Friday, January 19, 2007


lamppost: verb. To lamppost someone is to sneak up in the middle of the night to the foot of their bed (typically along with willing co-conspirators), grip its frame and lift the bed up in a swift motion until it is fully vertical. When performed correctly, the (typically) sleeping occupant of the bed will be projected in a curvilinear flight path leaving him (victims are typically male), after the working of gravity, the rotational energy thus imparted, and subsequent collision and rebound with the back wall and/or floor (cushioned somewhat by covering duvet or blanket), lying upside down on his head, bruised by the impact and rudely awoken by this quite literal upheaval.

As far as the etymology of the term goes, the lamppost designation comes from the upright look of the bed once it reaches its final position. Lamppost thus has a sense of transformation, the repurposing of beds into utility poles and, linguistically, of a noun to a verb. It suggests movement from rest into action and a catapult effect of sorts.

Sample usage: "Why don't we lamppost Tiny Tim after lights out?"

With regard to the history of this peculiar tradition, my investigations revealed only that it is ancient. It certainly was part of the curious lore of the secondary school I attended thus perhaps this practice might extend all the way back to 1597. The name, I suspect, is of a more recent vintage.


The laws of physics come into play when one lampposts and it becomes a matter of weight, force, materials and torque. Lampposting is best performed on lighter weight human beings sleeping on single beds, say with a metallic bedframe on lightly waxed wooden floors to lessen the friction. Thus in a dorm room of teenage boys, the youngest and leanest are likely and frequent targets. More satisfying however are the cases when the young ones combine to exact vengence on elder tormentors although, in these instances, one has to balance the strength of the former against the size and weight of the latter - and the prospect of retribution.

If you've ever been lampposted you are well aware about how quickly friends can become enemies. That instant when you lose contact with the mattress is a signal moment of clarity in that regard. Defensive measures against the practice include feigning sleep or sleeping with one eye open - alert for the sight or sound of rushing predators, and deftly jumping out of bed before (or even as) the bed is being raised. It is good therefore to make sure that bedsheets are not fully tucked in thus thwarting your escape.

I am relatively famous in a certain crowd for having remained asleep for almost a minute post-impact in this inverted vertical posture after a quite cruel lampposting. My case was a novel twist to the practice; the victim is meant to swiftly groan, curse appropriately lamenting his misfortune (and pain), gather up mattress, pillows and blankets and find some way to bring the bed to its formerly horizontal position. The lords of the flies who dealt with me on that occasion were disappointed by the lack of reaction and worried that neither the bed nor I would be restored before the authorities might make their appearance to investigate the commotion.

Pranks of varying degrees of ingenuity occur in any playground and community. Sometimes of course, lines are crossed from rituals of sorts into, well let's be frank, bullying. Thus hazing is a commonplace from army barracks to boarding schools. Human behaviour is endlessly fascinating and we have all sorts of ridiculous traditions that seem to stick around. I suppose that this impulse could also be translated into our politics and diplomacy. Certainly certain coalitions of the willing are apt to lamppost other nations just because they can - these are affectionately called wars of choice, but I digress.


I'll admit having lampposted a couple of people in my time. In mitigation about being an object lesson on man's propensity for appalling behaviour, I should say for what it's worth that I was a victim of said practice probably ten times (although I managed to escape half the time).

The worst lamppost I can remember witnessing was of someone whose arm had been placed in a cast just that day. To lamppost him that same night seemed a touch excessive if not cruel. It was too painful for him to maneuver out of bed even as it was lifted. I still regret not having warned the poor guy; my instinct for self-preservation had led me to leap out of my bed and, once satisfied, that I wasn't that night's target, I simply watched the rushing hordes step into action. The slingshot effect, the flight, the terrible sound...

One other irony I should mention: the most enthusiastic lampposter I knew went on to become a policeman in later life, perhaps indicating something about the likelihood of brutality and trigger-happiness in his chosen profession.

In later years I did my part in trying to curb the practice with invocations of the golden rule, love thy neighbour, do unto others etc. My results were middling. Oh well...

A few nights ago as I was falling asleep, I heard a crashing sound and rapid footsteps approaching and almost instinctively rolled out of bed. It was a false alarm, the upstairs neighbours or something and an acoustic trick. Still, I was transported back 20 years and the word returned to me. I laughed at first at the vivid memories - perhaps that was the zaniness of the act, the uplift as it were. Then I remembered the typical aftermath (picking up the pieces), shook my head and headed back to bed. I kept the sheets loose just in case.

Soundtrack for this note

  • Loose Ends - Hangin' on a String (Contemplating)
    What did I do wrong? It's all a mystery to me
    The breakthrough song from one of my favourite soul groups - a song that set the tone for the British soul that followed. The subtitle is "contemplating".
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