Mrs Thatcher, we are told, thought sleep was for wimps – and got by on four hours a night. When the IRA bombed her in a Brighton conference hotel at three in the morning she was reportedly up and writing a speech.
Now, I am not comparing myself to Maggie. But I am writing this at 4am. 4am wakefulness has become a thing for me; it’s annoying. I used to sleep so soundly, insouciantly enjoying hours of dreamless slumber. In fact I used to hold the view that insomnia was for wimps, or at least for those whose lack of day-time exertion or of a clear conscience justly condemned them to their sleeplessness.
Winston Churchill was another. Three hours for him.
I would like to report that I am awake hyperactively thinking through solutions to the country’s political and economic problems, as no doubt were Winnie and Maggie, and their fellow insomniacs Ben Franklin and Abe Lincoln; or inventing stuff (Edison) or writing the laws of science (Newton) or of moral philosophy (Mill). I wish I could say that I awake the better to write great fiction (Fitzgerald, Dickens, Proust … even Will Shakespeare) – but no. I wake up fretting about the most self-obsessed of things, existential questions of the ‘what am I doing with my life?’ variety. That and money. Mostly concerns which do not survive sensible, day-time consideration.
It is no surprise, I suppose, that this is happening as our departure to live aboard the boat draws near. We are programmed for some kind of life-sentence of work – meaning not sailing around writing unpublished novels but doing stuff for other people in exchange for a monthly pay-cheque. It is a struggle – at 4am – to ascribe any value to the proposal that 32 years of hard work and frugal living entitles one to get a boat and sail away. It’s hard to see success in the fact that other people are no longer paying to lay claim on part of one’s life. It’s tough to stop the accumulation process and look instead at how the economics of draw-down might work or, at 4am, how the horrible economic environment might mean that they do not.
Sorry, gentle reader, that this is so serious a post. I’ll leave you with the thoughts of another insomniac, Marx. No, not Karl – I’ll bet he slept like a baby.
“What do you get if you cross an insomniac, an agnostic and a dyslexic? Someone who lies awake at night and wonders if there is a Dog.”