COLUMN: March 2, 2017

A cheerful sheep

I AM a massive fan of sleeping through the night in the same sense that I am a massive fan of long division or backward somersaults. I am impressed when people can do it, but incapable of doing it myself.

I cannot remember the last time I went to sleep the day before I woke up. For bedtime for me is not about resting, but is about thinking in the dark until my exhausted body launches a coup against my brain and switches it off.

If the thoughts I had while attempting sleep were profound it might be worth it for the human race. I would probably have found a new sustainable energy source or a cure for cancer or a way to make the Labour Party electable in this time.

But they are not. They are all “I wonder what would have happened if Frank Spencer had checked in at Fawlty Towers” or “Which Bangor were they going to in the song Day Trip To Bangor – the one in Wales or the one in Northern Ireland? Are there any other Bangors?” or “Who came up with the idea of eating eggs?”

Inevitably this takes its toll. The bags under my eyes are so heavy Ryanair could charge me an extra £25. And probably would. It means that between the hours of 1pm and 3pm I could happily snooze at my desk if it were not for the fact that HR had to put out a memo once.

I know I am not the only one. Everybody is tired. You’re probably yawning now. Even if you were not, you are now, thanks to the power of suggestion. But the 2pm slump is real. Most people who work in offices suffer from it.

The theory is that it is a combination of sitting in one place for hours at a time, the rhythms of our body, and the fact that between 2pm and 4pm, the core temperature of our bodies drops, triggering the brain’s sleep mechanism.

All of this preamble is to show you, dear reader, that what happened to me was not my fault. It was the fault of whichever buffoon decided that having an hour-long meeting of people who work in an office at 2pm was a good idea.

It was a while ago. I do not want to say how long ago it was, for reasons which will become apparent. Sometimes it is better not to be specific, which is why some birthday cards do not have a message inside.

We sat around a table in a windowless room, a flipchart in the corner with indecipherable notes from a previous meeting, and the meeting started.

I had nothing to contribute. It had been decided previously that somebody from my department should be at this regular meeting, but the goings-on in this meeting had little if anything to do with my department.

And it was warm, so warm. Cosy, even. Somebody started reading out some figures. It was so warm. Wake up, I thought, this is like counting sheep.

I focused on the smeared flipchart. Perhaps I could work out what the puzzle of words said. That would keep me awake. But I could feel a yawn building. I had to suppress it. I couldn’t suppress it. I covered my face with a sheet of A4 and yawned silently, my mouth making a sort of figure-eight, as the figure reading droned on.

Maybe if I looked away, I could just close my eyes for a second, just rest them, I wondered…

And then suddenly I was in a muddy field with sheep everywhere. And in the distance there was a cow in a suit with a clipboard coming towards me. I knew, somehow, I had to move the flock through the gate before the cow told me off.

“Gary, what do you think?” somebody asked me.

My eyes snapped open. “We need to get all the sheep in the pen,” I said, immediately and automatically.

I could feel every pair of eyes in the room on me. Everything slowed down. My stomach dropped to somewhere below my adjustable chair.

And then somebody said: “Exactly.” And, lo, there was a great umming and nodding of heads. I had inadvertently created a buzz phrase. It’s probably still being used across the business.

I had got away with falling asleep in a meeting, but the adrenalin kept me awake for the rest of the hour.

Sometimes it still keeps me awake at night.

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