Written by Jen Brown


Fighty, flighty, or change your nightie?

When the window blinds started to rattle, Jen Brown’s nightie was the last thing on her mind. Then it became more important to her than life itself and she can’t help wondering why.

Illustration by Louise Boulter

Illustration by Louise Boulter

A train came thundering through my bedroom. It stopped briefly, for about two seconds, left by the bedroom door, trundled down the stairs and presumably went out onto the street. It was over quickly and the suddenness of it left me trembling: an earthquake, my second one, and nothing to speak of, according to Californians who have lived in LA longer than I have.

My first earthquake was swifter: it felt like a burly removal man had burst into my bedroom and tried, unsuccessfully, to push my wardrobe towards my bed. It caused no more than a draught, but the ‘whoosh’ made me think of a poltergeist, which was pretty scary. Up until that moment my nightie was never in question.

My nightwear on that very wobbly evening had definitely seen better days and the bit of lace hanging from the edge of the cap sleeve did nothing to enhance the overall look. What did I do? I changed it, mid quake. At the time, it seemed the right thing to do; it was only afterwards that I wondered about my unusual reaction and marvelled at how the state of my nightdress had become more important to me than life itself.

So, has living in La La land with the ever present threat of big earth moves made me review the disgrace that is my lingerie or is there more to it? According to Kevin John Gibson, a clinical psychologist, a Freudian might interpret my preoccupation with my night attire as being related to the death wish conflict, with my nightie representative of a death shroud. The notion being that this unconscious conflict would be soothed by both the imagery and sensory responses my nightie would evoke.

I’m not convinced, but I know this much: if my end is nigh I definitely do not want to be found in a shabby state, particularly as I currently share a house with a very attractive Austrian hunk. For him to find me under the rubble in a bad way is unthinkable.

My third and final earthquake to date was an absolute blast. I was so over-exhilarated that I found myself in the middle of the room making whimpering noises in the back of my throat. The usual pattern of a nightie change followed quickly – an altogether sexier look this time: dark pink with a deep, plunging neckline.

The adrenalin rush was huge and even though I was too frightened to stay in my bed, observing it shaking from the middle of the room was an out-and-out thrill. It made me wonder if the nightie scenario was not more representative of me being turned on, surely the opposite of a death wish? Gibson points out that the thrilling aspect may not be far from the experience of riding on one hell of a roller coaster. Though I’ve always loved big dippers, it didn’t feel like that sort of ride.

“Wrong!” said my daughter, with regard to me running into the middle of the room. “It’s the worst thing you can do. If an earthquake strikes and you’re in bed, you stay there and crawl under the blankets.” Impossible, no can do. Claustrophobia is a regular nuisance and I couldn’t bury myself under the bed covers if my life depended on it – which clearly it did.

Psychotherapist Philippa Perry tells me that people have three main ways of being; all three exist within us, but most of us have a leaning towards one more than the others. We are either: Thinkers, Feelers or Doers. As Perry points out, there isn’t a lot that can be done in an earthquake, so a Doer might DO the only thing she can – change her nightie.

Gibson takes pains to say that any clinician worth their salt would have to know more about the person in question and their personal history to proffer anything better than a ‘best guess’ formulation. He also says that, cognitively speaking, in light of my nightie, fond memories of bathtime and bedtime and how soothing and secure that was could throw light on my earthquake behaviour. In my case, I doubt that: my only memory of bathtime is a rotten one of fighting with my sister for the hot end of the bath (where the taps were), and rarely winning.

A footnote from Perry: In modern life, where we are overwhelmed with choices, Perry suggests there may be something satisfying in having those choices removed, especially if you don’t die. I didn’t die and was never anywhere near dying, although I didn’t know that at the time. My biggest earthquake was comparatively small but terrifying nonetheless. For me to be able to make a choice about what I was wearing was extremely gratifying.

For me, changing my nightie during an earthquake is reminiscent of wearing clean knickers in case of an accident and no more. I’ve concluded that my focus on my appearance and me being unearthed in a fine state is acceptable. It pleases me if it gives me the impetus to smarten up my act and – more importantly – my shameful raggy knicker drawer.


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Written by Jen Brown

A Hollywood based Geordie pensioner living on her wits. Affectionately known as Nano to her granddaughters. Instantly likeable. (Daughter's words!) @MmePcato