Conversations

baboons

It being that time of year, it felt only right to be thinking about lists. However, the one I am about to present may not be quite as tinsellicious as some of the others floating about the ether over the holiday season. It’s a list of Conversations I Do Not Want To Have (But Sometimes You Have To).

  1. The Father Christmas Conversation

Unlike Greg Lake, I never believed in Father Christmas. I never looked to the skies with excited eyes. That was because my dad was Father Christmas for the local Rotary Club, and everything was clearly an adult agreement to keep children happy and raise much-needed funds to take old people to the seaside in the summer.

Like Greg, I did like the Christmas Tree Smell, which is why to this day I refuse to buy a plastic, no-drop-needles so-called tree. We usually lash out on a Nordmann Fir, which doesn’t drop as much but also smells less. It’s all about compromise.

That conversation with small children may well be fraught. I know someone who is genuinely distressed still (after 30 years) at the discovery that his parents had lied to him without batting an eyelid. In a supportive fashion I tell him to get over it, but he remains traumatised. I suppose there are sometimes key moments when our parents are revealed as merely human and those moments can live on with us beyond all reason. Which I suppose takes us back to poor old Greg Lake seeing through the disguise.

I have never had this exact conversation with the Offspringses. In fact they carried on for years trying to keep Sigoth and me happy until one year we all agreed to stop messing about and just enjoy the game as part of the Spirit of the Season. I’m so glad they learned pragmatism at least.

Status: Successfully Negotiated

2.  The Teenage Sex Conversation

Worst. Case. Scenario. It happened.

Offspring missed school the day of the Class Talk due to a virus. Teacher told me I would have to do the catch up instead.

How does that work? We pay taxes so some other blighter has to explain the birds and the bees to the nation’s giggling pre-adolescents. I’m not qualified for this. It wasn’t in the ante-natal classes, and you don’t get anything else in the way of advice once the sprog has popped. I’m British, for goodness’ sake. We don’t have Sex, although we do have Euphemisms aplenty, along with Carry On… films, which also involve giggling. Euphemisms are often counter-productive in this kind of situation though. So I got a book and we read it together and no more was said, quite rightly.

At least, no more was said until hormones kicked in good and proper at the mid-teen point and I found myself having the follow-up conversation about condoms  and who slept where when they came to stay over and why the law was in fact based on sound biological research and that failure to observe my and Society’s rules would have Dire Consequences including in extremis an introduction to the Paedophile Register.

Status: Negotiated with a some issues on the way

  1. The Buggery Conversation

Of course, this all pales into insignificance when faced with explaining buggery to one’s apple-cheeked parent. As a teenager myself I was up late one night watching a biopic about Oscar Wilde. Mother heard the TV on and wandered down to see if I was watching anything good. She managed to walk in at a crucial point in the film where a judge was shouting at Oscar about buggery.

“What is buggery?” she asked.

Well, I was only 17 or 18 and it was still the 1970s, when society had a different approach. That’s my excuse.

“Look it up in the dictionary!” I hissed, going red.

She huffed at me in irritation and stomped into the next room to do so. I heard her riffling through the pages. Then it went a bit quiet and the book was gently replaced. Her tread could be described as “thoughtful” as she climbed the stairs back to bed. And that was that.

Status: Avoided like the very plague, thank goodness.

  1. The DNR Conversation

Today I had the DNR conversation. DNR, as the NHS likes to call it, stands for “Do Not Resuscitate.” Like buggery they prefer to avoid using words that are difficult, so they hide behind abbreviations.

Mother is still in hospital and not doing too well. She now has 9 toes and a chest infection they can’t shift. The lack of breathing is the biggest problem as far as the medics are concerned, not unreasonably I feel. However, unless they can bring the infection under control, and she has always been very resistant to anti-biotics, things do not bode well.

So we had that conversation and I agreed that yes, it would not be desirable to go to the greatest lengths to resuscitate if it would leave her in a worse state than before. She and I had discussed it merrily some years ago when it was summer and neither of us believed it would come true.

Status: Negotiated with issues.

  1. The Mortality Conversation

As a result of the above I now need to have a further conversation with the Offspringses to prepare them for possible bad news. In a way it’s trickier than the Actual Bad News Conversation. I need to prepare people for the worst but allow for the best and try to manage hopes and fears equally.

Status: TBC

Wishing you happier talks this season.

Namaste.

Echoes

It’s been a while since I last wrote on this blog and that is because I have been dealing with echoes and ghosts; which is just a pretentious way of saying “my mother”. To recap, my mother has dementia and I have been caring for her in a partial way, with lots of support from Social Services, while she slowly and surely unravels before my eyes. There is an episode of Doctor Who called (I think) “The Silence in the Library” where someone’s personality is caught in a machine. At first it sounds as if they are there, and all that needs to be done is to find a way to restore them to their body. Then you realise they aren’t there and it’s just a recording of their final thoughts, on a repeat and fade until finally they are let go. The person who was my mother faded out a long time ago and all there have been are echoes of her occasionally surfacing in a grim pretence. Such is the experience of dementia carers, letting go one brain cell at a time.

It all began a long time ago, probably not long after my father died in 1992. Despite a successful history of working as a senior PA to some very demanding Directors in multi-national organisations, she seemed not to be able to cope with the basics of everyday life. My father had done the traditional thing of managing finances and bills. He even did the shopping because he didn’t trust my mother to stick to a budget, and he was probably right. She was impulsive and often unrealistic about what they could afford. However, she did at least know how to write a cheque and read a bank statement, even iif she didn’t feel confident discussing savings accounts and interest rates with bank staff. So I stepped in and helped then gradually took over managing her money and bills. To be honest I think she could have done it but preferred not to if someone else would; that was the way of her, and I had grown up with the expectation that my mother was someone you looked after.

When we as a family moved back up north, she followed. I found her a flat in Sheltered Accommodation as an insurance for later years when she would grow frailer. She was happy with that and settled in. She had lots of aches and pains, and a very good doctor who gradually worked through all the symptoms and decided her diagnosis of arthritis, given 20 years earlier, was in fact wrong and she had spondulitis. He arranged an operation to sort out a problem with two collapsed vertebrae and during her recuperation she contracted viral meningitis in the hospital and died. They resuscitated her but she was never quite the same. Not long after that we began to notice she was not really quite as mentally competent as before, and I suppose her spiral into dementia had become a very real and present thing, either brought on by the trauma or coincidentally exposing itself for the first time.

What was that like? She was frustrated of course, but so was I. We didn’t know anything was wrong. It seemed she was deliberately trying to get my attention by saying she needed help with basic jobs she had been managing perfectly well only days or weeks before. The problem was, that my mother would behave in that way to get my attention anyway, even when I was a child, so I didn’t suspect anything at first.

As she struggled more, I began to suggest she consider increasing her care arrangements. She swore she didn’t have any care arrangements despite the fact she had carers every day to help her shower and dress. My spider senses began to tingle.

Things reached a crisis when I realised that she was eating bacon that was green (no, my dears, in real life green eggs and ham are not good for you!), and that she was mixing up her medication and taking completely random quantities of Warfarin. To be fair, you need a Ph.D in Mathematics to manage Warfarin doses anyway, because they involve Advanced Calculus in working out which colour and in what quantity you need to take them each day, and in addition this changes on a fortnightly basis depending on blood tests.

We talked it over and she said she wanted to move in with us, so we built a granny annexe and made it so. She couldn’t follow the discussions about planning the layout, which I took to be laziness. The day she moved in she claimed she couldn’t remember how to use the washing machine, which I took to be contrariness. A few weeks later, she listened to one of the Offspring playing the guitar, and observed it was a shame I had never learned to play an instrument.

The family froze. It was my guitar, and I had played classical music for years. My mother had tapes of me playing which she listened to after I left home for university. Something was wrong in a very big way.

I spoke to the GP and he arranged an assessment and eventually she was diagnosed with vascular dementia, for which there is no treatment beyond anti-coagulants such as Warfarin (which obviously she was already taking for other conditions). That was in 2008, and the dementia was already reasonably advanced. Her contrariness and laziness were in fact her brain falling apart at the seams, and I hadn’t realised. No one in my family had had dementia before. We had planned the annexe layout to cater for mobility problems but never for mental problems. It was a long time before we really understood what the diagnosis meant.

And so she has faded away, receding from me and returning to past lives where I cannot follow. She no longer knows her grandchildren; some days she may not be sure of me or Sigoth. Every day when I go to bring her through for dinner I listen at her door to try and hear her moving, frightened I’ll find her cold and stiff in her chair. Every day I wonder if she will panic because I am an intruder, and bring on a major stroke. Every day I hear her asking the carers the same question over and over again, on a loop, and inventing answers to their questions.

I admire her ingenuity at hiding her condition. She is expert at getting people to ask closed questions so she can just agree amiably. She tells everyone cheerfully that she makes herself lunch every day and doesn’t see anyone at all for days at a time. It’s all untrue but she can’t remember. She takes a bite of an apple or pear then leaves the rest because she forgets it. She has a permanent cup of cold tea at her side, equally forgotten. She asks me for a drink because she is thirsty despite the beaker of water next to her. She can’t be trusted with the toaster in case she electrocutes herself sticking the knife into it. She can’t work out how to change channels or volume on the TV or how to write a Christmas card or address an envelope. She can’t remember the way from our living room back to her sitting room. She is convinced that she can do everything for herself and doesn’t need any care, or indeed, receive any care.

She sings to herself in her chair, and is happy. She leaves the TV on all day for company, even when people call in. She smiles at people and reads out the headline from the newspaper over and over. She wonders about the weather out loud and recites clichés to sound like conversation but can’t respond to other people’s comments.

At Christmas we had to stop her anti-coagulants, designed to reduce the strokes, because of internal bleeding. She is at greater risk of mini- and major strokes than ever, and over the past 6 months she has slid away from me at a faster rate, disappearing around the bend of the helter-skelter while I try to follow.

We have been very lucky that she has not displayed any of the difficult behaviours that often accompany dementia. She isn’t aggressive or violent. She doesn’t shout or swear or hurl abuse. She just gets confused and stressed if her routine changes, so that a trip to the doctor can bring on another mini-stroke and another step down the stairs to a final oblivion.

She is no longer my mother of course. It used to be just me and her, after my father died, but now it’s just me. And her, over there in a different place, her own little island of dreams. There’s no bridge any more, no shared stories or memories. She sailed out past them some time ago, and now is living in her own childhood, before Dad, or I, came along.

Every day I care for her. Until recently when I went to the doctor and he told me that my recent asthma symptoms were in fact stress. That my heart palpitations were stress. That my sleeplessness and irritability and forgetfulness were stress, stress, stress. And that stress is Very Bad for your health. He gave me the look that said “things must change.”

I talked to Sigoth about the fear of opening the door to her room every day and he looked at me with the same look as the doctor.

I called in Social Services to do a review. They gave me the look too.

It was the look I had been giving myself secretly, when I was alone in the night. I knew they were right but I felt like a traitor and murderer. Because she always said to me she would rather die than go into a home.

Yesterday we took her to a local care home and left her there, like an abandoned kitten.

We didn’t tell her before that morning, even though it took some weeks to plan. Whenever I told her I was going out, even for a few hours, she would panic. If she thought we were away overnight she would get completely hysterical, crying and shouting and begging me not to leave her, inducing asthma and going blue. So I didn’t tell her in advance we were taking her to her worst nightmare. Talking it over with the various people involved we all agreed it would be counter productive.

I have a rule that I never lie to my mother, but I lied by omission for weeks. I plotted behind her back and against her express wishes. I put my health above hers, because there was a genuine risk that the move could induce a stroke or heart attack which would kill her. All the Health Professionals agreed. It was a genuine risk. Then they would give me the look again. Things still had to change.

On Thursday night we had our last dinner together, secretly and silently and lying by omission. No toasts and farewells, no reminiscences about what had been and what adventures may be to come, no thanks or time to share unspoken love.

Yesterday morning after the carer had come for the last time I said to my mother “I need to talk to you,” which is the phrase people use instead of just talking to you because something is wrong.

She knew that much. She looked like a guilty child who was about to be told off, because of course that is how it works now. She is innocent and I am the parent who spoils her fun and tells her off and chivvies her along. Take your tablets, use the inhaler, eat your dinner, drink your tea, go to the toilet, get your shoes on, turn off the TV.

“Turn off the TV,” I said and she did. She looked all big-eyed and anxious and I hadn’t even begun.

I told her I had found somewhere to stay for a while to have a break and to give me a break, that I couldn’t look after her any more. She gave me a look too, the one she gave me when I was very small and did something very bad. She was extremely angry. Her mouth went into a line so straight Blondin could have used it walk over Niagara Falls. Her eyes narrowed. Her face was frozen into some kind of kevlar mask. I was a Very Naughty Girl. She argued. She didn’t need looking after.

“You have to give me a break,” I said. “I’m not well.”

Yes, I resorted to emotional blackmail.

For a few moments she protested some more that she didn’t need looking after. Her body was stiff and tight and rebellious. Then suddenly she relaxed and asked where she was going. It may have been another mini-stroke, or it may have been she reached the end of her attention span.

“Not far, just up the road,” I said comfortingly.

“How long am I going for?” she asked.

“Just a few weeks, see how it goes,” I soothed.

Her assessment is for six weeks, so it wasn’t a lie. The omission was that no matter what, she can’t come home. It is no longer safe for her, and I cannot cope anyway.

We went through those two Q&As all the way to the home. When we got there we sat in the sun for a few minutes and I pointed out the flowers in the garden.

The carers came out to say her room was ready, and we went in. As we went in she asked again.

“How long am I staying?”

“Just a few weeks. See how you go.”

The next time she asked the carers said it instead, skillfully, brilliantly taking my lead. I loved them for it. We took her to her room and the carers bustled around her and fussed and pampered and she enjoyed that. We saw the hairdressing salon and she liked that. We talked about knitting and embroidery that she could do, and people to talk to. She liked that because she never sees anyone for days on end at home. She just manages on her own, you know. Company would be nice.

I put out some of her photos in the room, of her parents because she doesn’t know anyone else, and her Rupert Bear pyjama case and her favourite stuffed toys. We had her knitting bag and her books and her newspaper to read to the staff, and her radio that she can’t use but recognises, and her blanket for her knees. It looked a tiny bit like home.

The carer suggested she finish unpacking, so I said I just needed to pop into the office.

“How long am I staying?”

“Just a few weeks, see how you go.”

“You will see me, won’t you?”

That was new. It was an echo.

“Yes, very soon. I’m just down the road.”

They told me to give it a week before visiting to let her settle properly.

As I walked down the corridor I heard her reading the headline to the carer, about carrots curing cancer.

I went to the office, it wasn’t a lie. There was paperwork. But I lied by omission because then Sigoth and I got in the car and drove away.

We do what is needed, and we do our best.

Namaste

Into Darkness

solar-eclipse

There has been a fair share of darkness around just lately: Rara’s troubles, endless parades of suffering in the news, and seemingly difficulties for many many people at every turn. For EBL there are also a few hard decisions to be made and actions to be taken, and generally the gloom of a British spring matches my internal mood like a carefully chosen designer accessory.

I try to see past it. I try not to allow anger, sadness, pettiness, cynicism and depression get their collective hooves in my door and take their toll. I try to let it go, and then berate myself for my heartlessness.

“What good,” I admonish the demon on my shoulder, “will my crying about it do?”

I act where I can, hold dear ones in my heart, accept that at this time and in this place even I, EBL, have limitations. Obviously once I am Ruler of the World then things will change. Uppances will arrive with vigour. Hens will indeed roost once more in their hereditary establishments. Desserts of a legally balanced variety will be served with gusto. Indeed, everyone will be equipped with a sickle and sent out to reap whatever they have sown. Sadly, until then we wait.

It also occurred to me, either as febrile self-justification or perhaps a sliver of wisdom, that there cannot be light without darkness.

While I mused thus over an early morning beverage, Sigoth read me a joke. I decided then and there that, along with wishing all people peace and joy, I would also wish them a GSOH (good sense of humour). When we can laugh at our petty foibles and pointless posturings, then we can focus on what is important and how we can make practical and achievable changes. And then, my dears, we triumph. The light returns.

So to help me in my new resolve, I want to share with you the joke Sigoth read to me. It’s a Golden Oldie, but I commend it to you as a starter for ten. Brace yourselves.

An optimist thinks the glass is half full.

A pessimist thinks it is half empty.

But an engineer knows that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

Whether you are in light or darkness, I wish you joy and peace and laughter.

Namaste.

 

Blocks

I have not been writing so much lately and I am not about to make excuses. I did that in another post recently so that’s all the excusifying you will be getting from me.

Calvin and Hobbes sum it up

Calvin and Hobbes sum it up

I wanted to write, though. I still do. But I have a Thing in the way, a Monster under the keyboard, an air bubble blocking the free flow of water through my pipes. I will be draining my radiators in due course, and will tell you how it all turns out then, but in the meantime I just need to sit in a corner for a bit and grumble through the dark reaches of the night.

It’s generational I suspect. No matter that I have worked in IT, woman and girl, a quarter century or more under the silicon. No matter that before there was a web I was using bulletin boards to send messages to people around the world, hopping from server to server. No matter that in the human realm I enjoy holding forth and listening to the sound of my own voice. No matter that at times words issue forth like the flood that floated the Ark, although hopefully without drowning unicorns.

No matter, I say, that any of those things are true, and potentially even relevant. This old lady simply does not share on-line all the potential stumbles ahead. I don’t ask you to help me figure out what to do, although I may happily bore you death once it is all done. Anyway, I know what to do; I’m just waiting for it to be done.

I’m not trying to be mysterious – but the Block Monster did make me realise that so many of you share so much by publishing your blogs. I don’t. There’s nothing I write here I wouldn’t happily read out at work or in the pub. I assume it will all end up one day in the HR department being checked for subversiveness, or in the village newsletter for people to gossip about. So I stick to the past – what has been and can be reported – not the future, despite the fact that most of my time I worry about the future and what may be. Naturally I live very little in the present, because I am poor at mindfulness, but I am working on that and trying to extend my visits.

Catherine Tate as Lauren

Of course, some days I publish very bad writing like this stream of consciousness. Am I bothered? Look at my face. Not bothered.

In addition to being elderly, I prefer to work things out in my head, not with people. I don’t do human very well. I am anti-social. My idea of a brilliant day is to spend it alone, reading, knitting, writing, practising calligraphy or music, or learning to crochet. If I want to push the boat out, I will watch a film. I have no idea why I like to write or publish to a blog, I just can’t help it.

Still, I managed to write something, so I’ll blow a raspberry at the Word-Eating Monster, and hope to resume normal service in due course. Probably about a month in fact.

Do you share or conceal or deflect? Do problems free you up to write more, or befuddle your fingers and tie up your tongue? And yes, I do realise that by definition not everyone will be able or willing to answer that.

Namaste.

 

Spring thoughts

199504 Rillington daffodilsDon’t you love Spring? Well, perhaps you don’t but I quite like it, although Autumn is my season of choice. I like the in-between seasons, which are full of possibility. Summer and winter seem so fixed in their ways and I enjoy the bracing winds of change and blue horizons. They offer potential.

Anyway, Spring. Time for some more positive reflections on life, the universe and everything after recent dark and ponderous posts. Spring, the season of cute little baa-lambs, poetic daffodils and inexplicable urges to wash the windows and vacuum the loft. There are lots of birds flapping about with tree trunks in their beaks as they prepare nests for their hard-wrapped offspring. I imagine finding an endless source of nourishment for hungry beaks after the bairns have hatched is a glide in the park after all the construction activity.

The miserable side of my soul mutters in a corner about hay fever and sunburn in my imminent future, but I have her under control. No sunburn for me as I go out very little due to working, and I live in England which doesn’t get enough sun to be dangerous. Plus my hay fever seems to have lessened over recent years so I appear to have grown out of it. Take that, roasting rays and pesky pollen! Who knew working long hours and getting old could be so good?

Another thing to look forward to is the Chocolate Festival. The family are all due home for the weekend, so I am planning menus. The rhubarb is growing nicely in the garden so crumble is on the list. We like our rhubarb crumble in EBL Towers, with thick, sweet custard, the kind you eat with a knife and fork.

The final Spring activity at EBL Towers is Birthday Overload. Four birthdays in 24 days, my dears, put a bit of a strain on the celebratory muscles. With ChocoFest inevitably added into the mix we are the very definition of Party Animals; at least, the kind of Party Animals who might participate in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and end up sleeping in the tea pot.

My father’s birthday was in June, near solstice. He used to say he liked having his birthday then because it was half-way to Christmas so spread the presents out nicely. I, on the other hand, like my April birthday because it was half-way through the school year and didn’t get spoiled by exams or people being away on holiday with Granny in Wales. In those days a week with Granny in Wales was as good as a fortnight in Turkey for today’s young people, and we were grateful for it. My granny lived with us, so a week in her sitting room was the best I got, or a day trip to granddad’s in Croydon.

I didn’t have birthday parties. We tried once and it was a terrible failure because my mother had absolutely no idea how to run one. We had a cake for tea but she didn’t know any games apart from gin rummy and sent us into the garden where it rained on us. After that, I moved on to getting infected with diseases at the local cinema: three birthdays in a row produced measles (Snow White), mumps (Pinocchio) and chicken pox (Dumbo). I am not a Disney fan and now you know why. He ruined my birthdays. Later birthdays were day trips with a best friend, usually to London or Kew Gardens. Even today I associate my birthday with hiding in a den under rhododendrons and pretending we were fighting pirates or cowboys or bank robbers, I forget which. It hardly matters: we were the goodies and we couldn’t lose because of the narrative imperative.

Nowadays I like the end of short, dark days and appreciate the onset of lighter evenings. I don’t mind dark nights. In many ways I quite enjoy them. Again they are more mysterious and secretive, and being out in them or at home feels quite secure and comforting. It’s just that going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark wears thin after a few months. When the first good days in Spring roll in, there’s a sense of desperation in the air as the population surges outside and exposes their pasty, goose-pimpled, northern flesh to the vitamin D enriched goodness of our local star. Even I, encased in layers of crumpled clothing, turn my face up to the sky and soak up the beams of life-enhancing light. Then I sneeze and hide indoors.

We know Spring is really here now because Sigoth is cutting the grass between showers and we are thinking about whether to risk hanging the laundry out. The bluebells are massing to put in an appearance, annoyed that the grape hyacinths have beaten them to it. There is forsythia ablaze in half the gardens along the street, and our lilac tree is shuddering under the weight of orgies of sparrows, getting jiggy in the twiggy.

I still prefer Autumn but rumbustious old Spring is pretty nice. Feel like sharing some seasonal thoughts? Get on, then, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Namaste.

 

 

Most people don’t realise

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Today I have five things to share with you. Buckle up, blogfriends!

  1. Most people don’t realise that I learned to play classical guitar.
  2. Most people don’t realise that I wore built-up shoes as a child due to knock-knees.
  3. Most people don’t realise that I am genuinely ambivalent about Marmite.
  4. Most people don’t realise that I don’t recognise faces easily.
  5. Most people don’t realise that I have wanted to kill myself.

We hide, intentionally or not, many facets of our lives. Sharing everything would be information overload of the most intense variety. However, depression and mental illness are too often hidden because of stigma.

This post is a contribution to the Blog for Mental Health Project 2014. You can read more about it by following these links.

http://acanvasoftheminds.com/2014/01/07/blog-for-mental-health-2014/

http://blogformentalhealth.wordpress.com/

I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

What don’t people always realise about you?

Namaste.

 

In the night garden

Sleep-not-found

Sometimes I don’t sleep very well. In fact, quite often I don’t. It may be age or hormones or stress. Who knows? Certainly not the medical profession.

I lie awake trying not to disturb Sigoth very much. Often I fail because one of the ways I can get back to sleep is snuggling up and listening to his breathing and heartbeat. Naturally this disturbs him and then we both lie awake for a while until he falls asleep again.

Sometimes I try and do some relaxation exercises. I breathe in. I breathe out. I bring my mind back to the breathing. It doesn’t often work.

Sometimes I go through the alphabet thinking of girls’ first names or boys’ first names, or fruit and vegetables, of films or TV programmes or books or authors. I am surprised at how successful that can be, even when I go through the same old list for the third time that week. I rarely have to do more than two or three alphabets in any one night, but if I get through the third I know a fourth will not help me.

After all that I listen to the night noises, straining to hear what is happening around me. The mouse clog-dancing in the loft; the dog in the village barking at some disturbance or dream; the sleepy grumble of a bird in the lilac tree annoyed by the barking; an owl hooting; perhaps a fox barking in the distance, disturbing the dog. A car or lorry might rattle past, on a mysterious errand at three in the morning. The wind whistles a bit around the chimney and argues with the trees, which shush at it like an elderly librarian. The house itself grunts and creaks as it fidgets and tries to reach an annoying itch. The clocks downstairs chime every half hour. Some nights I can hear the earth herself spin.

When even the everynight sounds do not lull me back to the land of Nod I have to get up and move about a bit to persuade my body that I really am tired and need to go to sleep. I might get a glass of water from downstairs. I might take painkillers if my shoulders are aching.

Sometimes I walk about the house, embarrassed at the constellations it contains. In almost every room there are small, glowing lights from electrical items left plugged in. I mean, I care about the earth and climate change and all, but it is so much easier to leave the television on stand-by. What can I say? I am Evil Personified. There are routers and hubs and the television and the hifi and laptops and mobile phones and radios and DVD players and games consoles, all sucking up the coal-by-wire or whatever it is nowadays, as if it was going out of fashion. In fact it probably is, and if you are reading this by clockwork computer and candlelight, I’m sorry I wasted your power. Then there are the street lights outside making the garden, front and back, blaze like Wembley Stadium.

A few years ago I would often walk out into the garden at night to look at the genuine constellations above. It made me feel better to see the Plough and the Pleiades, or Orion’s Belt, or whatever I could identify. If I am stardust, then those are my distant cousins.

But then some more houses were built behind our house and although we were promised low lighting levels, it turns out the council actually meant we didn’t need to use our own lights because they would provide a full service for us. When we get up at night we don’t have to put lights on. The streetlights outside provide sufficient for all our nocturnal needs. Do I sound a little curmudgeonly here? Yes? Good, I meant to.

This Blazing Glory notwithstanding, I went out into the garden a few nights ago. It was unseasonably mild for a March night, and I thought some fresh air would do me good. I stood on the grass and closed my eyes to listen, feeling like Mr Bear in “Peace at Last”. It was a quiet night, no real breeze and no real rustling. I am sure the small, anxious inhabitants of the night time garden were frozen to the spot as I lumbered about. The clouds meant the temperature was warm but the starview was non-existent. Certainly there were no hedgehogs rustling or cats wailing or birds cheeping or sun shining. Even the owls were on a break.

I sighed and went back inside, At least Sigoth wasn’t snoring.

What do you do on sleepless nights? Help me out – I need some suggestions!

Namaste