Sore labour’s bath

No, don’t switch off!  This has nothing to do with the on-going attempts by Her Majesty’s opposition to devour itself (very much down to the lights by now): the title is taken from Macbeth and is one of a whole serious of poetic allusions to sleep made by our hero in Act II Scene II.  It just goes to show that mental collapse following regicide is no excuse for turning out second-rate verse.

If this blog has a theme, other than the author’s dual obsession with himself and cake, it is with sleep and my continuing inability to capture enough of it.  I’ve read more books and articles on the subject of sleep than many people have had hot dinners (though admittedly, most of the people to whom I refer will be babies), but despite having some of the strictest sleep-hygiene this side of an S&M club (where I presume Michael Saint is the presiding deity or demiurge) the balm of hurt minds continues to elude me on a regular basis.

I have even started eschewing any sort of screen time for a good hour before heading up the wooden hill (ok, across the carpeted hall) to the shire which hosts Luton Airport (a place historically oft confused with Paradise – though not, to my knowledge by Milton): but my abstinence availed me not.

However, this week I would appear to have found a solution to my night-time woes.  I have a Canadian cognitive scientist, Luc Beaudoin (as reported by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian), to thank for my currently well-rested state.  I will admit that I have slightly augmented his mental trick to take in elements of the ISIHAC game Word for Word and some elements of the old Ffoulkes’ family game of Bonio Boards.  Given that I am already in the dog house for failing to explain an allusion, I had better cover off that last sentence for those not lucky enough to both by fans of ISIHAC and cosanguine with the author.   In Word for Word, panellists attempt to come up with a serious of entirely unconnected words while Barry Cryer attempts to convince us that a word-pair was a popular beat combo in the 60s: I, of course, would suggest that they are playing tonight at the Dublin Castle (£6, £5 concessions).  Bonio Boards used the cardboard inserts found in packs of the popular 70s dog biscuits (well, they were popular with dogs and pokers: Poker, I should perhaps add, was a villain who would snaffle any chunks or crumbs of Bonio left unguarded by a foolish canine.  He did not wear a mask – which I now feel was missing a trick) to list a series of noun categories, e.g. countries, cheeses, famous dogs etc.  The players would then have to generate entries in each category beginning with a randomly chosen letter.  I presume this was against the clock and I cannot recall how the boards were marked – but it was what passed for entertainment when I was young and Pokemon had yet to be invented or released into the virtual wild.  So, younger readers, you may have no future and be unable to retire from your call centre-serfdom until you are 130, but just look at the improvement in entertainment options you enjoy!

I now lie in bed and start by choosing a letter: generally one which is worth more than 1 point in Scrabble.  I then attempt to come up with as many words (trying to stick to nouns) beginning with that letter as possible, while ensuring that no two adjacent words have any link.  If this proves too easy, I’ll add complication by also using Bonio Board-style categories or fixing the first two letters of the nouns or fixing the first letter and running through the second letter alphabetically or only allowing (or disallowing, as per Many a Slip) n-letter words (for suitable n).  This is suprisingly hard to do when tired and keeps any other unwanted mental activity at bay.  As a result I fall asleep quickly and, should I wake during the night, quickly return to the chief nourisher in life’s feast (well, if we exclude cake: but I expect cake was less readily available in Glamis in the distant past).  It even seems to work in the recent heat and when sunlight is streaming through my curtains.

I’ll admit that the trial is currently short, and that I lack a control-me who has been relying on older method to partake of great nature’s second course, but so far the results have been very promising.  In fact, it is almost too successful and it is becoming much more critical that I correctly set my alarm clock.  I wouldn’t like to say that I’m cured, but for the time being if I appear to be dozing off during a conversation it IS because you are boring and not down to a lack of sleep on my part.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not being sponsored on the number of quotations from Macbeth I can slip into a post.

Odd claims

Lest you were worrying, this will be nothing to do with insurance – I believe Jasper Carrott covered that subject matter some years back and I’d hate to be seen as treading over old ground.  No, this relates to a triumvirate of curious claims I saw back in the soi-disant summer – yes, I know this is rather slow coming to “print” and as you will see, this certainly can’t be justified on the basis of improved quality.

The first claim was on a poster I saw whilst awaiting a tube train and advertised a 5km tree walk.  I initially found myself wondering if Ents were involved, or perhaps I should start to worry about my invincibility in battle – well, there have been a lot of C-sections over recent years and a chap can’t be too careful.  My second thought was that this was a seriously tall tree and I’m not at all sure lignin could support such a massive structure – and certainly not in ambulatory motion.  My final thought is what a wonderful language English is, allowing so many erroneous interpretations of a an apparently simple four word phrase.

The second incident was also from an advertisement, but one I saw emblazoned on a cab door in Edinburgh.  This was extolling the virtues of a male comedian (name long since forgotten) with the claim that he provided “effortless delivery”.  It struck me that this was a slogan more appropriate for Royal Mail or DHL than stand-up comedy.  Let’s face it, delivery for a stand-up involves speaking aloud – something which most of us can manage with a relatively low level of effort and don’t feel the need to brag about, at vast expense, on taxi doors.  I can only recall seeing one comic with somewhat effortful delivery – and in his case, he had the excellent excuse that he suffers from cerebral palsy.  Perhaps this forgotten comic had overcome a stammer or Tourettes to perform at the Fringe?  If so, I am doing him a terrible dis-service – though I still feel he could do with some more work on his advertising copy.

I was also introduced to my final example at Edinburgh.  It came in the form of a song that Michael Legge used to make his entrance.  I believe the song was by something called Kelis and, if not so entitled, certainly made much play of the phrase “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard”.  At a very rough estimate, there are somewhat more than three billion boys currently in existence – so, if the claim is true, this yard is going to be exceeding cramped (and the pressure on local roads and public transport doesn’t bear thinking about).  I also found myself wondering whether the singer(s) had considered the boys who were either lactose intolerant or vegan.  Perhaps this “Kelis” was singing of a soya milkshake and had established this in an earlier verse to which I paid insufficient attention.

I think the moral of this post is that people should think before going public with their outlandish or poorly thought-out claims.  Though, if they did, much innocent amusement would be lost – so perhaps we should just stay a moral-free zone.

Creeps in this petty pace

Procrastination is, as is widely known, the thief of time.  Somehow, despite this fact, it remains at large to commit new and blatant acts of temporal larceny: I must admit I am beginning to suspect some degree of corruption at the heart of the authorities charged with its apprehension, I suspect they have been bribed with stolen hours.

The word comes to us from Latin – suggesting the thief has been operating for millenia – and their word for tomorrow.  However, it comes to my mind as a result of the many delays to work commencing on my latest essay for the Open University.  This, which is to cover ideas about the transmission of medical knowledge from the Islamic world to Europe, was supposed to have appeared in its dreadful first draft form the weekend before last, but did not.  I would claim that this was not the result of procrastination but because the day job consumed much of my time and mental resource.  Under interrogation, I would also have to admit that the Cambridge Comedy and Summer Musical Festivals (and my attendance thereat) were also involved.  I somehow allowed that week to slip through my fingers in broadly the same way, but by the Friday night I was all out of excuses and planned to set to work.  Somehow nothing happened once more.  Why you ask?  Let’s just say Danny Boyle has a lot to answer for! (I toyed with “for which to answer”, but that seemed a little stilted, even for GofaDM).

From previous posts, you may have detected my slight lack of enthusiasm for all things Olympic – but I felt some sort of duty to at least glance at the Opening Ceremony as it had garnered so much coverage in the media (so much, that even I had been unable to avoid it).  OMG! As I believe the young people say, which I believe celebrated the British synth-pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Gloaming (who later, of course, found fame as OMD).  What an incredible piece of theatre – though one can only wonder what the rest of the world might have made if it, as it was really rather British (perhaps there were handouts for foreign broadcasters).  I was hooked – and my essay remained unwritten – until well after my normal bedtime.  I even stuck around to watch quite a lot of the athletes parading round the stadium – how nice to see so many people smiling – and was particularly impressed by the Czechs in their very natty wellies and matching brollies, they at least had noticed the rather moist weather we’ve been enjoying (and which does seem to have returned).  Apparently, the ceremony cost £27 million and peaked at 27 million viewers in the UK – and I, for one, do not begrudge them my pound.  One of the best quid I’ve ever spent!

Last Sunday, tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow) finally arrived and my excuses were at an  end, so I was forced to knuckle-down and generate a first draft of the essay (you see, it was pro-crastination, not am-crastination).  For some reason, this has proved by far the most difficult essay to draft: it took all day to place my ideas and arguments into some sort of vaguely logical and coherent order.  Once the back was broken, this Friday I managed to hack it into better shape and rein in my verbosity comply with the word limit, though, as usual, consuming almost all of the permitted +10%.  Oh yes, when writing essays I quite literally give it 110%!  Yesterday, it was finally submitted and a great weight was lifted – some of it is even quite well written (I think, or at least hope), though it is somewhat turgid elsewhere I fear.

By yesterday afternoon I was feeling quite good about myself and then WordPress notified me of a new post from James Devine, the man who I now think of as my nemesis.  While I was pfaffing around and writing one essay, he managed to build a muon detector.  I am going to have to up my game quite substantially if I’m planning to compete.

Perhaps appropriately for a post about procrastination, this entry in the GofaDM canon was mostly drafted a week ago.   I seem to have been temporizing to an extraordinary degree since then – though I might blame the need to write for both work and the OU for having exhausted my writing muscles.  Still, pleasing to have the link back to Macbeth (the last time I studied the Arts) and particularly appropriate as this same soliloquy brings us the wonderful words “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing”: which could stand as the mission statement for GofaDM.

No moggy

Oh yes, definitely not feline – this post relates rather to an uncat.  Well, it probably does – though lawyers might argue the point.

This blog has previously mentioned my tendency to insomnia – perhaps one of the reasons I so enjoyed studying Macbeth for O level: he also had a rather difficult relationship with sleep after an unfortunate incident with some daggers (and Duncan, as I recall).  For the sake of clarity, I should make clear that I have neither met a triumvirate of strange women on a heath nor engaged in regicide and I have never been Thane (indeed, some would suggest that, on the contrary, I am inthane).

Generally, sleep deprivation does not have a positive impact on a chap (or, I believe, a chapess – though I cannot speak directly in this case).  Indeed, these negative impacts are what makes it so useful as a form of torture and thus fall within the purview of UNCAT (the UN Convention Against Torture) – although, as mentioned above, some would argue that it does not.

However, after several weeks of very poor sleep I have discovered a positive side-effect of my affliction.  I have suddenly become inspired when it comes to solving cryptic crosswords – a process whose pace can normally be compared with glaciation or continental drift.  Now I do love cryptic crosswords – or at least those from The Guardian – but only play with them somewhat infrequently.  I have a foxed and faded book of 100 of the Guardian’s finest: and on the current rate of progress I will never need to buy volume 2 (unless the human lifespan is significantly extended in the near future).  Solving a clue provides a triple pleasure: the sense of triumph in finding the answer, the joy at understanding the construction of the clue and the satisfaction from having successfully engaged another mind in single combat (the rude might suggest unarmed combat in my case).

Some clues prove particularly resistant to my mental assault – and puzzle number 13 (set by Rufus) had proved a particularly tough nut to crack.  However, in recent days, my addled brain has started to solve clues at an unprecedented rate.  I’m not entirely clear which of the myriad side-effects of sleeplessness might be providing this boost to my crossword solving skills – perhaps something in the confusion-hallucination space is allowing me to see the clues in a different and, as it transpires, helpful way?

Through the ages, artists have tried using a variety of drugs to allow them to think differently and as a result find inspiration.  Have I inadvertently discovered another, entirely legal, route into the Muse’s favour?  Is it time to write my first self-help book: one for the struggling artist?  Then again, would struggling artists be a particularly valuable market segment to target?  Maybe I need to wait for the self-help idea which will appeal to the struggling multi-millionaire…

Great as it has been to finally defeat Rufus (and much as I’d like to see off Araucaria’s No.11), I think on balance I’d prefer to have a few decent nights of sleep (as opposed to Knights of Sleep – a body of heavily armoured men who deliver sleep, each astride a nightmare, at the point of a lance).  So, I’m off to my palliasse with the plan to start counting Z’s or sheep or crows (though the last may not be entirely conducive to slumber).

Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-Race

The title should not (or at least not alone) be taken as evidence that I have finally lost my few remaining marbles or use of the spell-checker.  Of course, it refers to the Bard of Ayrshire and the 252nd anniversary of his birth.

All over the land, people will be tucking into haggis, neaps and tatties – though not in the US, where haggis is illegal (though widely smuggled from Canada, I believe) and so folk will be stuck with the rather more boring neaps and tatties combo.

I was first introduced to Robert Burns’ ouevre as part of my English Literature O level, where I was made to study Tam O’Shanter, as I recall.  I must admit, nearly 30 years later, that I cannot remember what skills or knowledge I was supposed to acquire as a result of this study – but they clearly didn’t stick.  I do remember resenting the requirement, feeling that I was being made to study Scottish literature – my O level also included a number of Scottish ballads (including Sir Patrick Spens, which did have some appeal and harks back to a day when the Kingdom of Fife came equipped with an actual King) and even my set Shakespeare play was the Scottish one (ha, I laugh in the face of superstition and tweak the tales of old wives, I studied MACBETH – there I’ve “said” it).  I now realise that the literature was in the English language, rather than written by English nationals – so perhaps I have acquired some wisdom over time.  (It’s also good to get that off my chest after all these years).

In subsequent years, I have come to appreciate Mr Burns work (both Rabbie and Monty, who I view as a role model) – it can be especially fine spoken aloud in a cod Scots accent (or probably in a real one, but I lack that facility).

This same EngLit O Level introduced me to Peter Grimes, the hideous poem by George Crabbe.  So awful was this experience that it took nearly twenty years before I was willing to see Benjamin Britten’s quite stunning opera of the same name.

On the plus side, I loved Lord Macaulay’s Keeping of the Bridge (and may prepare its recitation as a party piece for my declining years) and really enjoyed Macbeth (if enjoyed is a word I should use to describe regicide followed by mass murder).   In line with previous practise, I should at this stage boast about my final grade – let me just say that it is the one most commonly associated with ‘orses.

Slàinte mhòr agad!