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).

I survived

(but it was a close-run thing).

Yes, I’m back at Fish Towers after a week in Auld Reekie – and am still more-or-less intact (more about the less in due course).

In the last week, I have had more late nights than in the preceding 11 months, “enjoyed” a pretty major shift in my diet (5-a-day has still been achieved but only if we substitute the words “fried food” for “fruit and veg” in the standard dietary advice: when in Rome etc) and consumed rather more alcohol than is perhaps compatible with the life of simple purity that makes up my quotidien existence.  I have also spent a lot of time sitting on some seriously uncomfortable chairs (the rest of the country, and perhaps even much of Europe, must be stripped of dodgy temporary seating in August), mostly in rather cramped and sweaty conditions.

As a result, blogging and sleep have suffered somewhat.  However, the last week has provided much needed fresh material for future posts and the lack of sleep should be resolved by a few early nights (those Zs don’t count themselves, you know).

Perhaps more worryingly, my left foot and both ankles seem to have put on rather a lot of weight whilst away – they are looking decidedly chubby.  It may be that my body starts storing excess calories (or joules) starting at the ground and slowly working up.  If I spent a whole month in Scotland would it reach my knees, or even higher?  Do I quite literally have hollow legs (as has often been proposed)?

Talking of Scotland and deep-fried food, I fear it may be losing its pre-eminence in this field.  As East Coast was whisking me south (while plying me with food and drink), I listened, on my iPod (other MP3 players are available), to The Bugle podcast.  If you like your news discussed with somewhat silly, some meet even say puerile (which, based on my schoolboy Latin, I assume means “boyish”) humour (well, you are reading this blog!), I can thoroughly recommend the Bugle.  On last week’s edition, I learned that the folk of Iowa take a block of butter, pierce it with a stick (like a butter lolly), coat it in batter (to make battered butter – there has to be a tongue-twister in this!) and then deep-fry it.  I can feel my arteries hardening just writing about it!  By comparison, even stereotypical Scots eating is looking pretty healthy.

The only alternative explanation for my puffy pedal extremities that has come to mind is that, rather than gaining weight, perhaps they are swollen – perhaps caused by my enforced separation from my bicycle or walking on cobbled streets or over volcanic hills. Has my body become overly adapted to cycling on the relatively flat?

However, neither explanation really covers the divergent impact seen on my left and right feet.  My feet are pretty much inseparable – I have rarely caught them more than 6 feet apart (or would 2 metres be a less confusing measure?) – and so surely anything affecting the left should also affect the right?

Still, I’m not in any pain – though my left shoe is a little tighter than normal – and if my feet have put on weight, it should lower my centre of gravity and lead to a much needed improvement in balance.  Surely, it’s not too late for a career as a gymnast?  Though I will admit that most gymnasts I’ve seen are slightly younger and shorter than me – but my study of the field has been less than exhaustive.  I’m also slightly concerned that even as a (supposedly) flexible primary school child I could never manage even the lowest BAGA award – the backward roll was always beyond me.  Then again, I couldn’t manage differential calculus in those days either – so there’s always hope!

Still, despite my sub-shin tumefaction, I had a really wonderful week away.  Where else could I take in 30+ shows covering music (old and new), poetry, photography and comedy in a single week?

Knitting up the ravelled sleeve

When I was but a callow youth, I found it all to easy to enter, and remain girdled within, the arms of Morpheus.  On one occasion, I managed to sleep through a cast-iron bath being broken up just a short hall from my bedroom.

Somewhere in my twenties, I started to find the leader of the Oneiroi rather more elusive – though luckily have never really fallen into the embrace of his brother Icelus.  Periodic bouts of insomnia have plagued me ever since – and it is in one of these I now find myself.

As a result, I have read very widely on sleep – often when I should have been sleeping – and like to think myself somewhat of an expert on the theory (if not the practice).  Sadly, theoretical knowledge only takes you so far when your sleeve of care is ravelled (to rather mangle the words of the Thane of Cawdor) – then again, I never could get the hang of knitting: I could never maintain the tension and my rows tended to have rather variable numbers of stitches.

One partial cure for my insomnia (surely another great, unused name for a hatchback), I have found, is blood letting – which is rather at variance with the ideas of Galen who would suggest purging myself of black bile (were he still with us).  However, whilst the National Blood Service are all too willing to divest me of some blood and offer me lemon squash and bikkies in recompense, I have yet to find any organisation willing to take surplus black bile off my hands (or liver to be more anatomically accurate and which makes me wonder if the process might be rather more invasive and painful.  Though, apparently it can also be reduced by the application of hot cups – if only I had a brassière to hand).

After giving of my life blood, I find I’m a very cheap date (or at least, a little alcohol goes a surprisingly long way), I sleep rather well but, and this is the only downside, I find myself afflicted with terrible gas.

I rather enjoy giving blood – it is an excellent, guilt-free excuse for a lie-down in the middle of the day, provides very quick (if modest) weight loss and is really the only time I eat biscuits (today, a couple of mint Clubs – but, usually, bourbons).  On one golden occasion in Jesmond, I was the last donor to leave and was given a brown bag with ALL the left-over biscuits from the day!  It is also a good opportunity to flirt with the nursing staff – an opportunity I tend to exploit shamelessly.

I have given blood in one form or another a little over 60 times now – which is the contents of enough arms to make up a rugby (union?) match, if Anthony Aloysius Hancock is to be believed (well, as long as the rest of the players turned up attached to the arms – lone arms, even in pairs, would struggle in the modern game I fear).  For a while I was able to give platelets, before my count dropped too low for it to be worthwhile.  This was a truly regal experience – and especially welcome during a hot summer – as the process takes a good 90 minutes whilst you recline like a king, waited on by the staff of the NBS.  They provide food, drink and even a personal DVD player – basically, it was like flying business class without all the nasty airport and aeroplane nonsense.  To extract the platelets, they take your blood out, whizz it round in a centrifuge (why, no centripete I wonder?) and then return it to you (less the platelets, which are a rather nasty shade of yellow).  To keep it fresh while it is out for a spin, they chill it and so you get your blood back nicely cooled – a sort of internal, sanguine version of aircon.

Sadly, I’m back to whole blood donation which is barely 5 minutes of lie-down these days – when I first started way back in the eighties, I’m sure it was a good half-hour.  I suppose it just shows how the pace of life has accelerated, or that my blood is very keen to be shot of me and to strike out for pastures new (or something in that vein): maybe I was better company in the 80s?

So, dear readers, I can thoroughly recommend the donation of blood:  pay no heed to Galen, I find it boosts my happiness – which is surely the best of all the humours!