It’s maybe four in the morning … and I cannot sleep. Obviously! We were at our daughter’s this afternoon, house sitting while the Sky man came to install satellite TV. I am allergic to cats. You’ve guessed it – our daughter has cats – two! Some advice about allergy medication, from a practice surgery nurse friend, however seemed to have worked.
Then some hours ago I woke up, struggling for breath. So here I am in the spare bedroom, waiting to fall asleep, get my autonomic breathing back – or die! That’s hopefully just graveyard shift humour because I have suffered this before, wheezing and concentrating on something I usually take for granted. Imaginative story ideas are racing through my head – I have had half-finished plots and scenarios in my head for years and in my desperation for sleep I am reviewing them; it does the opposite of help actually. I started reading a library book at my daughter’s, Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston. I guess it was one of many Crichton had on the go but died before he could complete. But it has the urgency and realism of all Crichton books (which does not always transfer into film in my opinion. I have no doubt there will be some holes in the science somewhere, but what the Hell – it’s a story. About people being shrunk to a half inch height. It’s Michael Crichton, so it’s obviously more complicated than that. But at the stage I am in the book – they have just been attacked by “big-headed ants” (they are scientists so must know what kind of ants they are, however unrealistic the name sounds) I am wondering if this will be just a PG version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. In my pre-pre-dawn tossing and yearning I think back to a story I read called Tarzan and The Ant Men, Edgar Rice Burroughs of course, but cannot recall all of the detail. But start to wonder who was the first writer to imagine characters smaller than life size. Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, the Lilliputians? Or were they the big ones? Alice shrunk and grew in Alice in Wonderland of course and my mind wanders on the the stories of Ray Bradbury. Did he write anything along those lines? Also running through my mind are questions, like how can I make the ladder reach the guttering to sand down all of the soil pipe instead of just-so-far-and-no-further? But I remind myself: you will certainly not be climbing ladders unless you get some sleep.
It doesn’t help, but then you already knew that, didn’t you? I look at the horizon, the yellow sodium streetlights sand imagine I see lights in the sky – but my eyes are fooling me – there are no lights there. The trees outside are not visible in detail, but move quote vigorously in the wind. It has not been raining but the sky is simple grey cloudwash. The trees at first seem to move like the masts and rigging of ship masts in a windy harbour. But looked at more closely show different characteristics. The honeysuckle festooned pear moves as a whole, rocking gently, the rowan branches react to the wind individually so they may actually be moving in contrary directions, the ash trees still stubbornly refusing to open buds hardly move at all, like a stalled half-finished grey skeleton. In complete contrast to the flowering cherry which still has a mass of pale pink blossom despite the recent torrential rains. There is almost no colour in the world yet apart from grey tones and dull Tudor brick red of house walls, but the pink is established vividly. My mind is not working logically. I have given up trying to get some sleep. I wonder whether deciduous trees can sense the future weather and do not open full leaf canopy until all danger of storms and strong damaging winds has passed. Or do the ones that survive do so because they leaf up after the storms have gone? Desire or design? I know what I believe but for a while balance the arguments. Even though I know, deep down I need to be trying for sleep. Which doesn’t help. At all. Startlingly, from nowhere – the piper at the gates of this dawn – comes the golden song of a thrush. I cannot see the bird, but there is joy in the tune – and such volume from such a small bird. The song is enchanting and goes on, riff and riff and changes repeated. Truly beautiful. It would be too much, and completely untrue to say I am no longer tired, but it does lift the spirit. Undeniably. I expect the full dawn chorus to follow, but nothing is there to follow the song thrush lead or to take up the challenge. Some minutes later a pair of crows appear in the sky, with that languid flying-in the-grvity-of-another-planet characteristic style they have. They appear to be sculling through the air. I had expected the first birds airborne to be gulls from the rookery nearby. Mostly black-headed gulls there. But no the crows have the stage such as it is. One lands on a ridge top nearby and goes through a head swinging, wing flagging ritual. He (I presume male because of the exhibitionist behaviour) marches stiffly to the end of the roof and caws loudly, harsh sound echoing around. I fall, eventually asleep and am woken later, but still not refreshed by the coo-coo queries of our resident woodpigeons. Definitely no ladder climbing today then!