I don’t know where the tradition of a Rest in the middle of the day came from. In the land of the umbrella, there is no need of a temporal bolthole from the cruel midday sun. More’s the pity.
But I can trace the Rest back through three generations of my family, on the female side. Its provenance prior to this is lost in history. Who knows, sometime in the middle ages, maybe a wrinkled wise Shrewsday whispered the secret, behind a cap with lappets, to her daughter-in-law, about to join the clan by marriage.
My gracious grandmother took her rest, religiously, after lunch every day. As far as I know, she did it all her life, unless work dictated otherwise. She raised four children in an unfailingly middle class fashion in a large Victorian house in East Yorkshire.
Although as I child I can remember a row of servants bells on the ground floor near the scullery, I don’t think she had any help in the house. Just her husband, herself, four growing young people and a dog called Whisky.
So I can’t help thinking that a Rest, taken after the main meal of the day was done and dusted, would have been a lifeline. Shut the large echoing Victorian door. Instruct children to find toys, read books, create no mischief and simply have a little winding down time.
She passed the secret on to my mother, who in her turn educated her brood of four that the hour between two and three was sacrosanct.
I have clear memories of childhood Rests. It wasn’t a case of enjoying them, or not enjoying them: one simply concurred with the general Pause.
I’m not sure what went wrong when the secret, vouchsafed to me by so many generations, reached me and my brood.
I need my rest. I don’t get it on workdays or even weekdays during the term: but I am convinced some biorhythm or other reaches an all-time low roundabout 2pm. Without the adrenalin of work or deadlines to reach, I feel drowsy. I can only think of one thing, and that’s a soft, welcoming duvet.
When I wake 20 minutes later, life is good. The rest of the day, I would swear, is more productive. It’s a power nap, I tell myself. It also means I can stay up much later and watch the late film, although I agree that is a little counter-productive.
Summer holidays are the time The Rest is at its most essential. One needs a break from even the best kids.
So every day, after lunch, I lecture my offspring sternly.
This is Quiet Time, I intone. And that means quiet, calm activities. We talk in whispers or calm voices, I continue. I teach social skills. I know what I’m talking about here. We’re talking a small number of decibels and no high frequencies.
Then I go on to consequences.
Kids, I say, if I hear one squeak out of line- just one exuberant squawk of joy – it’s separate rooms. Felix will be banished to the top floor, Maddie to the bottom, not to meet again until the end of Rest.
I enquire whether my message is clear. Every day, I watch two faces try desperately to keep straight. Any sign of mirth could make Mummy talk for much, much longer.
And every day they pledge, as solemnly as is humanly possible in the circumstances, to rest quietly and with suitable decorum. Which is hard to do with with hysterical giggles already rising in one’s throat.
And every day, for some idiotic reason, I believe them.
Leaving the door ajar so the children are assured the Rest Police are monitoring their every action, I jump into bed and pick up my favourite book. It takes only a minute or so before I feel drowsy and drop off to sleep.
When one returns from unconsciousness, the first sense to return is hearing. I know this from my first aid courses, and also because I woke up from an operation once to hear a naughty surgical nurse being reprimanded because no-one knew I could hear. Immensely entertaining, even post-op.
So I lie there and after about two minutes, I partially resurface as the mirth begins. Squawks, shrieks, jumping and bumping, role playing and acting, all in Shrewsday-loud sopranos that can penetrate consciousness, as nothing else can.
But I’m still under the surface. I just can’t bring myself to transform from Rip Van Winkle to Mussolini in order to stop the shinanegans. I just want it all to go away. If I wait for long enough it will subside.
But of course it doesn’t. It builds to a crescendo. Just occasionally my inner Italian Dictator does emerge and I get up and stomp in and shout and wave my arms a lot.
Now with anyone except my children, this would have an effect. I am renowned for my firm-but-fair border-defining style of child care. Lots of love, and lots of boundaries.
My children have had a lifetime to analyse my style and ruthlessly exploit any loopholes. And they do.
So my demonstrative reaction to their high jinks does have an effect, for as long as it takes me to get back to my duvet. By which time the party is back in full swing.
My mother came to stay during the week, just for a day. Her quiet time, a sacred tradition passed on by her mother-in-law, was ruined; because I appear to have lost my grip on the silent aspect of the Rest ethic.
So I’m on the lookout for solutions which don’t include manacles. Answers on a postcard please.