MARCH ISSUE: Bedtime Stories

Girl from Life Marshall Cavendish (Tanya Shadrick's collection)
Girl from Book of Life Marshall Cavendish (Tanya Shadrick’s collection)

This month’s extract from The Cure For Sleep for subscribers on Substack considered the first stories we are told about the world and its workings, inviting readers to share tales of how and where their belief system formed. Here are some of those responses.

March extract

WHERE DOES IT BEGIN, the turn away from risk and adventure that so many of us make? That has us cleave to ease, routine, disguise, conformity? If the events which wake us are often shocking and singular, what leads to a sleep of soul and possibility is harder to trace. We have to go back through all the stories told to us (or by us) about the world and its workings: that bramble thicket in which we lost our will, our way.

The Cure For Sleep

Reader responses

I am Cinderella’s granddaughter…

*

That was her story, she held it in her bones.

*

My grandmother was illegitimate, born dirt poor. Her mother married a widower who had his own children, and they had more between them, but she was always “different”. She didn’t understand why until she was getting married and discovered she had a different surname on her birth certificate.

*

My grandfather spotted her on a factory holiday. She looked like a film star, and he looked like Errol Flynn. She was awestruck by his family house. I know that house, and it’s a three bedroomed detached house that held two parents and nine children – but to my Granny it was a palace.

*

My granddad rescued her, but she rescued herself first. I don’t know if she saw that. She worked in a jelly factory, she dressed as well as she could, she embraced life. She told me once that a friend had asked her if she and her husband should buy a house or a car? A car, my granny said immediately. You’ll have a lot more fun with a car.

*

That was her. She was always up for a coach trip, a day out, a laugh. She worked hard, but she enjoyed herself. Once lockdown’s over, I will put her diamond ring back on and remember her sparkle.

Sarah Connor

Scissors slicing hair…

*

It was sitting in the chair of my grandmother’s beauty shoppe that I learned how her world worked and what was expected of me. I was nine years old.

*

At times I still hear the sound of the scissors slicing off my hair; I can see her. I’m watching her in the big square mirror all over again. She starts out slow, snipping away my long, thick, black hair.

*

The pair of scissors are relatively small and slender, but when she begins to snip faster and faster, the sound of metal slicing through hair filling the air, that slender pair of scissors might just as well be shears, one of those silver pairs with blades twice as wide and thick.

*

Snipping turns into shearing so quickly. I cringe every time I hear it, my shoulders hunching up towards my ears. I don’t want her to cut off my hair, and she doesn’t answer me when I ask why. She and my mother made the decision, talking in German as they always do when they don’t want me to know what they are speaking of.

*

I am used to her cutting my hair, but it is how she is cutting this time that makes me uneasy. Scared. She isn’t physically harming me; it’s her detachment, as if she is somewhere else, angry, like she is trying to get rid of something, something very bad. And I sit watching the long black ribbons of my hair fall to the floor, the tie of the vinyl apron wrapped around me scratching my neck.

*

It’s been over 30 years since the day I lost my hair, and I now know why my grandmother did it: it reminded her of my grandfather, the man my mother never knew, whose face she never saw, whose name she did not know up until four years ago. I don’t think my grandmother ever imagined that my mom would find him: my Sinti grandfather Georg, dark hair and sparkling eyes, from a family of musicians.

Amy Millios

As a young child, I wished to be a borrower…

*

a tiny, sentinel-like, brave presence that would pilfer small objects from our family and feast like a Queen on a single gold-wrapped chocolate caramel.

*

I wanted to live with my parents but for them not to know I was still there; I felt that – at full child size – I was often a burden to them, rather than a source of interest and joy.

*

If I were small, I could live cosily in the airing cupboard where I kept my flower press. I could keep a close eye on the big wide world and alert a grown up to trouble, if needs be.

*

I had a route planned out through the house to the kitchen, with a mechanism of pulleys to snaffle food; a path through the rockery in the garden that would make for perfect borrower-sized adventures; a spot next to the robin hole (a hole in the hedge where our resident robin would nip in and out through the day) where I would set up a camp, complete with tiny campfire, where I would lie on my back and watch the stars come out.

*

When I later learned of the hearth faeries – the broonies and ùruisgs of Scotland – I felt instantly drawn to them, as if a fragment of my soul were some kind of hearth spirit, a tiny protector of home and heart.

Larissa Reid

There were prayers before bed...

*

Three of us slept in the small bedroom, little girls. Each evening we knelt down, side by side, at the bed, and gave thanks to God for the day that had passed and our parents, brother and sisters, and the wonders of the world, in words that we didn’t understand. Heaven, hallowed, kingdom, fruit of thy womb, sinners, death all spoken rapidly so we could get to the end, to story time.

*

The lights were turned out and in the blackness D, my father, told us stories about other worlds. Arabian nights, Hannibal crossing the alps, families of donkeys, leprechauns in the mountains, some he read but most he made up. Together we went on adventures that were not possible in real life, to places that only existed in the stories.

*

Sometimes a story took several nights to tell, so the prayers the following night would be even quicker. He rarely talked about the past and, as there were six children in the house and we were so busy living, we didn’t reflect too much on the present. Instead I learned to value each and every moment, be it spent managing the ordinary or absorbing new experiences.

Sheila De Courcy

Strong, eccentric, flawed…

*

On my mother’s side, I was told about my great grandmother, a suffragette and fierce teetotaller who thought nothing of snatching alcoholic drinks out of people’s hands at parties. Her daughter, my grandmother, was the first in her family to go to university.

*

My paternal grandfather was by all accounts a charismatic but difficult character who demanded worship from the rest of the family. My father and his brother were expected to walk with him to the station every morning . They deeply resented this.

*

Quite how these stories formed me I am not sure but they did not cause me to shrink from life. Rather, they were, in an odd way, something to live up to, strong, eccentric, flawed characters who didn’t conform.

Sophie Pierce

Two Dads

*

Two dads. I was different and I liked that, two lots of presents, right? Watchful, shy but with a fire in my belly, I longed for my daddy and remember crying on Sunday nights when he’d have dropped me home. Weekends with him were within the ‘sureness’ of my Nan’s house; bacon and sausages and endless bossing of my dad to play with my dollies and there’d be treats! It was wonderfully predictable and ‘safe’ is the word that springs to mind.

*

Home with mum and daddy number two is more blurry… younger brothers and that growing awareness of the ‘adult world’. What’s really going on? What are you talking about? This from 5/6 years onwards is the dominant feeling I had as a child, a watchfulness that I have carried through my life and has almost certainly contributed to the risk averse part of my core.

*

But what of ‘The Girl Within’? Emily Hancock’s book, read in adulthood, stirred a cloudiness surrounding that child. She never went; she’s absolutely there in the adventure-craving gobby drunken teenager, protesting for animal rights, searching for just cause to shout truth to power, and this survivor’s instinct, the refusal to lie down and be silent, a beautiful inheritance from my mother’s survival. The safety seeking I’ve craved has brought me wonderful gifts, I am able to give and receive love and I am hugely grateful. But to live, I must stir the pot and connect with that girl inside, where will she take me? I wonder…

Faye Davidson
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