattress was breath-taking.
“It’s the Rolls Royce of mattresses,” A scrawny, hard-faced woman was peering down at me. She was wearing John Lewis gear, but not the slightest bit grave and twinkly, so I wasn’t sure about her at all. A crowd was forming around the bed, and they were all looking down at me. “Do you want it or not?” the scrawny woman barked. “Is it soft or firm?” I asked. It felt delightfully, perfectly in-between. “Soft,” she snapped. “For people of less than ten stone.”
“Oh.” I felt hundreds of appraising eyes running over my post-Christmas body, and sat up quickly. But as I did a much heavier woman in a mac and headscarf jumped on. On all fours, she waved to her Personal John Lewis Minion, who saluted, clicking his heels, and tried to slap a Sold sticker on it.
“Hold it!” I sprawled, belly down, forcing the woman off the mattress. “I was here first!” The scrawny woman, give her her dues, nodded at the man with the Sold sticker, who stepped back, as did the now-glaring woman in the headscarf. Still sprawled, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and phoned S.
It took him a good minute or so to wander over, and he arrived still wonderfully relaxed from the kindly atmosphere of Mattresses. “Quick Quick!” I shrieked, moving over, so that he could lie down too. Headscarf was still there, hands on hips, and the crowd around her had got a lot bigger. S tried to ask the scrawny woman some technical questions, but she just snapped, “It’s the Rolls Royce of mattresses!” and the crowded all tutted and rolled their eyes. “OK” said S, suddenly understanding the nature of the situation. “We’ll have it.”
I had to stay lying on the bed while he queued up at the Clearance till. It was a long queue, and a long time to be lying there surrounded by such greed-fuelled hostility. A huge relief when we got our own Sold sticker, which I slapped on myself. Then we went back to Mattresses, to tell Ashley what had happened. I was bit frightened he would shake his head and say, “The Viscount Hanwell. Hmm. That wouldn’t have been my choice for you.” Instead he gave a low whistle and murmured, “The Rolls Royce of mattresses.” Then smiled at us fondly. “Well done!”
We needed mattresses for the kids, too, and he helped us with that. I felt a bit guilty that they weren’t getting the Rolls Royce of mattresses, but when the mattresses were delivered yesterday, I told them that ours was the Rolls Royce, but that J’s was the Lamborgini and L’s was the Bugatti Vero.
But oh yes! As we were waiting to pay for the Lamborgini and the Bugatti, I happened to look over, and the Woodsman had settled down next to the Voluptuous Lady, and they were chatting! The chemistry was palpable, even from a distance of 10 metres, and I wondered if she’d actually been reclining there, in that fetching pose, waiting to be chatted up; whether she’d come to the Mattress Department for the specific purpose of finding a new lover. And maybe all the Woodsman’s jumping and swinging, maybe he’d been flaunting himself, like a gorilla! His thoughtful JL assistant had dropped back, very tactfully, watching with his head on one side, like a benign little bird. Maybe he sees it all the time. Maybe it’s London’s Best Kept Secret. Forget Soulmates and Match.Com, and head to John Lewis Mattress Department….
* Names have been changed to protect the innocent