The magic of a cosily curtained bed with boxed in steps does not belong to story-books alone. Earlier, carved and curtained beds were symbols of prosperous comfort, creating a room within a room, a space for privacy and rest. The mosquito net in malaria-haunted countries is a poverty-stricken cousin of these, creating a defence against disease often at the cost of privacy. But the dream of aloofness, of ‘owning’ a comfortable space that can shut out the world, is reflected in the names given to beds: king- and queen-size. The king-size bed is six feet wide and the queen-size one is five, but both are a little below seven feet in length. A king cannot have his ankles dangling over the edge. So beds must be adjusted to the average height of the users. As American men grew taller, their beds stretched their frames. Height is closely related to nutrition; seven-foot beds indicated how well the country was doing by the 1950s, when queen-size beds became most popular.
But the pandemic seems to have increased the desire to live life king-size. So sales for the wider beds have risen from 14 per cent to 20 per cent. The enforced closeness with spouse and family has obviously dissipated dreams of peaceful daytime interludes, spawning the need for bigger beds. Snoring space makes the heart grow fonder. Funnily enough, this is also the period when Americans are growing fatter and, if not shorter, not taller either. Wider beds might be just the thing. And while South Korean women, Iranian men, and both men and women from Estonia and Latvia race past the Americans in average height — more Americans are eating badly, they say — China has decided to compete not with nutrition but with engineering. Surgery, rather — leg-lengthening surgery: expensive, painful and time consuming, but all in the good cause of winning better jobs and better husbands. So why blame Indian women for ceaselessly seeking the fair and lovely? At least they are growing taller than their men at a faster rate, if a long way still from catching up with their South Korean compatriots. It will be some time before beds are reframed for them.
But no reframing need be done for the couch potato. He — why not she? — can fit into the folds of any shapeless couch, eating and drinking to his heart’s content, neither having anything to do with health or nutrition. His couch — moulding itself to his body — is perhaps the first truly ergonomic piece of furniture. Measuring elbow angles and knee heights to make school furniture comfortable for growing children surely derives from this model? The elbow-and-knee-lessness of the couch potato is an added advantage; he grows elsewhere, and the couch is hospitable. The king-size bed may be in demand for its spacious comfort, but without the pandemic the couch, littered with nutritious popcorn, would have been the sovereign of all peaceful rest.