Sleep, The Final Frontier…


What do you possibly do about waking up and feeling ‘normal’?

That happened to me this morning. Winter has arrived and has parked its arctic truck outside of our home. Even the cat refused to go out last night; she hid and did not make a stir. My wife and I went to bed moderately early, which is extremely early for many people, and entered the kingdom of the Nod without coming up for much air. Okay once or twice we rose to visit the essential, but beyond that it was sleeping right the way through to the time when we needed to get up.


We are slow risers. Sleep leaves its prints on us and takes some time to let us go. Tea, huge mugs of it, loosens the grip a little. This morning saw us walking like the dead around our kitchen with the middle daughter doing the same. Breakfast was whatever we were able to lay our hands on. The girls went for healthy fare whilst I went for something called Parkin. For those not in the know, Parkin has nothing to do with one’s personal vehicles (where you leave them) and everything to do with Bonfire night. No, if you’re now thinking entrails in a sort of pudding, it is not. Parkin is a ginger bread cake. It is eaten around the time that we celebrate the ritual execution of Guy Fawkes and it is very tasty (cake not the execution). It is indelibly linked to my childhood memories of neighbourhood bonfires and communal get-togethers. For that, it has a place in my heart.

So, this morning’s choice of breakfast has started me on the nostalgia road that can for some lead to the ever and overly sweet ‘Memory Lane’. Not for me. Parkin is a big, substantial cake that makes no excuses for itself and does not wax lyrical about the benefits of its consumption. It’s a cake before TV-cake-competitions. It’s simple, unpretentious, and (I believe) northern. There is nothing frivolous about it. It is and that’s the point.

Why, then, did this cake tempt me into the feeling that I was somehow back to normality? Beat me.

Normality in winter is waking up and not wanting to get up. It’s a touch of resentment at the fact that the world of work can employ such unwanted obligations on one’s life  (outside of work). It’s a rose-tinged dream of warmer times and sunnier outlooks. It’s recognition that the next stop is situated in the deep, deep midwinter. In Spain, they have a Puente (bridge holiday) just before the Christmas break whilst in the States, there is Thanksgiving. It all makes sense to me. We need time off to prepare us for time off. The world is too full of work; it’s how most people make a living.

The frost that sat cockily upon my car is another winter thing.  I’ll slow him down. I’ll make him think again. I’ll make him realise that he hasn’t found the scraper and that he has not purchased any defroster. HE’LL HAVE TO WARM A KETTLE OF WATER. As it turned out, the frost was not too thick, so I turned the engine on for a few minutes and it did the trick. Winter’s early salvoes were thwarted by a determined supply teacher.

Another Monday. More traffic. More delays. But, no, not today. I cruised through what we call ‘rush hour’ in the East Riding, crossed the bridge and found myself in what the good folk of Lincolnshire laughingly label south of the Humber Rush Hour. I do like an oxymoron.

The sky is still blue and the temperature is nudging downwards and I am sitting in a computer room with a bunch of not too disaffected Year 11s. They’re doing science or quietly chatting. The girls are mostly on task, but there are a few boys who believe that it is their duty to uphold the traditions of the off-task teenage army and, as a result, are struggling to find appropriate off-task behaviour. Thank goodness for computers and smart-phones.

From the window, I can see the great expanse of the Humber Bridge and, if I look carefully, I imagine that I see movement on the far shores. It could be the movement of the coming winter with its hordes of undead slowly stepping towards another conquest. Just across the water, the Dark Queen is stirring, always on the lookout for new opportunities, failing schools, failing teachers. Her army is gathering and I am afraid to look across the stretch for too long in case she espies me and remembers our unfinished business.


I feel as if we are now living in strange times. Perhaps everyone who reaches my age has the same type of feeling. Perhaps it is that the times have changed and we have become incapable of changing with them. The world turns whilst we sleep and we diminish, neuron by neuron. There are times that I wake from deep sleep and my mind switches on to the gathering thoughts that have been at rest up until that point. I am acutely aware of the cogs of my inner mind turning. They do so slowly to begin with, barely moving, and I think that a return to sleep is still within reach. I have strategies for combating this rush of thinking.

One of my most bizarre ones was to replay all of the goals that I ever scored in formal football matches. I used to be a decent striker so there was quite a lot to go at. It worked, on that occasion, and I thought that I had solved the problem. Unfortunately, I had not. My most common method is literally attempting to drive off unwanted thoughts by completing a mind-numbingly repetitive routine in which I count to twenty over and over again. That also worked well in the early stages. I use the techniques for running or cycling as a way to regulate my pace. Indeed, during those moments in which I am awake, I have incorporated a visualisation of my run, or cycle, as a way of enhancing my exercise. Sometimes it works and at others it merely leads off into other thoughts which then lead on to others; my mind is literally sewing together many strands that are connected. By that time, I still do not sleep.


Without the pressure of work, I have often decided to simply climb out of bed, go downstairs, watch TV or read a book. It makes sense to be doing something other than trying, in vane, to re-enter the magical Kingdom of Nod. But with the need to rise for work, this is not an option. Try, try, try to get some shut-eye; even though it is pointless. But most of us persist. We stick at the impossible task, convincing ourselves that it is possible. By the time, we are so knackered that we fall asleep, it is time to get up.


Our battle with insomnia has been lost and our sterling efforts to outfox it have left us drained on energy, the walking dead for a new day. Bring on the classes, bring on the paperwork, bring on the wilderness of wisdom.

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