COLUMN: July 4, 2013

I HAVE a complicated relationship with sleep. Do not get me wrong, I am generally all for it and think it’s an excellent idea.

But what I have found recently, I expect owing to my advancing years, is that when I want to sleep, for example in meetings, I am not allowed to; and when I am allowed to sleep, for example at bedtime, I do not want to.

Some would call it insomnia. I would call it downright stupidity. After all, my brain and my body have known each other for quite a few years now. It is about time they came to some arrangement.

For this is how the evening conversation between my brain and body goes…

BODY: Goodness me, brain, I’ve been on the go for 16 hours. I say, “on the go.” What I mean is I’ve sat at a computer and on a bus for, well, 11 hours. I’ve sat in front of the telly, made a few cups of tea. I don’t know, it all adds up, probably. I’m not a brain so maths is not my strong suit. Shall we go to bed?
BRAIN: Yeah, you are tired, aren’t you? Trouble is, I’m not quite ready. I’ve got to finish writing this thing. Also, I’m watching telly and want to see if the loud man can eat half a bull minced up into burgers, with 97,000 jalapenos, and a Shetland pony-sized lump of that cheese the Americans have. You’ll just have to wait. Tell you what, I’ll let you have a yawn.
BODY: Yeah, thanks for nothing.
BRAIN: I am amazed that man is still alive. Right, let’s go to bed. I’m ready to shut down for the night. Body? Body? Are you asleep?
BODY: Leave me alone.
BRAIN: But I thought you wanted to go to bed.
BODY: I do want to go to bed, but I can’t face the admin.

And so the two argue for another 20 minutes until the brain somehow forces the body off the sofa and drags it up the stairs, after making it do all the socket checking and cup washing.

It would all be simpler if I could actually sleepwalk.

I know that sufferers of somnambulance say it is not a laughing matter, but, to be fair, sometimes it is. Especially if you have the likes of, I don’t know, Popeye or Harold Lloyd six steps ahead of you ensuring you don’t fall down manholes, or plummet from the high steel of a skyscraper construction site.

But I am not a sleepwalker. I have only sleepwalked once in my life and it went quite badly, so I have dismissed it as an option.

I was 13 years old – second year seniors in old money, year 8 these days – and on my way back from a French day trip to Boulogne-sur-Mer.

We had left at 10pm the previous night, with the assumption that we would sleep on the coach on the way to Dover.

This assumption was made by somebody who had never travelled on a coach with 60 teenage boys.

However the excitement of visiting a foreign country for the first time and asking for an Orangina in French – “Un Orangina, erm, por favor” – carried me through the day.

And it was only on the coach on the way back I felt myself drift off…

I woke in a very cramped, if brightly-lit, toilet. I had no idea how the lock worked and banged on the door, shouting “Let me out!” A teacher talked me through the difficult process of sliding a bolt to the left and I emerged to hoots from 59 teenage boys.

I thought it was something of an overreaction, but back at my seat, I was told what had happened.

I had leapt to my feet and shouted: “We’re late for school!” Then I had apparently attempted to wake my brother. My brother was not there.

In fact, I had gripped the throat of the boy in front of me and throttled him in order to “wake him up.”

Then I had stumbled up and down the aisle of the coach about half a dozen times crying out, “Mummy! Where’s the toilet? I need a wee-wee,” before finally being diverted into the lavatory by one of the teachers.

I am sure there might be worse audiences in front of which I might have performed this impromptu act of theatre than a group of 59 teenage peers, but I cannot think of any.

Perhaps I should sleep on it.

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