When you’re lying awake…

As this blog has mentioned before, I am pretty good at resisting the charms of Hypnos and so spend a lot of time lying awake: though almost never with a dismal headache (well, hardly ever).  Let me reassure any ladies or gents still carrying a torch for the author, my insomnia is not caused by love – neither unrequited nor hopeless – and it does not lie, nightmare-like, heavy on my chest.

Usually, there is no obvious physical cause for my sleeplessness, so I have always assumed it must be something mental.  I used to blame work and “the man”, but my ability to sleep did not improve (or grow worse) during my recent sabbatical: so this accusation is starting to ring rather hollow.

This week just gone, sleep has been rather elusive once again – but, on two occasions there was a clear physical cause.

In the early hours of Friday morning, I was awoken in my bed at the Premier Inn in Belfast (normally my best hope for a good night’s rest: far more reliable than home) by rain being hurled into my bedroom window at 50mph (and the rest) as Northern Ireland was lashed by Gertrude (a phrase more commonly associated with a Tory minister).  Fortunately, as I had travelled without a coat, the rain had ceased before I had to walk from my lodgings to my place of employment: the wind had retained much of its vigour but I am not so easily rendered airborne.

The previous night my speedy approach to unconsciousness was also delayed by noise.  Not as you might imagine a thoughtless, partying neighbour nor the plangent cry of a car alarm being ignored (thus bringing the whole reason for its existence into question).  No, nothing so mundane for yours truly.  I was prevented from sleeping by the racket from amorous owls!  Tawny owls to be specific: to-wit and to-wooing each other at considerable volume in close proximity to my city-centre boudoir.  Given that we had 2wit and 2woo, both sexes were clearly implicated and with spring just around the corner (I hope) I am assuming that the cacophony was the prelude to some sweet, sweet lovin’.  I assume that owls can indulge in a gene flow event in a number of physical configurations while still maintaining eye contact with the object of their affection.  This must make for some interesting content in an owl jazz mag.

I would have to say that if I lived in splendid rural isolation, this owl courtship would have been easier to understand.  People have grown used to urban foxes, but urban owls?    I do recall TV series Futurama suggesting that owls in the 31st century were urban pests, in much the same way as rats and feral pigeons were in the 20th.  I’m starting to wonder if Matt Groening and David X Cohen knew rather more about the future than I had previously assumed.

Common people

Last Sunday, to make the most of the autumnal sunshine and the riot of anthocyanins and carotenoids, I wandered up to the Common.  I’m sure that New England in the Fall can offer a more impressive display, but it makes for a far less practical ambulatory excursion from my demesne.  Even were I the proud possessor of seven league boots, there would still remain the watery challenge of bridging the Atlantic without a convenient island chain and with ever declining sea ice to use as stepping stones.

The trees looked suitably beautiful, captured part-way through their annual striptease.  I attempted to capture their colourful burlesque using my smartphone to share its glory with my adoring fans but, while the camera may – like Sir Mix-a-Lot, but without his gluteal obsession – be incapable of falsehood, it does not tell the whole truth.  Still, for what it’s worth here is one mellow fruit harvested from my several attempts:

But a poor shadow

But a poor shadow

Despite my demonstrably limited photographic skills, and my inability (or lack of interest) in the selfie, I do find myself framing my view of the world to improve its aesthetics.  Recently, while waiting for the (unseasonal) green man to show his face (in profile at least), I found myself adjusting my position at a Pelican crossing to optimise the positioning of a nearby branch against the near-full moon which lay behind it.  Oh yes, that really happened – I even had to crouch down a little to achieve the ‘perfect’ effect.  I suppose that I, at least, should be grateful for the chronic underfunding of mental health services which leaves me free to roam the streets.

As the image shows, I was not the only person to spend my afternoon on the Common: though I was probably the only one listening to Hear and Now, brought from Radio 3 to my temporally out-of-phase ears by the magic of the iPlayer.  This was a concert hosted and curated by James McVinnie – who I slightly know or have at least shared a beer with on a couple of occasions – of music from the Bedroom Community and mostly featuring the organ of the Royal Festival Hall.  It made for rather effective accompaniment to my perambulations.

Over the months, I have seen a wide range of activities pursued by people on the Common.  I have spoken before of those practising in the hope of gaining sporting prowess, including the playing of Muggle Quidditch.  Training was occurring again on Sunday, but I suppose that the university team have a triumphant position to defend this season having topped the league in 2014/5.  I also realised that muggle players do retain a vestigial broomstick – though it would be of little use for sweeping (or, indeed, flying).  Slightly closer to flying, I have often seen a rope strung up between two trees and young people attempting to walk across it – something I might be tempted to try myself once my gymnastic-honed balancing skills have improved a little further.

There are obviously those like myself out for a constitutional: often with a dog, ageing relative or pram-borne infant in tow.  Barbecuing is also a common choice – and given the autumnal absence of the ice-cream van (a foolish waste of a solid business opportunity) a tempting option for the peckish.  In the past, I have seen a couple practising some form of dance which I took to be Latin.  They made this look a lot more sensual and fun then anything which televised pro-celebrity dancing contests have suggested is strictly ballroom.  There is also a band of folk who re-enact Norman combat (and we’re talking Angevin here, not Wisdom or Schwarzkopf) with swords, spears, shields and some degree of vaguely appropriate dress.  I’ve also seen archery – though this seems to have a more modern vibe and seems independent of the descendants of King Rollo (not the harmless duffer that children’s television might have led you to believe).

As well as the opportunities for people-watching, the Common is also pretty good for wildlife.  On Sunday, I found a tree full of tits: stratified by altitude.  The Great Tits commanded the heights, below them the Blue and at eye-level the delightful antics of their Long-Tailed brethren (though they are only very distantly related).  Actually, despite being a scant mile from any plausible definition of the city centre, my garret does provide hints of a pseudo-rural idyll – even without the short stroll to the Common.  A few evenings ago, when I was being uncharacteristically quiet (not that I am normally an especially noisy neighbour, just rarely entirely silent), I could hear tawny owls courting in (presumably) nearby trees.  Are they following the foxes into our cities?  Will we soon find owls rifling through our bins?  People laughed at Futurama, but they were the first to identify the menace that owls will pose in the future. What other apparently foolish predictions may yet be proved accurate?

Bring back the owls

As my last post suggested, I have recently been holidaying in the delightful county of Cornwall.  I stayed in an inverted lodge-style dwelling in a remote rural location (though apparently there is a golf course somewhere nearby).  Whilst I was technically staying in Cornwall, I never fully committed to leaving England and spent time on both sides of the Tamar over the week (and a very small amount of time actually suspended over the Tamar – oh yes, I’m quite the daredevil if I have the support of one I K Brunel). Frankly, I often failed to remember which side I was on – though I believe this is a matter of some importance to the locals.

The lodge was surrounded by owls or, possibly, by owl impersonators – it is so hard to tell in the dark with only your ears to go on.  Around bedtime I could hear them calling to each other – or possibly to me, but sadly I do not speak owl and so was unable to provide a suitable response.  It is a rather lovely thing, even given the language barrier.

After a week away, I returned (briefly) to Fish Towers.  Whilst it’s nice to go away, it is rather pleasant to return home – where the kitchen is stocked with familiar equipment and foodstuffs and where the electromagnetic medium of 21st century communications is immanent.

Less desirable was the sonic chorus that greeted my attempts to go to sleep the evening of my return.  No owls, but instead the yowling of local cats (well, I assume they were local though I didn’t actually ask) indulging in nefarious night-time activities at very high decibels.  Not content with cutting a swathe through our smaller indigenous wildlife and defecating in my tubs, the feline menace is now responsible for serious night time noise pollution.  We need a modern St Patrick to rid these isles of the menace.  Could Hamelin provide someone?  I know they have more experience with rats (and children), but “cats” sounds very similar.  I might have a go myself with the clarinet I bought at a birthday party (well, who can honestly claim they have never done the same), but have yet to make much progress with my new career as the new Acker Bilk.  Not sure if my attempts at playing would encourage any puss (booted or otherwise) to follow me, but it could well frighten them off which would be good enough!