Night-time rituals – we all have them, yes? These days, for me at least, they involve showering and much tooth-cleaning. My challenge is to make my dentist speechless with delight at my sparkling gnashers and to avoid the digging and chipping at my defenceless canines, premolars and molars, thereby circumventing the accompanying monologue – for how can anyone have a dialogue with a mouthful of hand and tools? – of snarled orders to pay more attention to the backs, fronts, cutting surfaces of my teeth. In short, I would like to feel that my reluctant six-monthly dental appointments were more of a celebration of my oral hygiene and less a return to subservient and infantile acceptance of stern rebuke.
Further current rituals involve the application of creams and unguents to various areas of my body to firm, reduce, rejuvenate and otherwise turn back the years to that time of my life – long gone, now – when skin was dewy and elastic, firm and closely attached to bone and muscle. When I was a child I would never have envisaged such things. I remember my parents remarking on the nimbleness of my child’s fingers and wondering what they meant. Surely everyone could do what I could do? Fingers didn’t grow old, did they?
My childish rituals I recall now with something approaching amusement mixed with sympathy at my innocent trepidation. Lights were never turned off on my journey to bed. I hated, feared the dark. Dark was my enemy – who knew what dwelt in the quiet shadows of the staircase ready to leap upon my helplessness? Once I had reached my bedroom there were procedures that demanded observation, for if I didn’t follow them I dreaded what might transpire.
First I had to make sure there was nothing – or nobody – hiding in the wardrobe. Bravely I approached and flung open the doors – nothing! Relief was followed swiftly by the need to ensure that there was nothing dangerous behind the curtains. Again, reprieve from menace and a chance to breathe more freely. Yet the worst was to come - I had still to check that no peril lurked beneath my bed; this was the worst threat for I had to lower myself to the floor to check the underside of the bedstead, which was just a few inches above the carpet. I was aware that I was at my most vulnerable on all fours – after all, there might be spiders waiting to leap upon my vulnerable back. Finally, with a sigh of relief, I was reassured that I could now get into bed.
I followed such a routine for many a long night. How on earth I could have believed that any hazard hid within my small, safe room I cannot imagine. With some part of my mind I realised that I was being foolish. My parents, I knew, would never expose me to danger, but yet I had to fulfil the rituals before I could settle to sleep.
There were other rites, later, that I had to perform as I walked home from school but never any as rigorous as my night-time routine.