I need to introduce a lifelong friend; a friend who's been constantly at my side from the cradle. This friend stays young, and when age comes, she is renewed. Somehow she is always fresh and fair. She warms me when I'm cold and cools me when I'm hot. In my native land she's cast off not long after infancy, but in India she's acquired new fans, and I'm happy to say her latest recruit is my handsome carer and lifelong friend, Devaraj whose name means God King.
In UK they're hardly given a second thought, but the other day when I sent a lady into town with a specimen to see if we could get another one, I became fascinated with the reports that came back to me. They had never seen anything like it. Too good for here, they said; and another added that nowhere in Tiruvannamalai could you get a thing like that. “Try Spencers Plaza in Pondicherry” added another one, “They've got them in there”. How people who have just seen something for the first time have no idea about it in the first minute, and yet know exactly where they are sold in the next is something I never really managed to understand, but at least I felt that I was on the trail, and that one way or another the cellular blanket may be had in India.
The greatness of the blanket is that it starts on you in a miniscule way. It jokes with you a bit by not feeling in the least bit warm when it touches your skin — the feeling is cool, although not unpleasantly so — it's a light covering more reminiscent of cotton slacks you'd wear in the tropics to let your skin breathe in the heat of the day. After a few minutes of having the blanket on my lap I touch it again, and again am greeted by coolness, but with a subtle difference: my legs feel warmer without being warmed; they feel as if they're starting to make their own heat, the body cells being stoked and primed and winking into life.
Like a second skin the blanket breathes. The breeze passes me, or the the fan oscillates and every puff of air movement is felt under the blanket. It's no longer a question of 'me' and 'it': it's joined with me and is a part of my being. It suffuses and osmoses, rocking with the baby on the top of the tree as the bough in the wind. The wind kept everything light and airy, and my mother, in tune with her oft-sung nursery rhyme theme, kept in tune with the rocking air when she provided me with the new wonder blanket. Mum was a walking advertisement rep, and she told me about the blanket's magical properties in such a way that I learnt the words as catechism. In many ways, like her mother before her, she manipulated and domineered every domestic situation; yet her ways which would otherwise smother me to stupefaction were here aërated and mollified, until they were made as light as the soufflés she showed off to her neighbours — feathery clouding sponges of near-nothingness which didn't sink, however much you fanned them.
Blanket of snow, night's thick blanket or blanket weed in a pond: all of these are smothering words, terms that allow no breath to enter. Cellular these miracles may be, but blankets they are not.
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Research into this new kind of material was actively under way in 1952, and by 1955 Early's of Witney, Oxon had gone into full production. The material was taken up by hospitals in a big way, as being cotton, the blankets could be sterilized by boiling. One make which springs to make was made by Zorbit who made The Antibac® made for Hospital use only. I had one of those for many years.
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