In the Land of Nod
At the primary school Dame Louella and I attended there was a curious custom that would be viewed with derision in today’s hard-nosed, testing-focused, Key Stage-oriented times. Every day after lunch in the reception year, the whole class was herded into a darkened room, where we all had to lie down for a rest on extraordinarily uncomfortable camp beds with no pillows. It was a boring and annoying ritual that we couldn’t wait to get away from, but I bet we all slept more than we thought we did. And now I think it would be utter bliss to be instructed to lie down and do nothing in the middle of the day.
As an early riser who runs out of steam as the day wears on, I need absolutely no encouragement to have a little snooze – and no camp bed either: trains, cars, the theatre, the cinema, meetings, and even my desk: all of them provide opportunities for a bit of a kip, however desperately I try to stay awake. I dreaded train travel with colleagues in case the totally unprofessional real me was revealed: the slumbering functionary with dropped jaw – not a good look.
I have never been able to carry off public dozing with the aplomb of one of my fellow students back in the day. On Friday afternoons a small group of us usually had a talk from some eminent visiting person in the field of drama, dance or music in our informal common room. My friend would position his chair so that he could lean against the side of an upright piano and fall asleep. His bushy beard, his heavy-rimmed glasses, and the fact that he was a bit older than most of us let him get away with it. What in us would have looked like characteristic indolence was transformed into an aura of rapt attention and appreciation – he was merely closing his eyes the better to listen.
But my real nemesis is the sofa. After many years of unsatisfactory sofas with backs so low that you had to move your bottom practically off the seat to be able to recline properly, we have the perfect model: squashy, high-backed, it enfolds you in warmth and comfort, so that I invariably miss the last half of the news, and many other programmes beside. I often wake to find that the people whose drama I’ve been following are now behaving inexplicably out of character, and their previous concerns have been supplanted by a completely new set that seem to have arrived out of nowhere.
I’m afraid this has become the pattern: drop off at about 10.15pm, sleep for a couple of hours, then get up to go to bed, with a little pottering around, tidying, a hot beverage (NOT Horlicks – not yet, no!) etc., before retiring proper at about 12.25 to 1.00am, which means you get to hear Sailing By and the mysterious prophesies of the shipping forecast.
I was lamenting the apparently poor sleep pattern I had fallen into until I discovered it had once been a thing. Laura Barton recently wrote in the Guardian about how for centuries people had a concept of a first sleep, in the early part of the night, and a second sleep, using the time in between the two “for prayer, or writing, or sex, or even for visiting the neighbours.” Maxine Peake’s character referred to it in the television drama The Village, set in the early 20th century. If it was on the telly it must be true! What a shame the custom had completely died out by 1920.
So I’m going to carry on giving in to the sofa’s embrace, vindicated by ancient tradition.