The date

Myk was quite looking forward to Saturday night. He thought it would make a change in the normal routine of registered pairing. 

It was Katyk’s idea, but he thought that if she was prepared to go to all the trouble of getting the permit he would go along with it. 

At her room in the dwellings, Katyk greeted him with a smile. She seemed strangely excited. “Ha, Myk,” she said. They went inside. She pushed the seating unit to one side and they lay down on the air-carpet, touching hands. After a while, she invoked the Authority and they followed its softly-spoken instructions. “Now Myk,” it said, “present your unique identifier.” Myk went across to the delivery system, knelt down, and pressed his hand against it. He prepared himself to inhale the vapour. But nothing emerged. 

“No,” whispered the Authority, after a few seconds.

“Not coo,” said Katyk, shaking her head in puzzlement. “It must be the spontaneity.” 

The spontaneity module was supposed to introduce an element of surprise, even fun, into the procedure. The duration of the mal’s chemical unlocking would be randomised, within safe limits of course. But this time the surprise was to say “No”. 

“Do you ever wonder what it was like in the old days,” asked Myk, after a while. “Before the Equalisation? You know, when mals could wander about, uncontrolled.”

“Oh no,” said Katyk. “That couldn’t happened. It’s one of those things, like a story. What is it called? A leg?” 

“A leg-end,” said Myk. He felt sure it was true. But Katyk would have no idea. She wasn’t a reader. He didn’t hold it against her. Few people were. But in all her screen-time, she must surely have come across some stories of the bad old days.

“Well,” she said. “Even if it was true, thank Gog it is not true now. How much better the world is now the fems can go where they like at all times, without sexcrimefear.”

“Coo,” said Myk. He was a good mal. He would have been one of the first volunteers for the process. There had been a few resisters, apparently, sex-terrorists who did not want to do the right thing. But they had been persuaded. The Equalisation had been really quite humane, at least compared with the alternative proposed by the Rads. 

“Well,” he said. “What shall we do now?”

“Have some fun,” said Katyk. She asked the room to relax them, and soon the walls were tinkling gently with algorithmic audio. “Let’s play four-dimensional Scrabble registered trademark.”

“Coo,” said Myk, touching her hand. Really, it was a relief. 

The Scimitar

“Come in Commander,” said George Edwards. “Take a seat.”  

Commander John Russell was every inch the naval pilot, tall, impeccably uniformed, exuding quiet authority.

“How are you finding the aeroplane?” Edwards, managing director of Vickers, toyed with the model in his hands. He had been designing aircraft since the 1930s. A huge effort had gone into the Scimitar. It had been unusually troublesome. 

“Top notch, sir. It’s a splendid aircraft.” 

“Good, good. And you’re ready for tomorrow?”

“Certainly. We’ve practised the manoeuvre intensively. The aeroplane is heavy, of course, and the flight-deck of Victorious is quite tight. But, really, I’m treating the mission as routine. I’m just a delivery boy.”

Edwards permitted himself a thin smile. “That’s the spirit. But bear in mind that the gentlemen of the press will be there, and Pathe News. The arrival of the first jet aircraft on a newly refitted carrier is quite an event. I want a good, tidy show. Nothing dramatic.”

“I understand, sir. Drama is not the Fleet Air Arm way. But may I say, I am honoured to be given this opportunity.”

“Thank you, Commander. We at Vickers appreciate your good work during the trials. Let’s hope for fine weather tomorrow.” 

“I think it will be choppy off Portsmouth. But I’m well-prepared. It will be a most satisfactory day.”

I hope so, thought Edwards, as he shook Russell’s hand and sent him on the way. He put the model back on the desk. Its smooth lines and gleaming white finish belied a tortured history of development, of advanced engineering at the mercy of politics and the cheese-paring instincts of the civil service. Its designer, Supermarine, now part of Vickers, was one of eight domestic aircraft manufacturers bidding for military contracts. They would not all survive in peacetime and tussled furiously over the few opportunities. Doubtless corners were cut. A twin engined naval jet, the Scimitar had originally been designed without an undercarriage, supposedly so it could flop onto a rubber mat on the deck. Then it had been a simple aeroplane, two straight wings and a butterfly tail. It was not far removed from the aircraft Edwards had started drawing in the thirties, but with a couple of Rolls Royce turbojets embedded in the fuselage instead of a piston engine. For a jet, it was horribly slow. 

Then the data had started to come in about the Germans’ wartime experiments with swept wings, and the thing was redesigned from scratch. Now it looked the part, though what part was not quite clear. Originally an interceptor, it had now become a nuclear bomber, intended to be catapulted off a carrier to drop a single weapon on a target 500 miles away. Would Commander Russell and the pilots of 803 squadron be making the return trip, Edwards wondered? Probably not. Everyone knew that. They were brave men. 

The aeroplane was well-liked by the pilots, despite the loss of one of their number when a prototype went into a flat spin at 10,000 feet and the ejector seat failed. It was not a fighter, that became clear, but as a strike aircraft, a bomb delivery platform, it would probably do the job. The problem was setting it down on the wildly rocking deck of a carrier. The carriers had been designed for propellor aircraft, and were too small. Refitting them, with new, angled flightdecks, was all the Attlee government could afford. The work on Victorious alone had cost £20m. The government, now Conservative, had other priorities and had convinced itself that there would be no war for a decade. Edwards envied the Americans. How easy things were for them. When they built jets, they just built bigger carriers.

 

****

The next day, Edwards took his place on the bridge of Victorious, along with a handful of fellow civilians. The Navy were running the show. Ratings lined the decks, ready to salute the commanding officer as he brought in the first of the jets. 

They heard it long before they saw it, a rolling-thunder rumble louder than anyone thought possible. A dot in the distance quickly turned into the outline of an aeroplane. Commander Russell said a few words over the radio telephone and made his approach. It looked agonisingly slow. Edwards knew it was moving just fast enough to generate lift, but slow enough to stop when it touched down. 

It was a perfect landing. The tyres squeaked. A hook beneath the aircraft caught a wire stretched across the deck, and it suddenly slowed. And then, something was wrong. The wire snapped. The plane rolled slowly on. 

The brakes, thought Edwards. Apply the brakes! But Russell did not. Apparently preoccupied with shutting down the engines, he did not seem to be aware that he was still moving. The heavy aeroplane rolled steadily to the end of the flight deck and flopped into the sea. There it floated. 

Russell’s voice was eerily calm. He announced he would release the canopy and escape via the cockpit. A helicopter, launched in two minutes, hovered over him and a sailor descended on a line to help winch him free. The pressmen, after a few seconds of bewilderment, watched events unfold. What a story for them. The cameras of Pathe News kept rolling. 

Edwards said nothing, though people kept looking to him for reassurance. He could not give it. He knew that the heavy canopy would not be easily opened. At one point, Commander Russell managed to pull it back a fraction, but while he struggled to unstrap himself from the seat, gravity and the waves slammed it shut again. The man on the helicopter tried breaking it, but that was not a possibility. Edwards’s design team had made it of thick Perspex, many times stronger than glass. “Eject, man!” shouted one of the seamen. But Edwards discounted that, too. The ejector seat was designed to work at altitude and at speed. If Russell had triggered it, it would have smashed him through the canopy and he would have died instantly. Also, he would have brought down the helicopter sent to rescue him. Russell must have known that.

Suddenly, inevitably, the aircraft’s nose dipped and it sank to the bottom of the sea. There would be no rescue. There would be an inquiry. 

Edwards said nothing. A brave man had died, but for all its troubled gestation the aeroplane had performed adequately, which was a consolation. But he had no love for the Scimitar. There would be no more Supermarine aeroplanes. 

Jacqui and Linda at lunch

Jacqui and Linda glanced at their menus. Then Jacqui looked up.

“I like your jacket,” she said.

“M & S,” said Linda. 

“No!” 

“I changed the buttons. The buttons cost more than the jacket. But it’s the finishing touches that make the difference.”

“You’re so clever, Linda.” 

“Oh, anyone could do it.”

“Not me. All fingers and thumbs.” Jacqui caught the eye of the waiter, and they ordered.

“Well, this is nice,” said Linda. “It’s been a while. How’s work?”

“Boring.”

“And how’s Dave?”

“Dave? He’s up to his old tricks.” 

“Really?” Linda examined her purple nails. 

“I’ve been wondering about him for a while. He’s been evasive. Avoiding my eye. And he’s been getting a lot of texts. At odd times.”

“Oh no.” 

“Yes. But the weird thing is, he’s been very attentive. Flirty. Amorous, even. Not him at all. Normally he’s only interested in football.”

“What do you think?”

“Oh, well, there was someone else. That’s obvious. Over-compensating, you see. A guilty conscience. Guilt comes through in different ways. But I can tell.”

“Can you?” Linda became engrossed in her sweet potato frittata. 

“So I confronted him.”

“God. What happened?”

“Oh, he denied it. Said the texts were work. But I knew. I could smell another woman on him. What are you wearing, by the way?” 

“Wearing? Oh, you mean my scent? It’s Victoria’s Secret: Love.” 

“Very, um, distinctive.”

“It was a present.”

“I see. Anyway, he denied it all. We rowed that night. A real up and downer. Then we made up. It was nice. We were lying there afterwards, and suddenly he confessed. Took me by surprise.”

The waiter poured some mineral water. Linda took a large gulp.

“Look Jacqui, I’m so sorry. We didn’t mean… It was only… I suppose we couldn’t help ourselves.”

“What? You as well?”

“What do you mean?” 

“He confessed to sleeping with Lorraine.”

“Lorraine?”

“Didn’t you know? Ha!”

“The faithless bastard.”

“Quite. Anyway, if you want him, you can have him. Or Lorraine can. I really don’t care any more.”

“Oh God, no. I don’t want him. She can have him. Or you can keep him.”

“Past that, I’m afraid. But I’m curious. What did you see in him?”

“Well, he can be quite charming. And he’s persistent.” Linda pushed the remains of her meal to the side of her plate. 

“And good in bed,” said Jacqui.

Linda looked startled. “You’re joking.”

“Actually, I am. He’s terrible. That’s why none of these little episodes ever last. It’s always a terrible let-down. I feel sorry for the poor women.”

“Even me?”

“No. Not you. You’re my sister.”

High Windows

Within months of moving to Zurich, it became clear to Nick and Samantha that they had made a mistake. Nick had taken a senior management position in a Swiss bank, and it was supposed to have been the adventure of a lifetime; but it proved a struggle. Nick, a thin Yorkshireman with an inclination to worry, worked relentlessly and, as an outsider, found himself politely blamed for everything that went wrong. Samantha, a gregarious woman from the West Country, had no work permit and spent many hours alone. She took German lessons, although there was no need, and worked on her yoga. She had never been so bored. But they stuck with it, because they knew they would come home rich. 

In their scarce time together, they worked out how they would spend their lavish Swiss earnings. They would return to Britain in triumph and buy a magnificent house. They trawled the property websites, and Samantha engaged the services of an upmarket agent to look for somewhere quite special. They gaped at country vicarages, and minor stately homes and gigantic barn conversions in the Cotswolds, and grew unexpectedly nostalgic for England. But they weren’t tempted to buy; these houses were not special enough. 

Then they saw High Windows. It was a white modernist classic, an assembly of rectangles in stucco and glass, with a flat roof, a double-height living room with a sweeping staircase at one end, and slim concrete pilotis holding up the first storey, or purporting to. They were intrigued, and then besotted. The house, on a hill overlooking Cheltenham, had been designed by Arkady Kirsanov, an emigré Russian architect in the 1920s, as his own home. They studied the photographs they found online and dreamed. 

Then the dream came true, but not in a good way. Something went wrong at work, Nick got the blame as usual, and this time the blame stuck. His career in Switzerland came to an abrupt end. He was paid off handsomely, and the couple brought forward their return home. The magnificent white box on the hill would, by the alchemical power of money, turn failure into a triumph. 

Nick took to googling Kirsanov, a bald man with severe black-framed glasses. Not once was he seen smiling. In 1934, five years after completion of the house, his wife Maria, a beautiful former opera singer, disappeared. Kirsanov was questioned, then moved away. He died in the 1950s in obscure poverty. Maria was never found. “We’d better watch out when we’re digging the vegetable patch,” said Nick. 

But there were no vegetables to dig. When they flew over one weekend to view the house, they found that the back was laid to gravel, with a few large stones. A zen garden. So beautiful. So practical. They had never been gardeners, and weren’t about to start.

While the sale proceeded, Samantha made plans for the house. Its pure white walls demanded a few pieces of modern art, bold and abstract. But there must be no clutter. The house would not tolerate it. They would have to adopt a new lifestyle. They would leave most of their junk behind, their souvenirs and their comfortable furniture. 

The house was beautiful, without a doubt. Huge windows, a breathtaking view over the little town, low white sideboards and surfaces, flooring in pale wood. And from the moment they moved in, it began to work on them. 

At first, it was a joke between them. They would take their shoes off and guiltily rush to put them in a cupboard. Nick would absent-mindedly drop his keys on the side table in the hallway when he got in from work, then find them gone. Samantha had whisked them away. She took away any paperwork he brought home as soon as he let it drop. If he risked a cup of coffee in front of the television, she would hover, waiting for him to finish, then hurry it to the dishwasher. They laughed about it, but it became a compulsion. 

Nick did his best to reciprocate. But Samantha always hung her clothes in the wardrobe, and put her bag away in a cupboard when she came in. Sometimes he would catch her reading a book, but she always returned it to the solitary bookshelf. When a book was finished, it had to go. Books, with their uneven dimensions and randomly coloured spines, were not in the spirit of the white house. 

On the rare occasions people visited, they felt uneasy, like they’d wandered into a photographic studio. And their things, too, would be swept away. Sometimes they wouldn’t come back. Nick would apologise for the lost scarves, gloves and hats and promise to send them on. But they never returned. 

After one lost wallet too many, and a bunch of keys and a necklace, inadvertently left out on the dressing table, the pair looked for a culprit. Ida, their tireless Romanian cleaner – endlessly wiping and polishing all those surfaces – was sent packing and replaced. But still things disappeared and the house stayed the way it was when they had arrived: pure, pristine, perfect.

In time, Nick and Samantha began to look at each other strangely, as if they themselves were muddles. “Do you have to sit like that?” asked Samantha, on one occasion, when Nick, in his crumpled chinos and woolly jumper, had slumped a little on the chrome-framed leather sofa. And then there was the time when Nick found himself wondering whether a blonder, thinner wife might go better with the pale flooring. 

***

Ten years on, an estate agent showed a new couple round. They were dazzled. “Yes,” said the agent. “It’s magnificent. And available at a very competitive price for such a unique property. Of course, it will need a bit of T.L.C. It’s been empty for a few years.” 

“Why?” asked the wife, with rising excitement. 

“Oh. It’s an odd story. The last couple who lived here disappeared. Just like that. Never seen again. Took a long legal process before it was ready to come back on the market. But never mind that. Look how perfect it is. Would you like to see the zen garden?”

I lay awake

I lay awake, unable to sleep, and all because of a lapse of concentration. 

I replayed the incident over and over in my mind. The clock showed 3am. Sandra was sound asleep beside me, but I felt I’d never sleep again. I could only think about my mistake, after 40 blameless years, and the consequences it would have for me. 

It had been a horrible day. An all-day board meeting. We’d reached a real crunch point and had to make tough decisions. I laid out the options, but there were none, really. 

I got away as soon as I could, went down to the garage in the basement of head office and started up the Lexus. I put on Radio Three, and began the long slow crawl out of London. In Tune. Monteverdi. There was heavy traffic all the way to the M40 and then for miles after that. 

And then, thankfully, it began to thin out. I put my foot down, moved into the outside lane, and soon began to gobble up the miles. I’d be home in no time. 

It was only a few minutes later, just passing High Wycombe, when I heard the siren behind me. I looked in the the mirror and there was an unmarked BMW with a full array of blue flashing lights. I pulled to one side, hoping for a second that he was going to shoot past me in pursuit of someone more important, a terrorist or an armed robber. But I was out of luck. It was me he wanted. We came to a halt on the hard shoulder. 

I waited in my seat, and the policeman came alongside me. “In a hurry, sir?” he asked, with a touch of sarcasm, as I showed him my licence. “We’ve clocked you doing 96 miles per hour. You are aware of the 70 speed limit?” 

“Yes,” I said. “It’s been a terrible day. I just want to get home.” It was no defence. I had no defence. He showed me the readout on the speed gun and told me that I should expect to receive a summons to be prosecuted. 

Last night, as I lay in bed, I saw the incident unfurl in all its horror. Why had I not seen him behind me? Why had I driven so fast? Now I would have to face the consequences. There would be a court appearance. There would be a ban. There would be a hefty fine. How would I get to work? No more weekend trips to country hotels, that’s for sure. And then, when I eventually got my licence back, my insurance would rocket. It would all be a terrible nuisance. I went over and over the incident. Why? Why? Why? I couldn’t sleep a wink. 

And then I started thinking about the day ahead of me. Tomorrow I would have to announce the result of the board’s deliberations. To save the company, we were going to have to tear it apart. At least 40 stores around the country would close.  At least 800 people would lose their livelihoods. I thought about it for a few minutes, and soon I was sleeping like a baby. 

Let’s work together

People think the life of a writer is entirely solitary: sitting in a darkened room, scribbling on a pad or bashing away on a keyboard or, worse, sitting staring into space waiting for inspiration to strike.

There is a large element of that, but many writers enjoy the opportunity to collaborate. You bring your own ideas, the other people bring theirs, and sometimes ideas arise that no-one brought: they’re created by the collaboration.

This was apparent when my friends in the Hester’s Way Writers’ Group and I decided to pool our thoughts on a new project. We thought we’d come up with ideas for a little book festival of our own. We wanted something that would be more small-scale, local and involving than Cheltenham’s famous Literature Festival. Beyond that, we didn’t care.

We decided to brainstorm in the best way we could. Meg found a big sheet of paper and a red marker pen. I wrote “Book event” in the middle, and then we all started to chip in ideas. The rule for brainstorming is that you don’t evaluate the ideas as they arise. You just urge each other on, writing all the ideas down and leaving the evaluation stage for later.

We had lots of ideas. As I write this I am looking at the big sheet of paper, a few days after we did the exercise, and you can see all sorts of possibilities. You can see how one idea gave rise to another. You can see how the sensible schemes and the wildly ambitious jostle alongside each other.  It’s very impressive.

Here are just a few things we came up with, in no particular order:

  • Book club for children
  • Local writers’ workshop
  • Visits by famous people
  • Poetry slam
  • Art competition
  • Open mic
  • Book-related music
  • Jilly Cooper
  • Films and books
  • Story-telling evening
  • Self-publishing
  • Life stories
  • Ask J.K.Rowling for money
  • Signings
  • Dress up
  • Summer reading challenge
  • Book related food
  • Braille
  • Adult literacy
  • Book sale

There are more. What is clear is how quickly you can generate a lot of ideas. This took about 15 minutes.

Now, it is obvious some of them are less practical than others. We don’t know J.K.Rowling’s phone number, for a start. And it is not clear what some of the ideas even were. Braille?

But if we were to try and go ahead, we are off to a flying start. What would you like to see at the Hester’s Way Book Festival?

 

Poetry in motion

Driving into Oxford on the A40 last night, I noticed a couple of those illuminated signs passing on road safety messages.

These messages said “Think! Don’t Phone Whilst Driving.” In this context that “whilst” looked decidedly wrong. Not technically, but in terms of voice. You don’t want a commanding message from the highway authorities to come across like a 19th century poet reading a slim volume of verses to an audience of admirers.

“Whilst” sounds archaic, which is surprising because it is a more recent word than “while”, which most of us would have used in that space. “While” is Old English; “whilst” is late 14th century. “While”, from Indo-European roots, was originally a noun, meaning a portion of time. It retains that use, but it is also a verb (“We whiled away the afternoon watching daytime TV”), a preposition (“While we watched daytime TV , the house burnt down”), an adverb and a conjunction.

“Whilst”, which is first recorded in the Cursor Mundi, the Middle English verse history of the Christian universe, has only the latter two uses. As an adverb, “I ate an ice cream whilst driving”. As a conjunction, “I read a book whilst I drove”.

I think I’ve got that right. Modern grammar is a lot more complicated than the “name of thing”, “doing word”, “describing word” stuff many of us learned in primary school. Almost any attempt to “parse” a sentence is subject to challenge, and this one is no exception. If you ever want an argument, try posting a contribution on one of those message boards where the hardcore grammar nerds hang out.

The main point, though, is that “whilst”, that late arrival, is on its way out.  The Americans don’t really use it at all, and we generally reserve it for situations in which we want to be consciously archaic or courtly. If, for instance, that sign were offering advice on the safe way to ride your velocipede, it wouldn’t be so peculiar.

 

JAMs tomorrow

Politicians, charities, thinktanks, medics and other authority figures love lumping people together and giving them snappy and patronising labels. This week the Joseph Rowntree Foundation gave another outing to JAMs, those who are “Just About Managing”, a term taken up with enthusiasm by the great May herself.

The Foundation’d report, published this week, is astonishing. By my reading, 19 million people are either “just about managing” or not managing at all. That number increased by four million between 2008/9 and 2014/15. They all fall short of what is called the “Minimum Income Standard”, either by a lot or by a small amount.

For some reason the JRF’s webpage announcing the survey doesn’t include the value of the MIS. It’s very hard to find it anywhere on its site. If you move in those circles, you’re supposed to know it. The political/thinktank/charity world likes to speak to itself.

In fact, it’s a lot of money: a lot of money if you are genuinely poor, that is. For a couple with two children it is £40,366 a year. The JAM group includes a lot of middle class people. Indeed, we are British and we like a moan, so it is hard to find anyone who would admit to anything other than “getting  by” or “struggling a bit” or “just about managing”: if you have an £800,000 mortgage on your £1m house, and you have two kids in private school, and two cars, a couple of ponies and a couple of subscriptions to a gym, you are probably “just about managing” too.

In the hands of Teresa May and others, “just about managing” is a moral judgement. The JAMs whose votes she is soliciting are the deserving poor: indeed, they are not even poor. A useful piece in The Sun this week sought to define the term using a report from the Policy Exchange, another “think tank”. Reporter Emma Lake notes that Policy Exchange describes JAMs as the people who “make the country work”.

“The report says they have a strong commitment to family life, do not take expensive holidays and while they are not poor they do not have significant disposable incomes or set aside large amounts for their retirement.” She gives a figure of between £19,000 and £21,000 for individuals as the minimum income standard.

The Policy Exchange’s JAMs manage to get by each month, but depend on a regular salary. If wages don’t move, and prices increase, they’re screwed.

Nonetheless, they can take comfort from the support of the Prime Minister. As she said in her first speech as PM, “”I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”

The Government she leads is going to be disastrous for those people, thanks to Brexit, but that’s an argument for another time. I’m more interested in what I call the CBAs, for “Can’t Be Arsed”. These are people who may have reached the Minimum Income Standard, either by working in jobs they despise and are despised for doing or  through the benefit system.

A town like Cheltenham, apparently pretty and middle class, is ringed by estates where some people are simply left out of our current political considerations because they don’t, or can’t, participate. I went to an estate this week that is so poor its branch of Bargain Booze has closed. Instead it will be getting a British Heart Foundation furniture shop, selling to the poor the nice stuff the middle classes have given away.

The poor tend not to know they can get the middle classes’ giveaways for nothing, by using Freecycle or Freegle, or they are too exhausted and disorganised to do so. Nor do they know about something like FutureLearn, where they can do genuinely useful and enjoyable courses for nothing. They know about Poundworld and Poundland, so useful for Rizla papers, but they are a long way from where they live. The same goes for Lidl and Aldi, which sell better fresh food than the middle classes are buying at Sainsbury’s. They’re too far away or they Can’t Be Arsed.

What do we do about them, Mrs May? Give them access to a helpline?

 

Foreign bodies

Last night I wandered into what I thought was a quiet bar/restaurant, looking for something quick and good to eat. I had been there for a few minutes when in wandered a small group of young friends, no more than 21, two girls and two boys. They had guitars in cases and an accordion, and they were very warm towards each other in a most unBritish way.

They were slightly swarthy, seemed excited to be here, had obviously been busking on the street and spoke in a language that was quite impenetrable to me. I thought maybe Romanian, because of their looks, or something slavic. So I asked them where they were from.

“Bilbao”, they said. “Spain”.

They were not the world’s most successful buskers. They only knew three songs and were retiring upstairs in the Youth Hostel (for this, I discovered, is where I was) to learn some more.

“Are you staying in Britain?” I asked.

“Yes,” said one of the girls. “We are students. At the university.”

“But what language were you speaking?”
“Basque.”

“That’s a hard language.”

“Not for us.”

And then we all laughed.

 

The middle of the night

Like many of us, I tell people they can call me any time, day or night, if they are in any sort of trouble or if they are having some kind of crisis.

No one ever does, because they think I am the kind of person who is going to get upset, or they don’t wan’t to bother me, or they don’t want to wake
me, etc. But I really don’t mind. I quite like being awake in the middle of the night, and after that first reflex jolt when my sleeping brain detects the rude arrival of the audio wave from the apparatus, I am ready to chat.

I gave a young relative my number and told him to call me any time, with his parents being away on a trip, and he did. It was 12.50 and I heard the ping of Facebook Messenger on my phone. I don’t know whether I helped him (the ‘conversation’ mostly consisted of “I’m fine! I’m really fine!”) but I hope so.

Did I go back to sleep? Pretty much. It was cold and I am developing a cough. Now that, rather than a call from a relative, will keep you awake.

After a run of bad sleep, I was contemplating using the addictive and nasty Zopiclone, but made an amazing discovery. I was just cold. A blanket on the bed and I was good for 5am, which in my view is not an early start. If I’d put a pair of socks on I would probably have slept even longer.

In matters psychological, look for the simple things first: you have a gnawing pain inside, you’re probably hungry. You feel weary, you’re probably tired. You feel like you have a broken heart… you probably have a broken heart.