"Muum? Is it breakfast yet? Muuuum? Can we come down yet? Muu-um?" These requests, at gradually increasing volume, are the pips that usually begin my day. Then there is a stampede across the boys' room (just above ours: stupid, I know), followed by fighting breaking out, followed by me trying to break it up with offers of Weetabix as my husband burrows ever further underneath his beloved pillow.
But that was then, this is now. This morning I will begin with Beata Aleksandrowicz's rise and shine massage, and my morning will be a thing of absolute stillness and beauty. In fact, my whole life will be a gurgling stream of tranquility, if I can only get these massages done.
It's 7.15am and for some odd reason the boys are still asleep. I wake up and wriggle down the bed. I breathe in slowly, raise my arms above my head and breathe out while stretching my body out to north and south. "Niiice," says my husband, sounding upsettingly like Borat, from his side of the bed. This may be harder than I had imagined.
I'd been to visit Beata the day before to be talked through some of her self-massage techniques. Beata is either one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life - kind, with a concerned expression that makes you want to cry - or a former member of the KGB (she's Polish not Russian, but you know, it's that Eastern bloc thing) with sophisticated methods for making you do what she wants. At one point, to illustrate a technique, she unerringly puts a finger on the most tender point of my tense shoulders. I imagine she would have little difficulty in killing a man with a single blow to the neck.
She had looked deep into my eyes (hypnotic technique?) and said very firmly that the four crucial things about the self-massage techniques are: one, that you make proper time for them and do them with true commitment; two, that you are aware of your breathing; three, that you do them slowly; and four, that you make sure the pressure you're exerting doesn't spill over into pain (not a problem for me - decidedly not a member of the "until it burns" school). Slowness turned out to be the hardest part: Beata kept urging me to slow down, slow down! I tried to explain that I'm a journalist, and we can only do things fast or late, but she was having none of it.
I came away tutored in the morning massage, the neck and shoulder stretch, rapid stress-buster, uplifting massage, and the hangover cure (which I won't, of course, need). And that is how I come to be lying on my bed, trying to imagine that I'm being pulled in two directions when my children aren't even in the room.
Once I've stretched and stretched, I have to place my hands on either side of my skull, push gently in, and lift. Then I have to tap all over my scalp with my fingertips, as if I'm sounding for dry rot. It's odd as hell. But, how peculiar, I like it. My fingertips and my skull are both pleasingly refreshed. Then I do the hangover cure, lifting my skull again, just to see how it feels. The boys crash in, and we go hunting for cereal. Within a few seconds the stretch is forgotten.
The uplifting massage, which involves putting your hand on your chest and then massaging your sternum with your fingertips, is nice, sure, but I'm not sure it actually uplifts me. Could Beata be wrong about the miracle of touch ...?
But later that day my neck is, as usual, playing up. Over the years, plenty of osteopaths and masseuses have pointed out that I store up all my tension in my neck and shoulders and, every couple of months, the tautness spirals into headaches, and then a migraine. I know when I'm heading that way by the painkiller packets that collect in the bottom of my bag. Last time I checked, there were three different varieties rattling away down there. Seems like a perfect moment for the neck and shoulder stretch, which requires "commitment and investment", Beata has explained.
I'm sitting on the tube in London, my neck taut and aching. I think sod it and start doing the exercise, massaging my own neck ("slowly, slowly" says Beata in my head).
The massage sends sparks of pain up my spinal column. I finish by digging my fingers into the pads of muscle either side of the base of my neck, lifting and then breathing out and lowering my head - feeling the tug of the tendons straining all the way down my back, my sides. Then I do it again, completely ignoring everyone else, and find myself in a little bubble of my own, just me and my neck, slowly stretching out. It's not exactly a river of tranquility. But it is a trickle.