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October 2003 - Duvet Wrestling

Isn't it funny how you always have your very best ideas when you're lying flat on your back in bed, just dropping off to sleep, and the pen and paper to write them down is miles away in the other room.

That happened to me the other night. It was the first of the cooler nights of the autumn and I was lying there, wondering to myself if it was the time of year to swap to the thicker duvet.

I don't think any of us are completely rational at that strange, half asleep point where all the important ideas start flooding into our brains.

Certainly, all the best ideas for this piece of nonsense seem to come to me at that point at the end of the day; and if any of you, dear readers, care to call Nick Harvey's Comment rational, then the nicest thing I can say about you is that you're probably half asleep as well.

The problem which my twisted brain was grappling with the other evening was togs. I mean, most units we use for measuring things have names which can, at least, be traced back to their roots.

They're usually named after the bloke who discovered them in the first place aren't they? People like Mr Faraday and his farads, or Mr Watt and his watts. But who on earth was this Mr Tog, that's what I was puzzling over as I lay there half asleep.

Of course, the biggest problem with duvets is that none of us understand them properly in any case, so why should we understand a measurement called togs?

In my day, togs were what public school boys used to put on when they got OUT of bed in the mornings. They had nothing whatsoever to do with what went on the bed when you went to sleep in it. So why the change, and who was responsible, that's our subject for in-depth analysis in this month's exciting edition.

At great risk of you thinking that I'm back on one of my favourite hobby-horses, the problem comes from the name duvets had when they first appeared in this country, continental quilts.

Yes, it's all the fault of those damned continentals again! Mr Tog sounds like he ought to have been an Austrian gentleman doesn't he? Let's face it, anyone who can fight their way into leather shorts, would love a duvet.

When I lived on my own, thankfully many moons ago now, I had to indulge in my own regular sessions of duvet cover wrestling.

This is where I probably get accused of being the tiny bit sexist, but a wife would have been a very useful addition to my household from when I first left dear old Mum and Dad, even if just so she could have assisted with the complex matter of enclosing said duvet in it's cover.

Of all the household chores, I hate changing the duvet cover most.

It's my own stupid fault. I used to sleep under good old fashioned sheets and blankets, but somewhere, back in the mists of time, someone managed to convince me that a duvet was the thing!

Actually sleeping under a duvet is a passable occupation. It's what you have to do with it when you're awake that makes it a twinge less popular with it's owners.

The first problem of course is the regular, hourly, frozen wakings in the winter when the damn thing is over there, on the floor, while you're over here, on the bed. Why don't duvets go rushing off to the far side of the room in the hot summer I have to ask myself?

Have you ever wondered if they're alive, with bitter, twisted minds of their own?

Or, perhaps they're computerised? I wonder if Mr Tog had some terrible grievance with society which made him program them all to ensure at all times that you're at any temperature except the one you like best?

Anyway, that's the first problem, when you're awake on a cold night playing hunt the duvet in the darkness of your bedroom.

Much the more frustrating problem is caused by the conspiracy between the duvet manufacturers and the duvet cover manufacturers.

How does any duvet cover designer in his right mind imagine that it's possible to get all that duvet through that tiny little hole in the bottom end of the cover? All the designers are married; I'm certain of that because they can't have ever tried it on their own.

Once you've forced the horrible, seething animal into it's bag, comes the problem of ensuring that the corners of the duvet stay in the corners of the cover.

After you've shaken it by one corner to spread it out; then shaken it by another corner to cancel out the effect of the first shaking; then tried to shake it by two corners at once, you're worn out.

This is the only bit of the mad-cap designer's plan which seems to be totally effective, as, once you've finally completed the operation, you are most certainly guaranteed a good night's sleep, whether it's hot or cold and whether the duvet's on or off the bed.

Even what goes on under the duvet in certain married households is less exhausting than fitting the cover to the damn thing!

So anyway, I seem to have digressed for a paragraph or ten, as is usual on these occasions. Meanwhile, back at the plot, it was togs I was about to investigate wasn't it?

I never got round to it at the beginning, but, for those of you who know absolutely nothing about the humble duvet, the tog is apparently the unit of measurement for the heat retention powers of said item.

You see, you need more togs in the winter than you do in the summer, it's exactly like the public school boy really.

If you go out and buy a duvet set, as they're called, you actually get two duvets and it's up to you to swap them around as you need to. You get the 4 tog summer model duvet in one bag; and the 10.5 tog spring and autumn model duvet in the other.

"And what of the winter?" I hear you cry. That's exactly the question I asked the shop assistant myself.

Well, in the winter you join the 4 tog model and the 10.5 tog model together with the Velcro provided, to make a 14.5 tog winter model. "And how the (expletive deleted) do you get that little lot through the little hole in the duvet cover?" I asked in a state of some perplexity.

At this point she mumbled something about turning the whole lot inside out and hanging by your big toe from the light fitting whilst shaking vigorously. In truth, I don't think she knew the answer either! She was probably married to a duvet cover designer.

Now, if you haven't guessed it already, these three different duvet formations bring with them another problem.

If you are not to engage in the exhausting act of duvet bagging any more times than necessary, then you need to ensure that the climatic changes which necessitate a change of duvet formation coincide with days when you were going to wash the damn thing in any case.

Which almost brings us full circle to me lying in a cold bed, thinking about togs.

What I was actually thinking about was the weather; and whether the weather would stay cold for some time, or change back again to glorious summer warmth in a couple of days.

More importantly, having explained the rules of the system to you, I was wondering if it would be warm enough to stick with just 4 togs until next washing day.

It was amazing how, having started out feeling quite cold, just the thought of heaving the 4 tog model out of the cover and replacing it with the 10.5 tog one, suddenly made me feel nicely warm as I slowly drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

Unfortunately for you, however, it was either the returning cold or the effects of the large quantities of red wine from earlier in the evening which soon woke me again.

As I was crossing the landing in any case in the early hours, it was only a short detour to write the word "duvet" on a piece of paper next to the computer to remind me to write this particular piece of prose for your absolute interest and enjoyment.

So whether you blame the duvet itself, or the wine, is up to you, but at least you're all now well educated in the subject of duvets.

I've changed to the 10.5 tog model now though, so I'll try to get to sleep quicker in future, and not come up with these silly ideas last thing at night.

I'll have to think up another of my subjects fairly quickly though, as I see I'm scheduled to produce the "third anniversary on the Web" edition of Comment for next month.

November 1st is the date for that very special edition, so I hope you'll be awake to read some more then.

In the meantime, I'm going to take my togs off and go back to bed. Right, I'm off, where's me sleeping pills?

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