It takes a special sort of person to do this job, if I say so myself. You need to know whether a person likes it hard or soft or medium firm. You need to find out if they want it half and half. And another point, which so many customers miss, is whether it should be high off the ground or touching the floor.
Often, people don’t know themselves and that’s where I come in. I have to ask them the right questions which can sound extremely personal. Using my skills, I have to get them to relax when discussing what is, let’s face it, a very sensitive subject. A subject which makes the most mature customer blush and forces them to discuss things which they would normally only do in private.
But I love the challenge. And besides, it’s all part of my brief in being a bed salesman.
Take that young couple over there. I can spot their type from several feet off (although nowadays of course, we have to do it all in metres). They look excited and nervous at the same time. The girl has an engagement ring on her finger, although nowadays that doesn’t mean a wedding is imminent. So many of the young couples I sell to are about to move in together which isn’t the same, in my experience, as the real thing.
‘We’re looking for a bed,’ says the young man who's wearing one of those hats which I believe they call beanies and a hooded jacket in the style that the Prime Minister has been discussing recently.
The girl next to him nods excitedly, clutching his arm. She clearly enjoys wearing earrings; several at the same time. I tend to find the odd earring after someone has tried out a bed. In fact I have a collection of them in my office in case someone comes back to claim one, although no one ever does.
Something tells me that the look of the bed is important to this couple. ‘Do you know what kind of bed you’re after?’ I enquire politely.
The girl indicates the one nearest to us, with a shiny brass headboard. Not one of our top ranges but nevertheless, a surprisingly popular choice. I explain that the headboard can be transferred to any other kind of divan and that she might like to consider whether she likes a firm mattress or a soft one. She giggles, rather as I expected her to. ‘What do you think, Kev?’ she asks, looking up at him adoringly.
He shrugs. ‘I dunno.’
Clearly, a little guidance is needed here. I surreptitiously glance at their bodies. She is small and skinny and he’s over six feet with a bit of a beer gut. I would suggest a half and half mattress which gives more on one side than the other but something tells me that these two won’t be sticking to their own sides at night. So I get them to try out a range of medium firm ‘no turn’ mattresses, which means they don’t have to turn them over every now and then. (Somehow I suspect they might not bother with that.)
At first, they sit awkwardly on the side, kicking their legs like a pair of children on a swing.
‘You need to get the right kind of firmness in a mattress,’ I point out. ‘I think you’ll get a better idea if you lie on it.’
The girl giggles again and the boy looks as though I’ve suggested he takes his clothes off.
‘S OK,’ he mutters. ‘We can tell from this.’ He shoots a mortified look at his fiancée. ‘All right with you, babe?’
She glances longingly at the brass headboard. Clearly, that’s the important bit to her. Well, after a few years, they’ll learn what the really important thing is about a bed. So I take their payment (credit card) and give them a small discount (well, they’re only just starting out and they need all the help they can get) and arrange delivery to an address on the wrong side of town.
After that, there’s just time for a quick sandwich out the back before someone else comes in. This is going to be a tricky one, I can tell. A divorcee in her late forties or maybe early fifties. A woman who hasn’t bought a bed on her own for some time. A slim band of white on her left finger where her wedding ring used to be.
‘I want a new bed,’ she tells me. (They all start off like this even though we don’t sell anything else.) ‘Something that’s completely different from my old one.’
I was right. Most people who’ve broken up from a long relationship don’t want anything that reminds them of the old.
‘What kind of bed did you have before?’ I ask gently.
Her eyes fill with tears. ‘It had a dark mahogany headboard. It was a divan and it had a very hard mattress because my husband liked it that way.’
‘And did you?’
She shakes her head vehemently. ‘No, not at all. I could never sleep properly.’
Something tells me that the mattress wasn’t the only reason for her sleep problems. But now was not the time to say so. My job is to show her that there are plenty of beds for the future out there. ‘Then how about this one?’ I say gaily. ‘Look! A nice light beech sleigh-style with a shaped base at the bottom which is so handy for draping clothes over. And can I suggest this mattress here? It’s made of ‘memory’ foam which means it moulds itself to your own personal body shape.’
She smiles wistfully. ‘I like the sound of that. It’s about time I became my own person.’
I suspected as much. ‘Why don’t you try it out?’
Unlike my young couple, this customer takes me up on the invitation. ‘Shall I take off my shoes first?’ she enquires.
‘No, don’t worry. But thank you for asking.’
Rather self-consciously, she sits on the edge of the bed and swings her legs round. Then she leans back against the headboard.
‘You’ll find it more comfortable if you put a pillow or two behind you,’ I suggest.
‘Mmm,’ she says, closing her eyes. ‘You’re right.’
‘Perfect for sitting up in bed on a Sunday morning with the papers and a cup of tea,’ I say softly.
She nods. ‘Do you know, that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to.’ She lowers her voice. ‘My husband has just left me. That’s why I’m having to buy a new bed – I couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping in the old one. And he never laid in bed on Sunday mornings with the papers because he thought it was lazy.’
‘It’s not,’ I reassure her. ‘It’s called looking after yourself. And if you won’t allow a bed to look after you, who will?’
Her face lights up. ‘Do you know, I’ve never thought of it that way.’
I would have liked to pat her on the hand but you have to be so careful nowadays.
‘Enjoy it,’ I say as she pays by cash. ‘And remember. It’s the beginning of a new happy life.’
After that, I'm quite relieved by my next lot of customers. I love this kind – they make me feel decidedly optimistic about life. This time, I don’t have to persuade them to lie on the bed. They are already doing somersaults on it.
‘Lucy, Daniel, don’t do that!’ cries their mother.
‘Get down, now,’ says the father, giving me an apologetic look.
‘It’s quite all right,’ I reassure them. ‘You need to try out a bed before you buy it. Although you do have to be careful not to dive from the top bunk. Do I take it that this is going to be their first?’
‘They’ve always wanted bunk beds,’ says their mother. ‘We got them a small bed each after they grew out of their cots. But now they’re seven, they’ve decided that only bunks will do.’
‘Are they twins?’ I ask.
Both proud parents nod.
‘Then bunks will be perfect.’
Lucy and Daniel have stopped jumping now and are listening intently. ‘You’ll be able to pretend that your bunks are ships,’ I say.
They both nod excitedly.
‘And you can tell each other stories in the night and send them floating up into the air,’ I continue. Now tell me. Who’s going to have the top bunk?’
‘I am,’ says Lucy.
‘No, I am,’ demands Daniel.
‘The thing to do, if you don’t mind me suggesting it, is to take it in turns so no one feels left out,’ I add. ‘It’s one of the important things about beds.’
‘What a good idea,’ says the mother, looking relieved. ‘I was worried what we were going to do about that.’
‘Ah well, you see,’ I say as they write out the cheque, ‘when you’ve been in this business for as long as I have, you learn quite a lot about beds – and people.’
They leave, full of smiles with the father putting his arm around his wife, but something tells me that they will be back before long. If I’m not mistaken, there might just be a new little addition to the family. And we’ve got plenty in the line of cots.
It has been a long day and I am more than ready to go home. But first I smooth down the bed from where the twins had been leaping. Then I polish the brass headboard where the young girl had left sticky fingermarks. And after that I straighten the pillows on the sleigh bed which was crying out for Sunday papers and breakfast tea. But there is one more thing I have to do.
So I pick up the phone.
She is here within minutes. ‘Ready, darling?’ she says.
I give my wife a big cuddle. ‘Ready.’
It is our wedding anniversary although being a professional kind of man, I hadn’t mentioned this to any of my customers – not even the twins’ parents who had stayed well after closing time. Mavis and I had originally thought of going out to dinner but she had rung during the day with a better suggestion.
‘I’d like to go somewhere where we can REALLY relax,’ she had said.
And that’s exactly what we do. We head for somewhere that is hard but not too firm. A safe harbour that is on the ground but which also helps us dream. A haven we can both sink into. A refuge where we can talk, laugh, snuggle up and look back over our life. A place where we’d both rather be than anywhere else in the world.
Because, as I’ve learned over the years, there are lots of important things about beds. The mattress, the spring, the headboard, the design and the price.
But the most important ingredient of all, is love.
© Sophie King. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
I am a journalist and novelist, and have had seven novels published, including The School Run, which was a best-seller when first published, and became a best-seller in ebook format when it was republished by Corazon books in 2012. My other novels include The Wedding Party, which was short listed for the RNA Love Story of The Year. My first short story collection, Tales from the Heart, was recently published to critical acclaim and great success in Amazon's short story chart. My latest novel is the witty romance Divorce For Beginners. In between novels, I write short stories and have had hundreds published in magazines such as Woman's Weekly, Woman's Own and My Weekly. I also gives regular talks/workshops at bookshops and literary festivals including Winchester and Guildford. Until my recent move to Devon, I tutored at Oxford University and West Herts College. For three years, I was writer in residence at HMP Grendon, a high-security male prison. I have also appeared several times on breakfast television and Woman's Hour, including a Christmas programme on rivalry in the kitchen! In 2005, I won the Elizabeth Goudge Short Story Trophy and was a runner up in the Harry Bowling Prize. I am also a member of the Romantic Novelists Association; Women in Journalism; the Society of Women Writers and Journalists and the National Union of Journalists. My website is: www.sophieking.info