Counting sheep never does it for me. When I waken in the night and can’t get back to sleep then I need to stop my mind becoming too active. I need something to soothe it, a place where my mind can wander. With our renovation work, I’ve been waking at all hours and before I’m even aware of it I’m pondering all the different finishes that door knobs come in and wondering just how much longer the brackets for the veranda posts are going to take.
In the past, my strategy was to divert my thoughts to Cloverdale. Although it was tenanted from almost the moment we bought it, we had stayed in it a couple of times and so I would let my mind walk around its rooms. I would try to remember what the tiles on the fireplace looked like and what the view from a certain room was, and in no time at all I’d be fast asleep again. It’s different now I live here and it occupies all my waking thoughts. Now I wake up in a sweat and think: oh my god, I’ve forgotten to order the tap for the laundry! (It’s the small stuff…).
Thinking of being somewhere else seems to lead me back to sleep. I’ve imagined myself wandering through my childhood home or tried to remember the details of my daily walk to school and while that often worked, once I’d done it a couple of time I didn’t particularly want to do it again. Whereas I seemed able to imagine myself walking through Cloverdale endlessly. It was my dream home on many levels.
Moving to Cloverdale meant coming up with another go-to place to soothe a restless mind. It was surprisingly easy. Our last big trip before Covid struck was to South America and it started with what they call an expedition cruise to Antarctica. Although wary of the whole notion of a cruise, it was a revelation. The beautiful little ship ticked all my design boxes (hybrid propulsion, chic Scandinavian design, eco-everything), and there wasn’t a single poker machine or nightclub to be found. I adored every moment on it. So it’s been the MS Roald Amundsen that my mind has returned to repeatedly, finding the quiet nook in the lounge where I’d write my daily journal, retracing my steps up to the top deck to view the passing icebergs, and even exploring all the different storage places in the cabin. Much better than counting sheep. I soon fall back to sleep.
Our dreams show that we can go anywhere in our minds. But one I used to have regularly really made me question the connection between dream and reality. It seems, perhaps, appropriately spooky for this time for year.
I was just thirty when my best friend died. We’d been soul mates virtually from the moment we met at school. We could talk for days and never run out of things to say, and no one could make me laugh like he did. His loss shook my foundations and changed the direction of my life. For the first year after his death, I would often encounter him in my dreams. He would be lying in a bed, as he had in the last months of illness, distressed and in pain. Thankfully the dreams began to change but they were still discomforting. I would meet him in strange places, like a deserted carpark or a school playground where it was often drizzly and grey, and he’d tell me how sad he felt. I would wake up feeling such fresh grief. But then, we started meeting in a lush green space very like the beautiful parkland of Studley Royal next to Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.
This was a place we’d often gone to when we both lived in Harrogate. In my dreams it was always sunny and our meetings were lovely things. We’d laugh and talk as we always had. He seemed happy and I would wake feeling as though I’d just spent a marvellous time with him again.
One night, though, we were chatting as we walked along a broad gravelled pathway through the idyllic landscape. I was suddenly aware of a pair of figures passing us. One wore a hooded garment, like a monk’s, his face hidden, and the other… Well, as they passed he turned and smiled back at me, and I thought: oh, that’s David, a friend of Anthony’s. It was odd enough for me to make a note of it in my journal when I woke up, and notable because I barely knew him and didn’t expect him to pop up in a dream. I’d met him only a handful of times, after all.
A week later, Anthony heard that David had taken his own life. He was in his late twenties and had always seemed such an upbeat fellow. It was awful news. I was shaken again, though, when I learned that he had killed himself on the night I’d seen him in that lovely park.
There, I told you it was spooky.
To lighten the mood, here’s a lovely cartoon by Stephen Collins about the difference between Halloween in American and Britain. (I was introduced to it by the talented illustrator Nick Tankard, whose work is worth checking, too.)
So where do you go to, my lovelies, when you’re alone in your bed?