I used to think we lived in a quiet neighbourhood. Let me rephrase that. We do live in a quiet neighbourhood. Its just that I never realised until recently just how many different degrees of quiet there are.
My situation in work has changed recently, with the result that some months I work at nights. As such, I have joined that small band of people who have to sleep during the day. My wife and I discussed this – should I go to sleep immediately on coming home, or should I hold off until the middle of the day? It was decided to pursue the latter course as everybody else in the house would be getting up in the morning and I would keep getting disturbed by Krispies snapping, crackling and popping away in the bowls.
So at the ungodly hour of 11 o’clock when most decent people are safely ensconced in their offices, I got undressed and settled down to what I hoped was a good six hours sleep.
The first thing you notice is the light. It really is quiet unnatural to think about sleep with the sun streaming in through the curtains. I tried shutting my eyes, but obviously my eyelids are made of the same material as our curtains because the sun still got through. Only by turning away from the window and burying my face in the pillow did I manage to convince myself it was the middle of the night.
And then it started.
I was just nodding off when from an estate behind us, a house alarm went off. Obviously someone had put a pizza flyer through a door with too sensitive an alarm and all hell had broken loose. Its amazing how house alarms don’t like pizza notices.
My double glazed window was shut but it was still like a workman operating a jackhammer in the bed beside me (don’t worry – I checked and it wasn’t.) From bitter experience, I knew that if it was not turned off immediately this would keep running for another fifteen minutes and then at fifteen minute intervals during the day. Reluctantly, I grabbed my alarm clock, shut the bedroom door behind me, moved to a bed in the front of the house, shut that door behind me and hopped into bed for a second time.
The sound of the infernal alarm was much muffled here and it was something I could live with. At any rate, it disproved my wife’s theory that I would sleep through World War III. I settled down again and soon started to nod off for a second time.
Just prior to the point of no return, when you cross the Rubicon into sleep, the door bell rang. I ignored it, listening. It rang again. I waited. Why wasn’t my wife answering it? For the third time, it rang. I swung out of bed, opened the bedroom door and was halfway down the stairs when my wife came out of the kitchen and beat me to the front door. It was the postman with a package for my daughter. I turned back on my heel and went back to bed.
By this time I was wide awake. On the rare occasions when this happens, I have a perfect plan for spiralling into the arms of Morpheus. I imagine a football match.
Don’t laugh. I play out a fictitious football game from the kick off in my imagination. One player tips it to another, he plays it back to the midfielder, who sprays it out wide to the left full back who, under pressure, plays it down the line, for the defender to head it out. I guarantee you it works. Twenty passes into the game and I’m gone.
This time, however, my inside right (kids, ask your dad) had just made a cunning foray down the channel when he was brought up suddenly by a loud “Caw!” For a moment Graham Poll looked at his whistle with a puzzled expression, but when a second, slightly higher-pitched “Caw!” came, I realised with a groan that two killer crows (my wife’s expression – they spook her) were having a conversation on the gutter above my bedroom window.
I don’t speak crow (it wasn’t on the syllabus in school) but I suspect they were discussing which over-full wheelie bin to ransack next. Wearily, I got up on my knees and opened the window violently. A sudden flurry of wings told me that they had decided to carry on their conversation elsewhere.
I flopped down on the bed, feeling a bit apprehensive. I needed to sleep.
For the first time in my life, I could see what bad sleepers have to contend with every night. They are anxious that they can’t sleep, so they don’t sleep. It’s a Catch 22, (rather than a Catch 40 winks) situation.
I went back to my football match but no sooner had an over-zealous midfielder gone clattering into his opposite number, than I heard the tell-tale sign of a lawnmower spluttering into life. Squinting out of the side of the curtain, I could see a man several doors down getting to work on his front lawn. I remember I had passed his garden a couple of days ago and thought absently that it needed a cut. I had a vague notion that the man also worked nights. Maybe he had given up trying to sleep and was mowing the grass instead, I thought ruefully.
I tried reading while the lawnmower clattered away out front and the house alarm scythed through the air out back. Reading normally puts me to sleep. However, this book, “Great Chartered Accountants of the Late Renaissance Period” (later made into a film starring Ernest Borgnine and a soundtrack by Lionel Ritchie) was fascinating and I read page after page before I realised that all was quiet in the neighbourhood.
With great reluctance, I lay the book down on the floor beside me and rolled over. Centre-forward to inside-left. Knocks it back to centre-half, diagonal ball down the wing…
Someone in the street walks past the house at the end of the road. This is fatal as the house has a big stupid dog in the side entrance who howls with fury every time somebody walks by. He’s off again now, paying not the blindest bit of notice to the unfortunate passer by, head back, running up and down, howling like a banshee. This alerts another dog several doors down, who begins to bark in empathy. Somewhere far off, a terrier yaps away like a demented woodpecker. I wrap the pillow around my head and wait for the din to die down.
The ice-cream van comes around. The man on the little tractor starts to mow the green opposite the house. The dogs start yowling again. The wheelie bin truck makes his round to thwart the killer crows. I pick up the Accountants book again and read to the end of the car chase on page 58. Silence reigns.
Centre-forward to inside-left. Tries to beat a man. Is fouled. Free kick. Opposition player protests. Ref changes his mind. No, he doesn’t, that’s silly. Three doors down, someone opens a car door without realising the alarm is on. I’ve done the same a hundred times. Alarm goes off. Fumble for the remote control. Alarm goes off again after five seconds. No harm done.
Except there’s a man in a bedroom in a nearby house screaming at the top of his lungs as his wife rushes upstairs to see what’s the matter.