Cheryl Cole, Cinderella, Claudius, drawbridge, Faust, Harvey Nichols, insomnia, Judas, Land of Nod, magic lantern, Marcel Proust, Mephistopheles, Potiphar, Samaritans, Swann's Way, World Service
Recently I’ve been having trouble sleeping, Clammie confessed.
Perhaps it is down to excessive caffeine intake, I suggested.
Oh, it’s just that Scheherezade and Isolde have given me their
Don’t let your kids blackmail you into overspending. You could
follow, no, wait!-‘channel’ their desires into the latest Harvey
You give them a small gift, such as an eraser, or a toothpick and
spend on yourself. As Cheryl Cole keeps reminding her viewers-
‘You’re worth it!’
Hmm..but I think my anxiety is getting worse. I try to count
backwards from three hundred in threes, but I’m really good at
it now. I then choose a category, like Antique Furniture, and find
examples for every letter in the alphabet.
How does that work? I enquired.
Well, ‘a’ is for ‘armoire’; ‘b’ is for..
Okay. I get it. What about ‘x’?
I just leave the difficult letters out. Sometimes I have to put the
light on and read Proust. He knew all about the problem. But reading
in the night annoys Tristram. So I go downstairs and make a cup
of tea and angst about how I’m going to face the next day, sleep-
I remember the opening of Swann’s Way, I sympathised. Proust is
brilliant on night terrors, sleeping in snatches and disorientation on
waking. But at least you don’t have to create a nest of materials to
keep out the draughts, as he did.
No, but it is cold at three o’clock when I go to the kitchen and the
central heating is off.
Maybe you are just not tired out enough during the day. Proust
described the agonies of being sent to bed in the summer when he
wasn’t sleepy. You could buy yourself a Magic Lantern to entertain
yourself. He had one, I reflected. Or you could write some poetry.
That’s what I do.
Really? Is that when the Muse descends?
Absolutely. Look- here’s what I wrote last week, at four am.
I unfolded some lined paper and she put on her spectacles
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
It was that time when Mephistopheles
returned to claim the pledged Faustian soul.
It was that time of night when Judas left;
went to Potiphar’s field to hang himself.
It was that time of night when Jesus wept
and sweated drops of blood, in agony.
It was the time of night when heart monitors fail
and the felonious will seize on swag-
when Claudius’ prayers returned to him;
Cinderella’s coach reverted to squash.
That is the time I wake, squint at the clock,
dread the hours of insomnia to come
in a chilled house, when the heating clicks off;
my partner is in a different world.
Instead of counting sheep, dim shooting stars
zip across my night vision for a while.
There is no one to talk to at that time,
save a Samaritan’s listening ear.
(One leaves that organ for the desperate.)
I wonder how this siege is going to end:
an enemy has poisoned all my wells;
my fields have been scorched and fire approaches.
They’re going to find my hidden strongbox.
Tapestries have already become shrouds.
The drawbridge is my only protection.
Once it is breached, vile hordes will fly inside.
And so I rise and reach for dressing gown;
seek with my soles for ice-cold slippers;
fold back my guilt and exit black bedroom,
step by step, unloading hell with each tread,
searching the comfort of a warm kettle,
The World Service, the fridge’s quiet thrum.
Blue standby lights pinpoint where I am;
the oven clock tells me the precise time.
It’s time I was far in the Land of Nod.