Monthly Archives: November 2009

Sleeping

Sleeping is at once a necessity and a luxury. Being a restorative, unconscious kind of activity makes the lack of it more newsworthy than the doing of it.

It divides people into two camps: those who need a lot of it and those who don’t approve of it.

People who think they love sleeping are really saying they are monsters without it. They relish it for the reason that they find it exhausting to be ‘on’ for too long.

It is only a good idea to hang out with them if they are at a stage of their lives when they are able to drive in 12 hours every night. If they are about to get stressed or have a baby, run from them like the wind.

People who say they don’t like sleeping are generally boasting about their energy reserves, like a diver telling everyone how little oxygen they use. They feel guilty if they are caught with their eyes closed and lie copiously to cover their tracks if they have accidentally snoozed.

They are liable to be found slumped in a chair with a book on their chest, a foreign-language C.D on repeat and chicken stock burning dry on the stove.

When the two species get married they spend their lives blaming each other for being inconsiderate/lazy until they reach 70 and neither of them ever leave the bedroom unless to fetch a digestive biscuit from the kitchen.

Insomniacs get more sleep than everybody, spending large swathes of time in bed for fear they may miss the 3 minutes they believe they grab randomly. They see nothing suspicious in the large amounts of saliva that have dripped from their gaping, snoring mouths during their 12-hour sleepathon.

Bad sleeping habits can break a new relationship, from snoring, bed hogging and restlessness to sleep-talking, sleep-walking and recurrent nightmares.

No matter how much your date nodded enthusiastically when you talked about your favourite hobby, you might have to kick them out of bed for farting, quite literally.

There are as many different qualities of tiredness as grains of sand on the beach. At one end of the spectrum you feel like a weary cat ready to curl up next to the fire. At the other, you get a strange taste in your mouth and hallucinate about wiping out your family with a pick-axe.

Whether it’s the heavy-headed fogginess of a broken night or the neurotic, unclear thinking that results from workaholicism it is an advantage to be able to describe imaginatively the resulting misery, in order to distinguish it from that of pretenders who are clearly perkier than you:

‘I was so tired last week I lay down under the grapefruit section in Tesco in nothing but my pyjama bottoms’ will impress other Mums and get you more sympathy at an NCT meeting.

New mothers pretend that adrenalin and love for their baby override their desperate lack of shut-eye when actually it’s just the basic biology that their hearts are still beating. If they thought they could find an easy way to turn these off they’d fling the baby out the window immediately.

Like baking, sleeping is a precisely calibrated pursuit, involving the right temperature and correct measures of a pleasant environment and calmness. Mess with them and it all comes undone, at least partly explaining the other-worldly look of shift-workers and cabin crew.

Sustained body-clock tweaking ends at Sleep Aid City, where lives pills, potions, whale music and tapes that take you in elevators down, down, to the bottom of your consciousness. Getting out of bed and finishing a bar of Lindt chocolate is equally ineffective but immeasurably more enjoyable.

There is a point in most people’s lives when they realise their bed could be hotel quality if they went out and spent seven thousand pounds correctly equipping it. They order million thread count sheets, revise scientific tables of duvet tog values and press pillows stuffed with the hair of eskimo boy babies, failing to realise that a large part of the attraction of hotel slumber is to do with the fact that a young maiden whisks the sheets away to be laundered daily.

Should this epiphany persuade them to start ironing their own Extra King-Sized sheets and decorative European pillow covers, try to be their friend until they re-discover the plot.

A dream is your head careering around in a Scooby Doo van with its eyes closed. Of course it’s going to be ‘weird’ and deeply uninteresting to anyone who isn’t living in your brain. It is the embodiment of matter over mind, helpfully unraveling all the laborious work you have done during the day to try to forget painful things.

Many people are staggeringly unversed in the basics of dream symbology and will tell you quite happily in detail the next day how they killed you with a machete, as if it didn’t originate from their own evil brains.

Not being able to get off to sleep and oversleeping bring equal misfortune. The former leads your soul down dark paths via sheep while the latter leads others down it, carrying with it a whiff of impropriety, if not alcohol (and possibly sheep).

Ultimately, a decent night’s sleep is often all that divides the agony from the ecstasy in waking life, yielding one golden rule: if you stop a person from getting it or wake them out of one, it should only be for a very good reason.

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Gwynnie and me

‘Can I help you out with that trash?’

I heard a voice over my shoulder and, sure enough, when I looked up it was Gwyneth Paltrow on a break from up-dating her website, GOOP.

I knew very well she was being ironic. Certainly, she seemed quite tickled by the notion of it. So I left my chore and invited her into my mouse house.

After I’d washed my hands I got some fish fingers out of the fridge. They can defrost together, I thought as I welcomed her warmly.

Gwynnie is a piece of alabaster perfection and she can do long and short hair, as she showed us in Sliding Doors. I asked for some beauty tips, which she surrendered gracefully.

Nevertheless, she roundly dismissed my offer to paint her nails, with a snort through her elegant nose.

‘Do you prefer Luke or Owen Wilson?’ I asked, referring to her roles in the Wes Anderson films.

‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly choose between them,’ she replied coyly.

‘I could,’ I revealed. ‘Owen. More chamomile tea?’

We went for a walk around Ravenscourt Park so she could get some air. She seemed to relax a little but I have to admit I was quite annoyed because she was wearing sunglasses so no-one knew who she was.

She told me she thinks shampoo gives children cancer and that she bounces on a trampoline to sculpt the fabulous skyscraper heel legs that tell the world she’s sexy even though she’s the mother of Moses and a piece of fruit.

‘And Chris- well, he’s so talented. He takes his music very seriously,’ she opened up.

‘Do you think he takes quite a lot of stuff seriously?’ I asked, trying to widen my eyes.

‘No, not at all,’ she replied very seriously. ‘Chris has got a fantastic sense of humour. Just this morning over breakfast he was saying something really funny… Now what was that?’

I let her flail around like a weighted puppy for what seemed like an eternity before blowing the whistle and diving in with a basic bacon and egg gag, at which she laughed so hard I began to wonder if she really does find Chris a bit of a card.

I could tell right from the get-go that she wasn’t going to dish the dirt- she’s not desperate enough, having been born into fame and privilege.

So I took the liberty of switching off and playing ‘shag, marry, cliff’, teaming her up with Jennifer and Angelina, seeing as they all like a bit of Brad Pitt.

It was a no-brainer she was ‘marry’- hell, I’d already managed to spend a few hours in her company without really listening. The other two were easy as well: ‘shag’ Jen and ‘cliff’ Angelina (playing the rules by my original understanding of them, whereby ‘cliff’ is the person you are so crazy about you would be willing to jump off one with them).

When I came round, Gwynnie was talking about Anna Wintour and I regretted not paying attention. She said Anna started inviting her to lunches with John Galliano after her Oscar win and reckoned it was because the Queen of Vogue admired her work.

I let it slide. But it got me thinking about Shakespeare in Love.

‘Joseph Fiennes is quite intense but don’t you think his eyes are too close together?’ I asked, hungry for her professional opinion.

‘I was so blessed to work with Jo. He’s a giant of an actor,’ she replied.

‘Wow. Taller than Tim Robbins?’ I asked.

I think I got the wrong end of the stick but I knew she was relieved I didn’t allude to her acceptance speech debacle.

Instead, I praised her English accent and told her she was much better than Renee Zellweger, who sounds like she’s being goosed by the President but can’t let on.

Gwynnie found this remark distasteful. Angelina had warned me that she was a cut above but did I listen? No.

‘Have some of my Mum’s fruit cake with a thin layer of Lurpak butter on it,’ I suggested as she gathered her mobile phones to leave.

In reply to which- and oh, please God, may I never feel so wrong again- she gave me a look that still sends shivers down my spine.

‘I’m not sure I get you, Sophie,’ she said eventually, as she let two bodyguards help her on with her trainers. ‘But probing characters is my vocation so I’m going to take you to bed with me for a few nights to see what I can figure out.’

O.K, I thought.

As long as you don’t mind Jennifer Aniston joining us.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Whatever else it is, Fantastic Mr. Fox is bang on brief: a Wes Anderson interpretation of a Roald Dahl creation.

In other words, a quirky American sensibility brought to the grand-daddy of quintessentially English children’s authors. Quentin Tarantino doing Wordsworth might make for a similar coupling- interesting and accomplished but sort of very wrong.

The rustic-style stop-frame animation in a rural countryside setting is nostalgic and inhabited by three farmers who are nicely menacing, albeit in a slightly odd ‘Lock, Stock’ way. The script is witty, the music inventive.

But drop George Clooney, characters called Kristofferson and a sushi joint in the village marketplace and it gets a tad derailed.

The two main problems with the movie are also its selling points: Anderson’s style and the Clooney superbrand.

By means of a small but well-formed body of work Anderson has created one of the most distinctive film-making footprints in Hollywood: visually rich, theatre-like set-pieces; functioning dysfunctioning high-brow family units; a plot segmented by witty titles, wrapped in a droll humour relatively new to American comedy (We get irony! We love The Office!).

It’s a rejection of schmaltz in favour of emotional authenticity, offset using stranger than fiction characters as vehicles.

There’s no doubt a weasel real estate agent delivery predictable sales patter about a walnut tree is funny and the naming of the animals by their original Latin terms in order to motivate them has an intelligent charm.

But wasn’t this a book written for kiddies? Scenes that refer to Mrs. Fox’s easy virtue pre-marriage and end with the line, ‘I love you but I should never have married you’ suggest this detail may have slipped through the net.

Nevertheless, it is actually this sort of Anderson trickery that holds the attention, the story somehow falling short of the promise of the title as Mr. Fox reveals himself to be more arse-tastic than fantastic.

Despite his wild animal instincts defense it is hard not to feel irked by his self-inflicted predicament, which he manages to exacerbate on the behalf of his family and friends with a series of substance-less ‘plans’, to the point where the plot summary might have read, ‘annoying fox forces mean farmers to terrorise him further and further underground’.

Of course, they all pop up again in a balls-out action scene at the end but they are still living in bare cells below ground level and not in a light-filled hill-top tree, their hunting imperative replace with supermarket aisle treats.

When I left the cinema it was George Clooney rather than his furry alter-ego who left a taste in my mouth and not in the smooth, velvety chocolate way of popular myth.

The character he voices and the one he projects in real life blend so seamlessly it is hard to imagine Anderson would have proceeded with the project without Clooney’s acceptance of the role.

The result is that it’s hard to know where the oleaginous national treasure with the unerring sense of his own significance end and the movie’s eponymous hero begins. What Mr. Fox really needed was a lovable rogue to redeem his selfish actions when what he got was the poster boy of smug reinforcing them.

I am unrepresentative of an adoring Clooney strong-hold and Anderson’s artistry is undeniable.

But ultimately the movie is a vintage wooden toy: original, flawed and intended for the amusement of children, destined to be appreciated as an artwork by parents.

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Celestial note from the crane fly daddy long legs with wings

I was dancing, you megalomaniacal fruit loop.

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Why you are happy you don’t spend time with my head

A few weeks ago there was a daddy long legs with wings in the kitchen. It was shaking.

Daddy long legs with wings are actually called crane flies but it was still shaking.

I apologised for mistaking it for two mosquitoes mating before asking it this series of questions:

Are you shaking intentionally?

Is your nervous system damaged?

Do you have a nervous system?

If you do, can you feel it?

If you can feel it, does it mean anything to you?

Can you actually hear me?

What quality of life do you have apart from your corporeal reality?

Would you like me to kill you?

Or would you consider that murder?

Would you know how to commit suicide if you wanted to?

How would you do it?

Or would that be impossible for you?

Don’t you have a short lifespan?

Does that mean you don’t mind the shaking because it won’t last long?

Or does that mean you’d rather not spend the whole of it shaking?

Do you realise I often kill mosquitoes for less compassionate reasons and never ask them questions?

Or do you believe motivation is irrelevant and behaviour is paramount?

And then the crane fly daddy long legs with wings did not say anything and I killed it.

Because it looked to me like a crane fly daddy long legs with wings and Parkinson’s and I think that’s sad.

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Oops

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Dear Bruno,

Mummy would like to apologise for crippling you with terror on Hallowe’en night.

When the chap at the petting farm asked if you were old enough for the ‘Scary Tractor Ride’ as we stumbled through the pitch-black field, Mummy laughed because she thought he was making a funny joke.

It’s true, the green-faced witch with the odd stillness did have prescription-drug eyes but she only shone her flashlight in your face a couple of times.

The crouching bag-of-bones skeleton searching for his missing body parts who mounted the ride was quite a surprise though, wasn’t he?

Perhaps less so than the re-enactment of his craven encounters with the psychotic scarecrow on the wicker platforms erected around the meadow of spent corn-sheaves.

But if you think about it, the slow trundling of the tractor through the flattened husks might have been quite boring without the irregular hollow grunts from the darkness and random grabbing through the railings.

And, deary me, what an unexpected fellow with tangled wig and chainsaw popped up at the end, shortly before you and your little quickened heart were coerced into pelting the pumpkin effigy with shrivelled yellow cobs.

For the record, Mummy wants to say to you now- and to any therapists who may be digging around in the future- that none of this was planned and that bad dreams are just your mind’s clever-clogs way of clearing out its demented fears.

Love,

Mummy x

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