In the night garden


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!



Waking up alone

My dears, I know you think I am posting but it’s actually a magic pixie who is posting on my behalf while I am away for work. That’s why if any of you have been kind enough to comment I have not yet replied. I am thinking of you all, though, never fear. Be brave, I’ll be home for the weekend.

I dislike being away from home. I have moaned about it often enough. However, it occurred to me the other day that what I actually dislike is waking up alone.

The reason that startling revelation hit my consciousness was that last weekend I had a bug. Not a software bug, a proper virus. No, not a computer virus… A mean little germ got into my guts, settled down, had descendants and it resulted in me with my head down the loo at 3 am and periodically thereafter until the internal wars of digestion had seen me ultimately victorious and employing a full and healthy set of antibodies to send that old germ packing like the Swiss Guard at the Sack of Rome.

During this period Sigoth exhibited the better sign of valour and ministered to my every need from a safe distance to make sure he didn’t fall foul of the same bug. Very sensible of him really. We can’t afford to have both of us laid up because of the mother.

I still didn’t like waking up without the chance of a snuggle. Just a few precious minutes before the next busy day begins is all I ask.

When I am away I wake up alone. I often wake up alone at 3 am just because it’s not my bed and not my room and not my village. There are cars and party goers outside and random guests in the corridor and air-con gurgling. None of these noises help me sleep like a baby, except that babies often sleep by waking up at intervals and yelling for comfort. I don’t yell but neither do I tend to go back to sleep.

It happens sometimes when I sleep in at home and Sigoth gets up early, usually when I have been away and not slept well for a few days and need to catch up. Then I wake up in the luxury of my own bed, and roll over to find a big empty space that should be full of snoring Sigoth. There are times I fall asleep in my own bed before he comes up at night and wake up in the morning after he had gone downstairs and I am disoriented by solitude. My fuzzy brain wonders if it’s the future and I am alone forever; whether he is ill, or has died, and I’ve forgotten; whether he left me for some reason I cannot quite bring to mind or have blocked out; whether he no longer cares.  My desperately accumulated sense of being safe and happy and at peace is shattered in a moment of uncertainty and I begin to suspect I have been fooling myself for thinking anyone would stay with me.

I hear a sound, turn my head, and there he is with a tray of tea and a crossword, and the angels are blowing trumpets on the landing and turning cartwheels in the bathroom because he is back. Fireworks roar across the ceiling, exploding by the wardrobe and drowning out the dove burbling at the top of the chimney. Choirs reach a crescendo and the crowds dance in the street. There is the end of war and famine and sickness and poverty. The whale is saved. Hell, every last endangered arachnid and crustacean is saved while we’re at it, even the ugly ones. The sun has got his hat on.

This time.


City Square, 3 A.M

City Square, LeedsI like my sleep. It is a rare and precious thing. I often sleep badly, which is strange to me even after several years of sleeping badly. I blame the pesky hormones and keep hoping it will settle down, but so far it hasn’t.

Last night was my second night in a hotel room overlooking City Square in Leeds. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a fine room with a fine view. I’m quite fond of City Square. In December it has a massive tree with sparkly lights, and sometimes Occupy protesters around the bottom like a modern Nativity. (Take that, St Paul’s, with your eviction notices!) In milder weather, if there is such a concept north of the Watford Gap, there are hanging baskets with pretty flowers looking pretty as only pretty things can. Often they are pink, and none the worse for it.

I’m looking out the window now as I write this, the sky greying and the buildings awash with yellow spotlights shining upwards and dawn shining downwards and streetlights filling in the gap in the middle. It’s 7.30 already and busy and soon I will venture down into the sleepy, shuffling commuter crowd to stride purposefully to the office.

City Square has bicycle lanes criss-crossing it as well as a wild tangle of bus lanes and normal roads in a bewildering one-way system, and lots of different traffic lights and many , many pedestrians so confused by it all that they simply wander where they will at great personal risk. Taxis erupt from the station in all directions like champagne from a vigorously shaken bottle splattering everyone in its orbit. Buses chug and wheeze and occasionally glide along the central, bus-only, roadways. Busy, busy, busy.

It’s all well and good at 7.30 on a Friday morning. It’s a work day and a school day and a doing day. When I toss and turn in my bed at night, missing home, gnawing at a work problem, wondering if my alarm is set and checking it for the third time, I expect a bit more peace and quiet. City Square does not oblige. Sometimes there are sirens for dark, night time emergencies. Last night there was singing.

I lay and listened to the inebriated group of gentlemen singing as they staggered through the square. It felt like they were under my window, serenading me. I am sure the other guests enjoyed the concert as much as I did, way up on the 5th floor. But I was proud of myself, because I was awake for other reasons so it wasn’t their fault and I did not blame them for disturbing me. Rather I thought to myself:

“There’s some pretty good harmony and two part singing going on there; that’s quite impressive given how drunk they are.”

They sounded like they were happy, and happiness is not a bad thing to be heard, even at 3 o’clock in the morning. They eventually found their way out of the immediate vicinity, hopefully in the right direction and not to the canal (unless they were Yorkshire Gondaliers I suppose). I turned over (again) and tried to relax (again) and this time I did. So they sang me to sleep after all, bless them.