From time to time, since I was a child, I have had problems getting off to sleep. As a young girl I would lie patiently in my bed for, say, ten minutes after lights out, before shouting at the top of my voice “I can’t sleep!” Waking up everybody in the house. Soon after that my mum acquired some ‘sleeping medicine’ from the doctors. Pink, strawberry flavoured and most likely a placebo. It did the trick.
As a teenager I learnt that counting sheep was pointless. I’m not a natural with numbers and became stressed that I might have missed one or ten. I also felt pressurised into not losing any sheep. As if at any moment the shepherd would appear at my side with his crook, and a cross face.
In my twenties, quite frankly, who cared whether I slept or not. I could talk all night and go out for coffee at dawn in London. I didn’t want to miss a minute.
Then came babies. As if I’d turned my back for minute and there they were. Cute little feeding vessels waking up for feeds every two hours. I ironed to get myself back into sleep mode. My husband was in heaven. I’m not a natural housekeeper either and here was a pile of work shirts beautifully ironed. I was a mixture of Martha Stewart and a mad witch with hair that hung in clumps. Eyes darting left and right hunting for the next piece of crumpled cotton.
Having babies waking in the night is like trying to sleep on a long-haul flight. In fact in those early days I often dreamed of getting on a flight to London just to be waited on. To watch back to back movies, with no fear of interruption.
Today I’m an eight/nine hour a night girl. For health reasons I need my sleep. There’s none of that talking until dawn these days. And I’d given up tripping the light fantastic way before I had a clue what it was. These days I have a few tricks to getting off to sleep.
An old favourite is decorating a house. It’s always the same house. A big, doubled fronted, bay-windowed Georgian English one. The living areas on one side, the study and kitchen on the other. There’s a beautiful garden out the back; a small table with two chairs. I decorate the house in sunny colours. There’s an Aga in the kitchen. Believe it or not I’ve never made it upstairs, where you would think my imagination would design a bedroom where slumber beckoned. No need. Despite my love of decorative design I’m asleep before my feet hit the bottom step. Problem solved.
Sometimes I run through my old boyfriends. Counting them off on my fingers. Remembering their names, their charms, their faults. One boyfriend looked evil when he laughed. Another called me ‘Cherub’ which I hated. It’s not as successful as the house project but I rarely get anywhere near, in my list, to the man sleeping next to me. Snoring; probably the reason I can’t get off to sleep in the first place.
Recently I found myself running through people I admire and why. Bob Geldof of course. A good man but an angry man too. I like a bit of edginess and let’s face it Bob was the first person to say the ‘f’ word on the telly. That I could remember anyway. Speaking to middle England – ‘give us the f..ing money now’.
Russell Brand. I disliked him on sight but the first time I heard him speak on the television I was hooked. Funny, sexy and clever. What more could I ask for?
Finally Germaine Greer. For all that she’s done for feminism, her sharp intellect. And swearing. I like the swearing.
Except I’m not doing it again. I started to get into arguments with imaginary people justifying my choices. Then they came up with their choices, which I obviously hated. It went tits up (a lovely expression). It turned out to be as bad as when I write angry emails in the dark, hoping that would do the trick. Anger is good for painting walls and pounding bread dough. It’s hopeless in the quest for sleep.
Back to decorating and evil laughs. Justifying my admirations to no one. Sweet dreams.