Sleep and Insomnia

I love a good sleep. Going to bed after a successful but tiring day, and waking up the next morning after a solid night’s sleep feeling refreshed. I also like getting around a golf course in under 90, but that rarely happens either.

I’m a lifelong insomniac. Why am I so crap at something most people can do with their eyes closed? I spend my nights not blissfully drifting through the soft mist of the subconscious in the arms of Hypnos, but staring through the dark at the ceiling.

This has happened throughout my life. Every couple of weeks or so I simply lose a whole night of sleep. It’s like the opposite of jet lag. Certainly the opposite of that extreme fatigue virus that’s going around – I spent three days early this month barely able to rouse myself into something vaguely akin to ‘awake’. But I’m so used to losing a night now and then that you’d never guess the next day. After a lifetime of this, I just don’t need to sleep every night like ‘normal’ people.

Some people blame their wakefulness on worrying through the night, trying to work out what went wrong in this situation or how they could have done better in that one. A case of The Night Will Always Win. I’ve had my fair share of that, but not recently. That’s not for proper insomniacs, that’s for worriers. Not me: Life’s pretty good, this week is great. Work is going well, and much to most people’s chagrin I get up in the mornings eager to get started. I’m taking this week off and looking after the children because it’s their half term and so my biggest worry is how much of a mess they’ll make in the kitchen and living room that I keep so tidy when they’re not here. (Answer: it may be easier to rebuild than tidy up).

So I didn’t spend last night taken by sleep demons any more than I was taken by sleep gods. No, proper insomnia is when you don’t have any real problems, except you can’t sleep.

The best sleep I’ve had in the last 24 hours was the 45 minutes after giving the children breakfast, and I curled up in my dressing gown on the edge of the bed accompanied by the great lump of feline I still laughingly call a kitten, before my eldest brought me a cup of tea. What a star.


Eulogy For A Centenarian

At over 100 years old, consider the lifetime of my Great Aunt Audrey who died this evening.

She married Bill, the Reverend William Dodd, after he turned her head delivering a sermon in the convent hospital that was her work and home. They were happily married for many years as he ran his parish in Gloucestershire. He died some twenty-five to thirty years ago, as part of that five year spell in my late teens that I look back on as the great purge of their generation. Somehow she survive the purge. And survived and survived. Sadly she survived with a diminishing amount of memory.

Dementia is a cruel disease. Your personality, your life, slips away, yet life itself goes on.

What memories Auntie Audrey must have lost. The personal ones, Me, Bill, the many parishioners she cared for in lieu of the children she never had. But what of the others, the century of incredible change and history?

The Great War, the rise of communism, Spanish ‘flu, Irish partition, the rise of Nazism, the Second World War, the holocaust, the establishment of the NHS,the Abdication of a King, the death of a King, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, The Beatles, JFK… You get the idea. If you don’t get the idea, try listening to the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start The Fire” (a bit US orientated, but it gives a long list).

The last century has seen so much change Great Auntie Audrey left a world that bore no similarity to the one in which she was born. Tonight my family lost her, but our world has lost so much in the time she lived. Valuable things. We ought to hold on to the things we value. They may not just happen, we have to make the effort to retain them.


Thoughts On Burned Bridges

Sometimes, when we move on in our lives, we lash out at the thing we’re leaving behind. It’s a childish thing to do, but there are reasons why.

Perhaps we’re so vehement because we’re still trying to convince ourselves it’s the right thing to do, when deep down we know better.
Perhaps we’re trying to make the people around us happy.
Perhaps we’re trying to make going back such a humiliating climbdown that we could never countenance yielding to the temptation.

Whatever the reason, there are the times that we feel the need to burn the bridges and trample the charred remains underfoot. We burn the bridges to stop others following us over, and we burn them to stop ourselves crossing back. And we do it because we think we’re too weak to stick to our decision, one we often know to be wrong.

But every bridge had to be built in the first place. So no bridge can ever be burned so badly that it cannot be rebuilt.

…ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough…

After such a petulant, charged departure who can say what’s the other side of the bridge you could rebuild? And isn’t it always better to build than to burn? Stronger to discover what may be waiting than to hide from the fear of it? More courageous to acknowledge the mistakes and learn from them, than to angrily pretend no fault?

If you’ve burned a bridge you should take the brave, the courageous, the strong path and rebuild it – however hard it may seem. Cross over, find out what’s there. The worst that can happen is there’s nothing for you. But how is that worse than what you have now?

It’s out of character for me to burn bridges, to turn on something in my life. As you know I often choose the path that’s harder in the short term, to secure a less stressful long term. But I’ve burned a bridge, now I’m rebuilding it. It’ll be fascinating to discover what’s on the other side.

Do It Now

20th November 2000

The car did its job. Every single panel was damaged, but I walked away completely unscathed.

I was driving home to Thame from my clinic in Wallingford. The last week had been extremely wet, even by November standards. The roads were pretty treacherous, particularly the A329, just barely an A road and quiet. I know I was driving well because I’d had a police car behind me for the last few miles, so I was steady and below the speed limit.

On my way to work I’d noticed that the farmer in a field along the way, at the bottom of a dip, had decided to haul his potatoes out of a waterlogged field and there was mud on the road, so I was ready for it. It covered the other side of the road. As I crested the hill before the field, what I wasn’t prepared for was the car coming up the hill, on my side of the road to avoid the mud. There’s a little wiggle in the road at the crest, and all I could do was swerve onto the muddy side of the road to avoid it. Head on collision averted. Well done me.

But now I was swerving on a road smeared with slick wet mud and travelling at about 55 miles an hour. Downhill. With no grip. Towards a tree.

The car I was in, my favourite car of all time, had a reputation. The rear window is a flat, quite small sheet of glass with a habit of popping out and flying horizontally forwards when you hit something head on. Head off, might be a better description, as it has been known to decapitate all the occupants. Not pretty.

I couldn’t get traction to steer the car away from the tree, so I decided the best bet was to swing the car ¬†through 180 degrees to hit the tree going backwards, thereby craftily avoiding the separation of my head from my body. It’d also mean I was cushioned from the impact by the seat. It’s a great plan, and as I travelled down the hill, gaining speed as I go, I started to spin the car around. What i hadn’t factored in was the ditch to the right. I got about 90 degrees into my oh-so-clever manoeuvre, when my rear wheels dropped into the ditch. Suddenly the side of the ditch acted like a rail as my front wheels lifted from the road surface. Travelling sideways at over 50 miles an hour on your chassis isn’;t good for a car, or your nerves as the world rushes towards your window, the plants slapping hard against the driver’s door. The advantage was that the rail/ditch guided me past the tree and onward along the verge.

The car was heavy, and the ditch relentless, so it was inevitable that the chassis would snap. As it did, with an incredibly frightening noise, all four of my wheels – still powering away – made contact again; the front ones with the road, the rear ones with the bottom of the ditch, and I was abruptly propelled across the road, into the opposite ditch, through the hedge and 50 years into the waterlogged fields.

I sat in the now stationery, and somewhat more compact, car. I checked myself over; neck – okay, low back – okay, legs – still there… That’s what you want from a car, for it to unquestioningly lay down its life for you. If I hadn’t been a fan of Jaguars before, I would’ve been now. It’s why I say they’re the best cars in the world, because if I hadn’t been in one, I might not have lived to say it.

A policeman, from the following car, opened my door. I say opened, it would be a better description to say he relieved the car of the burden of a driver’s door. I stepped out, entirely unharmed to see a car eight inches lower than it had been, broken in the middle, every single panel dented and scratched. The policeman (sincerely, I think) congratulated me on how I’d handled the car, and wrote to my insurance company to tell them I wasn’t at fault (although they hadn’t got the number of the driver coming up the hill).

It’s fair to say this was a life changing moment. I felt incredibly lucky. Instead of being dead I was completely unharmed. Without doubt both the worst and the best thing to happen to me in a November!

It’s pretty easy to drive when nothing goes wrong, making people think they’re good drivers. But the moment things don’t go to plan, most drivers are at the mercy of physics. The truth is if I hadn’t learned earlier in that year how to handle an out of control car, I’d have been headless in that tree.

The lesson? Learn how to handle a car when the unexpected happens. One day your life may depend on it.

Google Maps A329