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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

Christmas lists..

Don’t let your kids blackmail you into overspending.  You could

follow, no, wait!-‘channel’ their desires into the latest Harvey

Nichols’ ploy.

What’s that?

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

and read:


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.

12 Cinderella Coach Wedding carriage  Plastic clear

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.