IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT

IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT.

I read in some newspaper article that insomnia was not associated with early or premature death. Apparently, often people who can’t sleep lie awake fretting about their sleeplessness and worrying about whether this will result in their death. As a lifelong insomniac (on and off) I am happy to report that this has never been something I’ve worried about. Some ‘experts’ recommend that you get up and do things, but I think this is a very bad idea. It’s OK to get up briefly to go to the loo, or make yourself a hot drink or do anything which makes you more comfortable; but you should in my experience remain in bed, where you are at least resting.

I enjoy the night-time. I remember glorious and memorable sights, glimpsed in the night. An owl that flew past me as I visited the outside toilet in Kingsmuir, coming so close that his feathers disturbed the air on my face and hair and who looked at me with great disapproving eyes. Or the magnificent Milky Way, blazing its trail among the stars. The white heads of barley swaying like ocean waves in the lovely Angus valley and me wishing I could be in one of these fields skimming across the grain. Ducks and geese at the appropriate time used to descend noisily on our fields to feed quickly and then fly on for Iceland. Later I myself visited Iceland a mysterious and beautiful place that appears to hover between this life and the place of the spirits. It was magical. I was never afraid of the darkness (I could see in the dark better than most people).

I like how in the night, there is plenty of time and some left over. It’s good for writing blogs. Writing it in your head it remains flexible and plastic (or so I hope) and can be readily disposed of, or re-written with slight changes made which nuance it. But once you have committed it to paper, it has a life of its own. It’s like the baby. Once born, he’s his own man, no longer part of you. If you lose a piece of writing once you have written it, you will never be able to reproduce it with the wit and style you achieved the first time. You can let your ideas soar and carry you along. You can take a problem to bed with you, and there are enough hours to examine it at your leisure. There’s an intellectual pleasure in stripping a problem down to its component parts, and then laying these out in order of importance. Then you can decide on the best and quickest way of taking action, and if it’s someone else’s problem, how you will advise the person whose problem it is.

It can be tiring and very boring lying awake for long hours. You have to be happy in your own company to survive. But if you just endure it; enjoy the good aspects of it; pray for the people you love (and if you are lion-hearted enough for those you do not love,) then the night will

Eventually the time will come when Sleep slips once again into your chamber, wondering what on earth all the fuss is about where he’s been. But you can’t stay annoyed with him for long and so you can at last switch brain off and drift away into the land of dreams.

Returning to our medical experts. They did not know if there were risks from the state of insomnia. They did not know if it contributed to illnesses which might have a material influence on the subject’s longevity. In fact, when you consider it, all they really discovered was that insomnia can affect people of all ages. How many tens of thousands of pounds of research funding did it take, I wonder, for them to make this ground-breaking discovery?

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FORSAKING THE HABITS OF A LIFETIME

I’ve been reading A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith. I read and enjoyed his series of novels about that generously proportioned Lady Detective Precious Ramotswe, but this series is set in Edinburgh, and it is – well, it’s very Edinburgh. If you were to compare Edinburgh to an American city, it would be Boston (and how Edinburgh would disapprove of the very thought

of comparing any other city to itself). You can’t very well complain that Edinburgh has ideas above its station when it is acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and the capital of Scotland as well. But Edinburgh is a presbyterian stronghold, and is certainly neither friendly nor welcoming. The glad rags it puts on for the weeks of the Festival are not at all typical of its garb for the rest of the year. But we who love it are faithful in spite of its failings and it’s good to see it so precisely captured by so distinguished an author as Alexander McCall Smith.

In this novel there is a boy who attracts the reader’s sympathy who suffers with an absolutely ghastly mother. She’s a bully; a ‘feminist’; a ‘suffragette’; (she brings these honourable estates into severe disrepute.) She hates men and disparages her husband and son, whom she makes wear pink dungarees. She insists that he attends psychotherapy to avoid any problems arising, and he makes up dreams which he hopes will satisfy the therapist. The latter is very excited because he thinks writing about this unusual case will bring him fame and fortune. The woman is so awful that the cunning and experienced Mr McCall Smith took the opportunity to give her one or two fine qualities and so render her credible. Very few people are completely lacking in finer feelings.

I have to admit now to being wrong in my judgement of Theresa May. (An admission of error is not common with me. I leave it to you to decide whether this is because I am rarely wrong, or just because I’m too pig-headed to admit to mistakes!) I sneered at Mrs May with her goody two (leopard-skin) shoes; her girl guide freshness; no doubt she’d been head girl somewhere or other. Yet I find myself – in spite of my best efforts not to – admiring the lady – and she is a lady which that other so-called one never was. You have to admire her courage and fortitude. Even when looking a little fatigued, after days of overwork and not enough sleep she still stands there for hour after hour, giving clear, comprehensible and concise replies to questions. She answers the questions too. When she says she has put the national interest before party or personal ambition then I (God help me) believe her (while feeling my pulse to see if I’m feverish). Doubtless if she hung around long enough we’d come to the point where we had had enough of her. But that doesn’t seem very likely.

But if her cabinet colleagues turn on her like the pack of rabid dogs they are, and she, fleeing from their uncalled for viciousness, appeals to us over their heads (can she do this?) then though I can’t believe I’m saying this, I’m going to forsake the habits of a lifetime and vote for whatever Theresa May asks for our support over, despite the fact that I was a remainer and Theresa May is a Tory who wears leopard skin shoes!

CROWN PRINCE

CROWN PRINCE

I am faced with writing a blog when no subject matter presents itself. Well one subject occurs to me, but I hesitate to tackle it for fear of giving offence. Oh what the hell, here goes.

We watched a programme on Prince Charles at 70. I presume it was intended to support his aspirations to become King of England on the death of the present incumbent, and it showed his various charitable undertakings at considerable length. It did nothing for me however, for I thought he emerged, beneath a surprisingly thin veneer of charm as an irascible, self obsessed, self indulgent individual with a persecution complex and a marked tendency to suppose that people were campaigning against him.

We have to be fair, to list the points in his favour. He has undertaken many charitable exercises and I am sure the Prince’s Trust has helped many young people. He is diligent and hard working. One feels sympathy for him when you see how wherever he goes he is the object of scrutiny and everyone’s curiosity; this must be a burden in life. Many of his obsessions, such as climate change, are indeed issues of great importance and he was aware of them and drawing attention to them early in the day.

However I still find him surprisingly irritating. It’s rather like the Archbishop of Canterbury who tends to speak (whoever he is) as though he held a position of authority over us. I feel like saying to him, ‘You’re not speaking for me.’ Archbishops tend to be more cautious these days.

So with the Prince of Wales. This is a democracy, but we’ve never been asked if we wish to continue with the monarchy. Given the disaster of recent referendums, we’re unlikely to be asked any time soon, and even if we were asked, I suspect the electorate might vote for the status quo; but I’d still appreciate being asked. However, I don’t think in the present Brexit uncertainty, that this is a good time. I expect this will all become relevant issues on the death of the present queen.

Statistically far more ‘spares‘ become King than heirs do, and this cannot be accounted for logically. It seems to be greatly to an individual’s disadvantage to be declared heir to the throne from a young age. They become accustomed to being deferred to and have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. Those who arrive at the throne by accident as it were are generally more realistic and can function as ordinary mortals.

One can also question Prince Charles’ moral fitness for the role of king which in England makes him head of the Church of England by the venal actions of Henry VIII. When Charles married Diana, he swore before us all that he would hold only unto her; yet he continued his affair with Camilla who was someone else’s wife (and he would have this woman as our queen.) Reportedly, he said to his wife he refused to be the only Prince of Wales not to have a mistress . He presumably never intended to keep his oath, and he therefore is forsworn. I think in the circumstances he is unfit to be king; and she unfit to be queen.

If you need those positions at all. I believe it would be better by far to have an elected Head of State, male or female, who would have to have been born in this country. They could have a longish term of office – say ten years, but could only stand once, and would be elected. We could also dispense with the corrupt honours system with its absurd obsession with rank, and have a citizen’s honour which was awarded for service to the country. The Head of State would swear an oath to defend the country and there would be a code of conduct that he/she had to adhere to, otherwise he /she would be impeachable. I think our modernisation of the role of head of state is long overdue, and the future accession to the throne of Charles, Prince of Wales would be a good time to initiate this.

The traditionalists and royalist sympathisers will hope that the machinery which deals with such events will just flow smoothly into place and Charles will be anointed king before we’ve had a chance to mount an opposition. But the Prince of Wales’ namesake once stood on his dignity, declared himself the anointed of God and saw no need to compromise with his ministers. He lost his head.

We live in interesting times,

DEATH ISLAND

DEATH ISLAND

The island of Arran, which is a magic and beautiful island in the firth of Clyde, is becoming for me an island of death, as we have attended 7 funerals there. The cemetery is on a hillside opposite the lovely Holy Island and the scenario is so striking it resembles a film scene. I was on Arran last week accompanying John to a memorial service for his brother-in-law, Howard Driver.

The first of these 7 funerals I attended was of John’s mother, and as I stood in a wind swept storm, sheltering my two daughters, my stepdaughter and my small son under the outstretched wings of my black coat, watching the coffin being lowered into its last resting place by her second husband, son, son in law, nephew and older grandsons (all of whom were over 6 feet tall and sombre in their formal blacks,) I reflected that the lady has certainly not lacked handsome men to send her off into the afterlife.

This was at that time one of very few funerals I had attended in my life. My maternal grandfather had died when I was about 7 or 8. I had heard the telephone ring one night, and my mother weeping, and I had guessed what had happened. My father came to tell me, but he could not bring himself to utter the dread words, so as he fumbled for an appropriate phrase, beginning, I am sorry to tell you that your grandfather has… has passed away, and I thought, what does that mean, so I asked, is he dead? My father said Yes, and I understood that I would never see him again and knew that we were mortal. I recall that although I was sorry and would miss him, I did not weep. I was the only one of his grandchildren to attend the funeral (the others were in Canada and this was before the age of easy air travel.) As people gathered in my grandmother’s sitting-room, I heard her remark that I was his favourite grandchild and even at that tender age I knew that she ought not to have said this, and more than likely it was untrue: I was probably just the one he saw the most. The only other thing I remember about that occasion was that I was sent to a neighbour whom my grandmother and mother criticised for her meanness while the actual committal took place, and when the icecream-van came and she bought her own daughter an ice-cream cone, but not one for me, I saw what they meant.

Then decades passed and I was fortunate that apart from my grandparents, everyone I loved still walked the earth.

In your youth, you tend to go to funerals either of elderly relatives who seem to you in your ignorant folly so aged that you do not see in their death any pattern that your own life will follow, or of real tragedies, where youths have died of misadventure. As you get older, you begin to attend the funerals of your parents’ generation : but it is still a shocking moment when you stand in the church for a contemporary.

There are various points where your loss is brought home to you. Writing to the principal mourner trying to come to a just and insightful conclusion about the deceased; being truthful so that a credible portrait emerges of the departed but still gives comfort can be a delicate operation and you may come to realise that you did not know the deceased that well; or that you depended on her or him more than you understood. But whatever you feel, one thing you know for certain is that it’s too late now. If you haven’t resolved any disagreements, that opportunity is lost.

I am always distressed when I first glimpse the actual coffin. It is so small. How come the life and vitality of the deceased had been reduced to this insignificant container?

The music is generally unbearably poignant. When we scattered my mother’s ashes on the seashore on Lewis and Rory walked slowly along the waterline playing on his saxophone, When A Man Loves a Woman, by Percy Sledge – the first time Sarah his wife had ever heard him play, – I was moved. When we were in church on Arran at the funeral of John’s stepfather, we were standing among his children as the first hymn was played. They were distressed and unable to participate, so John beside me lifted up his voice and sang on their behalf and I realised for the first time what a good voice he has.

When you come to the final phrases; Our dear brother here departed; dust to dust and ashes to ashes; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life; there is comfort in the age-old words although you wonder how many of the people standing there actually believe this. I myself feel that the mysteries of the afterlife have not been revealed to us, but I have hope and belief that I will see my relatives and friends in the afterlife, even if it is not in the form offered by christianity.

When someone whom I had found exceptionally difficult in life died, I felt a relief (though I was sorry for their sake that their life had been cut short). Someone who had loved the person said it was nice to feel they were now in heaven. I thought to myself, how could it be heaven if they were in it. I am bound to record that my view has changed and I can see that I need to learn to be more tolerant and forgiving, otherwise I myself will not pass through the pearly gates. How could I be fit for any kind of paradise if I were still carrying around my grievances from decades previous?

John’s family had organised Howard’s funeral extremely well. It was an occasion where everyone, whatever their history, was made warmly welcome. My safety and comfort had been carefully considered. I felt cherished and valued by the family, for which kindness I was thankful.

Funerals like these, where the family has put the needs of other mourners before their own, are humbling occasions but you come away feeling uplifted.

Go in peace, Howard.