Perchance to Dream…

In my previous life as a proper working person I never felt sated by sleep. On Fridays I’d need to sleep when I arrived home in order to be able to go out later in the evening. I’d continue to catch up all of each weekend and would be feeling energetic by Sunday evening-all ready for Monday again. Once a holiday began I’d sleep for several days, waking only for meals-once, memorably, sleeping all the way down through France whenever I was in the passenger seat, although I did manage to stay awake for my turn at driving, otherwise both mine and Husband’s sleep might have been permanent.

As a child I slept in a coma-like state and was infuriated by discovering events I’d missed during the night, such as thunderstorms or Santa Claus. Later, as a student I’d often fall into inebriated sleep in the small hours, having discussed the meaning of life in endless meaningless conversations.

Like all new parents, when the babies were born I could never remember what it was like not to feel tired and longed for the heady days of lie-ins at weekends. Seasonal time changes were torture, with everyone else gloating in October when the clocks changed about ‘getting an extra hour’ [which of course is nonsense]. Tiny tots know nothing about such matters and render you an hour worse off by keeping to their usual early-rising timetable.

Then life became more leisurely with the onset of retirement, which was delightful. It was bliss to wake on Monday mornings at whatever time we chose. I remember that my father, on reaching retirement considered it essential to stick to his working pattern of rising and continued to be up and about as if he were to commute somewhere-but for what? In order to stroll up the road for a newspaper? To go out and dig the garden? As far as I am concerned these tasks can be ruled by me in a reversal of the previous order.

These days sleep tends to get interrupted by the requirements of ageing, internal workings. Often Husband will be returning from a nocturnal trip to the facilities as I get up to go and vice versa. But whereas he will fall immediately back into his deep, snore-laden slumber there will be occasional nights when sleep eludes me and I resort, having done the required tossing and turning to composing a story [or this blog]. If all else fails I creep out, make a cup of tea and settle with a book. My old game of finding a subject with each letter of the alphabet has faltered due to having exhausted all the categories. Rivers, capitals, flowers, foodstuffs-if there is a category left un-plundered by my wakeful brain please let me know.

However the night’s sleep has been I am usually asleep by about 8.00am-just in time to be woken…

 

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Tots and Travel-What a Difference a Generation Makes

People’s behaviour with their children makes fascinating observation; no more so than during holidays and while travelling.

We have boarded [another] ferry-this time from North Denmark to Norway. The ship is teeming with people of all nationalities, ages, shapes and sizes. Many of these people are small, flaxen-haired and extremely excited. They are swarming like pale, shrieking insects all over the decks, and in particular in and out of a caged area which houses ‘Captain Kid’-a portly, foam encased figure [housing, no doubt a beleaguered student taking an unenviable summer job], wearing a jolly, striped T-shirt and a peaked cap. The excited squawking lasts until the vessel has negotiated a turn and exited the harbour, then settles into the odd squeak or howl, accompanied by whimpering and whining.They are all undeniably beautiful, despite the whinging.

An hour into the voyage and Captain Kid’s able assistant has sprung into action rustling up standard summer ferry-boat fare-balloon animals, for which the little tots and their long suffering parents have formed a long, snaking queue that obliterates the entrance to the ladies’ lavatories, the stairwell or indeed anywhere else.

Elsewhere they continue to holler and gallop about, or are occupied with computer games, pizza slices, swinging on bar stools or watching cartoons. It is all a lengthy voyage away from the number plate games we were encouraged to play whilst enduring the interminable drives to Wales, Devon or Scotland when I was a child in the fifties. I’d be sandwiched between two brothers on the back seat of the small family car, condemned to the middle due to my small stature, with my knees under my chin due to the obstacle that was the cylindrical prop-shaft and not enough room for as much as a pack of cards.

Later some of the infants have fallen into oblivion on a parental chest and others are voicing their discontent in no uncertain terms. A tiny boy swamped by a gargantuan buggy has set up a pitiful whine, his mouth a large O in his cherubic face framed by white curls. He is inserted into a high chair and supplied with pizza and chips, effectively stopping up the ‘O’.

Then the Norwegian coast is upon us, looking like Thunderbirds’ Tracey Island, or the dastardly villain’s secret location housing an evil world-threatening machine from a James Bond movie.

Later, at the first night’s stop by a beautiful lake, the sun blazing bright at 9.15pm, a cavalcade of small boys races round and round the camper-vans on minute scooters, hooting wildly as they career in their circles, one of their number a large, grown up man. There is something uncomfortable in the sight of adults scooting along on children’s scooters.

At 11.00pm the scooter circus shows no sign of abating, no doubt due to the abundance of daylight and it is not until twilight finally descends that the revellers give up their conveyances and retire. The next morning the sun is up early-and so are the small boys, up and attired in multi-coloured swim gear ready to leap into the lake. When do they sleep? I hear my mother turning in her grave……

Fiction Month 4

This week’s contribution to Fiction Month is a flash fiction-a short story in its entirety.

Alfie’s Monster

On the landing, between Alfie’s bedroom and the bathroom there is a monster. He thinks the monster must be nocturnal, because he has been learning about nocturnal animals at school. Alfie has needed to go for a pee for about the last ten minutes, but as yet has been unable to muster the nerve to cross the landing under the monster’s menacing eye.

“I’ll count to twenty” he murmurs “then I’m going.” Proud of his newly acquired skill in counting, remembering that until recently he’d have had to count to ten twice, he begins as slowly as the urgency allows.

A shaft from the landing nightlight illuminates where Alfie’s door is ajar, so he darts first to the edge of the shaft before steeling himself to leap across, hurling himself into safety and slamming the bathroom door. Despite having taken a mere fraction of a second to get there, he catches a glimpse of the fiend that has been threatening to overwhelm him; a huge head balanced upon an open, slavering jaw that mocks him with a rictus grin.

The pounding in Alfie’s chest has subsided by the time he is ready to make the journey in reverse. This time, having opened the door he keeps his eyes screwed shut and launches himself in the direction of his bedroom, knocking his elbow painfully on the bedroom door handle in the process. He dives into bed, plunging beneath the duvet and rolling into a ball like a hedgehog into its daytime nest.

Next morning, as Alfie conducts yet another extensive inspection of the landing, hoping to discover the burrow that the monster is using during daylight hours he can see nothing to suggest a hideaway but for the third time in a week he trips over a plastic sword, shield and helmet that are part of his brother Callum’s medieval knight outfit.

“Watch out!” Yells Callum emerging from the bathroom. “I need that stuff today for my history project.”

Rubbing his knee, Alfie frowns back at him. “Well don’t keep it here then. I hurt my knee on it.”

The period after supper is dominated by an animated account of Callum’s day as a medieval knight, including a reprise of the outfit, during which Callum, in a spasm of over-excitement leaps upon Alfie, shrieking, “Die infidel!” and in wielding his sword manages to capsize a vase and several family photographs. The boys roll together on the carpet, locked in mortal combat, Alfie banging his head on the coffee table and Callum losing his helmet. Their mother comes in to remonstrate, rights the vase and the photos, lifts the helmet from the floor, its visor hanging open. From his vantage point where Alfie sees the helmet’s silhouette on the wall he gasps. The monster!

In the warm, safe haven of his bed, as Alfie reflects on his foolishness the tousled head of his brother peers around his door. “There’s a snake living under your bed. A huge snake! It’s coming to get you!”

How do you Sleep?

                      Sleep is featuring heavily in the news at the moment. It always amazes me that subjects that have been studied and analysed for so long and then put aside can yield new discoveries. Sleep is one of those subjects that people either think nothing about at all or it has become an overwhelming misery and an insuperable, life altering problem. I suppose I am fortunate to be in the former camp, most of the time. I have rarely experienced difficulty in dropping off to sleep, but fall into the category of not being a ‘morning’ person, preferring to stay up later and [particularly in the winter months] dozing until wakefulness becomes an acceptable state.

                    Often, once people become parents and have had to go along with the timetable of their new offspring they continue to rise at intolerable times through habit, even though their progeny have become teenagers and pursuant of a nocturnal lifestyle. My own parents were such paragons, rising early even in retirement. Myself, I regressed to sleeping in whenever I had the opportunity [weekends] as soon as my tots were able to tell the little hand from the big hand. As a proper working person, early mornings were a drudgery and a chore to be endured only with the promise of long lie-ins at weekends-and once the holidays began I’d catch up by sleeping for days and nights, waking only to eat.

                    Enforced sleep deprivation, such as long haul flights in economy or periods of stress induces nasty side effects such as cold sores in me. I get so far into the night and then begin to feel stretched, as if my skin is being pulled taut over my bones. When I retired I began by taking advantage of the situation and sleeping in every morning, until finally I achieved sleep satiation, after which I ‘bottomed out’ at about 8.30am.

                    Now experts are finding ways that sleep patterns influence our lives and seeking applications for such knowledge. Drugs such as cancer treatment are better, apparently, for being administered at night, in order to reduce side effects. The surprise here is that no one thought of it before! But the revelatory discovery that caught my attention was the one about teenagers, who are thought to make more academic progress when their day is moved later, giving them time to sleep in. This would have suited me. I loathed getting up for school and would habitually leave it to the very last moment, scrabbling up without much attention to my appearance [no change there] or to consume any kind of breakfast item, much to my mother’s frustration. She would call after me as I fled to the bus stop, ‘what about breakfast?’ or ‘You haven’t eaten anything’-a routine that was repeated with my own offspring further down the timeline.

                   Awake at night? Now I have the perfect solution-compose a story. I can guarantee you will have forgotten it by the morning.