Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Signs and Blunders

It isn’t good to fall asleep after one in the morning and wake up shortly after four. It gets worse when you take your second herbal sedative and it has no effect, dawn comes as dawn always does and it’s too late for the last-resort 2mg valium. I think Fleur Adcock does a good job of nailing the condition in her poem Things:

There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse
and worse.

In my particular case, though, it isn’t just the worse things that come stalking in but the stupid trivial things and the whole catalogue of mundane tasks that need to be addressed at some point. True, the vegetable rack in the kitchen has been falling apart for a long time and we should get a new one – but fretting about this and similar at five a.m.? I should talk about this with Shrink, obviously, but he is one of the Things I fret about. Our relationship is going through a testing time, a bit like that of a newly married couple when the honeymoon is over and the bickering begins. Well never mind, I’m sure this is all very auspicious and we’ll carry on slugging it out until the day I shake hands with him Woody Allen-style and agree to call it a draw.

Meanwhile, it may or may not be the end of the world, but everyone keep calm. Something is happening underground – a collision of protons that will “usher in a new era of physics”. People are worried that the planet is going to be destroyed in the process, but no-one has actually gone around waving banners or chaining themselves to railings and the end is very probably not nigh. We carry on, folks – thinking about property prices, the effects of climate change, remembering to bring used polythene bags with us to the supermarket, putting plastic milk bottles in the special tray at the top of the wheelie bin and taking the daily vitamin pill at breakfast. We carry on having birthdays and saving the gift-wrapping paper for future use.

If there is no Big Bang, that doesn't necessarily mean there is nothing to worry about - the end might come like a slow fertilisation and a period of waiting while the thing that is to happen forms itself before hatching out. But as far as I’m concerned it’s not over till the fat lady sings and Signs and Wonders appear in the sky, and I do not count the fact of relentless rain and miserable skies as either a Sign or a Wonder. It is either global warming or just one of those things; it scuppered the holiday plans of anyone hoping for a sunny break in Cornwall and it ruined a number of homes but we go on. I think, all things considered, I am glad about this.

When it does come, the last breath, the bang, the end of all the cycles of birth and rebirth and the beginning of nothing or a fall into destruction, I would like to have the opportunity to say goodbye – not just to the sky, forest, lakes and all the people that watch, run, swim and breathe, but to the particulars: polythene bags; a metal key ring shaped like a dolphin; a withered carrot in the blue vegetable rack that has been coming apart so the trays keep falling on each other; the bird that flew against my friend’s window one day and left on the pane of glass a shadow: the impression of its face.


Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

I find the haunting hour is 3am. In Traditional Chinese Medicine they say that those hours when you wake up in the night and fret relates directly to a particular organ which is out of balance. 3am is the liver. 4am are the lungs. I'm afraid I can't remember what 5am is.

As for the Large Hadron Collider... I'm wondering if there isn't a connection between it and the Mayan calendar which ends in 2012...

I'm sorry to hear things aren't going to smoothly in the Life of Signs so am sending you an extra big (((HUG)))

Reading the Signs said...

5am is kidneys, Vanilla,though there's nothing wrong with mine that I know of. I do the 3am and 4am shifts too, so liver and lungs are also out of balance. Clearly I must drink more and take up smoking again!

Things are actually not that bad to tell the truth. I just enjoy sounding like a miserable git sometimes, keeps the fire stoked. Still appreciate the generous hug though :)

Nicola said...

I went to bed early last night to escape the trivia of mother-worries: two sons on a cheap flight bound for Elba with nothing but a few dwindling euros between them. Safer in pairs you might think - not so when one draws attention wherever he goes!

Woke sometime during the night to a waxing moon - how long since a glimpse of silver! And again at dawn to birdsong, silent here throughout August. So confused, I thought I'd skipped winter and spring had come round once more. Thank heavens I haven't missed autumn after all.

Thank you for reminding me of the Adcock poem.

What bothers me re the physics thing (and I am married to a physicist)along with the raising of the school-leaving age (non-sequiturs are my forte - along with mixing languages, it seems) is that all this has come upon me without warning. I mean, shouldn't I have been told in advance? Admittedly, I don't read newspapers daily, finding them fraught with stories that haunt me through the night. But I do listen to radio.

Perhaps best, though, that I'm not forewarned of possible black holes. When the 'greatest experiment of all time'(R4) took place this morning, I was in the shower listening to the sucking sounds of a suffocating plughole.

More seriously - or as - you say it all beautifully for me in your last para. Especially the bird against the window - reminds me of the wings of a dove I once found imprinted on my own.

it's me said...

Ah, good old Fleur. I used to do this one at poetry recitals (when I did them). But hello, Signs sees, how (apart from insomniac) are you? Good to read you (and sorry to leave you staring at my furiously-twitching curtains. Rude of me. But oh, no, I take it back, I'm not strictly-speaking apologising, okay? Okay. I've done that once and paid the penalty and am now the wiser. Oh yes). Let me put your black-hole worries to rest, for this issue was tackled by an eminent cosmologist in our papers here and he assures us that while a black hole or several may well be created in the new thingy in Cern, they will be very tiny and therefore short-lived and non-bothersome (unlike the hole in the wall). He went on to say that also black holes are less aggressive than their reputation, and that if he had a black hole on his desk it would be no bother as long as he didn't go near it. A bit like a cliff or similar ravine - don't go close and you won't fall in.

Having thus solved this early-morning worry (and I feel certain I've told you 3 am in Finnish is sometimes referred to as suden hetki, the moment of the wolf), I also feel myself cleared of that mess I made of not helping you out with the GUT theory conversation you got into with Himself in the summer. Phew.

Anyway, lovely to see you. Mwah and mwah again (and hello, Nicola, Vanilla, too). Be seeing you.


Collin said...

A beautiful and melancholy post. That last paragraph is haunting, and I agree with you.

Reading the Signs said...

Nicola, I think you may be me sometimes, or perhaps it's the other way round. But anyway, I found myself saying yes, oh yes to what you brought here. Or perhaps it's just a shared imaginative empathy. Whatever, lovely to see you.

Reading the Signs said...

Is it really you, Sees? Yes, for I know that voice anywhere and hooray, you are back in the land of the - well I was going to say living, and then I was going to say unliving but neither is quite the thing. But anyway, you are back - Mwah! And I entirely forgive you for worrying me about black holes (I mean just because it's small doesn't mean it can't get bigger, they usually do you know) and if there's a cliff for gawd's sake then it's almost a foregone conclusion that I will be hurling myself off it; you too, I guess (referring to conjoinedness here).

Enjoying the link. I like Fleur. People (men) I used to know used to be so rude about her name.

Reading the Signs said...

Collin, I appreciate being appreciated by you , lovely poet. And am trying to figure out how to get a copy of your new book without doing the Paypal thing.

Kahless said...

I am not sure I understand why they have gone to all this trouble to recreate the big bang. Oh well.

Hey Signs,
my cousin (Our fathers are id twins) is conducting at Proms in the Park tomorrow - live at 7.30 on BBC2. try and catch it if you can?

Reading the Signs said...

Hi Kahless - I'll definitely tune in if I'm here.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey Signs,

I wish I had something profound and meaningful to say, but really I just want to say a big hello....I blog very rarely these days (lots of reasons)...but I do appreciate it when I come back.

Warm wishes x

Reading the Signs said...

And a big hello to you Ms Melancholy - well I also wish I had something profound and meaningful to say. But just saying that does feel, in a way, meaningful; even if not very profound.

Lovely to see you.

Dick said...

A fine post, and thanks for the Fleur Adcock. So much with which to identify in both.

That's So Pants said...

Hi Signs

I don't know why but this cheered me up. Perhaps I need Shrink. I'm a bit of a string theory nerd so I'm quite interested in the supercollider. They won't get the results for years apparently. There's a great popular science book on particle physics called Pythagorus's Trousers by Margaret Wertheim.


Reading the Signs said...

Dick, I appreciate this - thanks. Yes, that Fleur Adcock poem found instant resonance in me when I read it.

Pants, I'm delighted this cheered you up - would be equally delighted to share Shrink with you if that were possible. He's a melancholic existentialist - just the ticket (I keep trying to tell myself).

Nicola said...

dear Signs, the greatest compliment, and happiness, to share 'imaginative empathy'.
(Lovely to catch an empathetic glimpse of you too, Anna x) x

Low week here raised up by attending readings by Anne Stevenson and Mimi Khalvati, both wonderful, the latter captivating with her sense of irreverent humour. From her last but one poetry collection I recognized the landscape of my boarding school days - yes, we were both there, same headmistress, at different times, the details of the landscape still true.

Reading the Signs said...

Nicola, guess what - I spent a week in Mimi's company last month as she was one of the tutors on the poetry week. She gave a lovely reading then also. And a couple of years ago, having read her anthology, I went across the water to that bit of land where you and she were at school.

I wonder if Anna heard you - might have to shout a bit louder or throw a pebble or two at her window x

trousers said...

That poem, Things puts it so very well, it really does. I generally sleep well, but occasionally I'll have a bout of nights in which my brain can never quite switch off, or will switch on with great urgency any time between around 2 and 4am.

It's happened lately. In some ways I suppose worrying about the little things to an absurd degree insulates us from bigger fears which might prove so much more destructive.

I'm also reminded of a Bryan Ferry lyric, from For Your Pleasure:

In the morning, the things you worried about last night
Will seem lighter...I hope things will turn out right

Reading the Signs said...

Thanks Trousers, the words are good - and the weird glam rock effect is appropriate.

I suppose the vegetable rack could be seen as a metaphor, but that doesn't feel quite right. It's collapsed, out of date, blue - er - I'll think about this. At 3 am probably.

But Why? said...

Having just (touchwood) knocked my latest path of rubbish sleep on its head, I loved your description of worrying about vegetable racks at 5am. Why do the most unimportant things make their presence felt at sill o'clock? Is becuase they don't get a look-in at any other time?

Reading the Signs said...

You may have hit the nail on the head, Dr. Why. And in this house there is a whole army of similarly disgruntled domestic presences. Wonky wastepaper basket, frayed sofa cover, chipped wooden blind, stained lampshade etc. etc. - I'll never sleep again.

Mellifluous Dark said...

Oooh, this post has sent shivers down my spine. Insomnia does take the unasleep to another place, methinks. Takes you to the mundane and makes it meaningful. I love your description of the impression of the bird's face in the glass.

I am interested to read that the time of waking relates to the organs of the body. I used to wake at 4.18am every morning some years ago. Now, I seem to wake at 3am-ish (but mercifully, I usually manage to get back to sleep at some stage thereafter). I hope you sleep well tonight, Signs.

I've also been wondering whether the effects of the Large Hadron Collider will be slow, so slow that we don't notice... and then...

Reading the Signs said...

Mellif, Takes you to the mundane and makes it meaningful somehow makes me feel better - as though there might actually be some point to the waking up. I'm having a run of better nights right now - no rhyme or reason to it really.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Ms Signs, will you please go back to my blog and make that comment about shagging and eating. No one else did, which was rather disappointing! ;-) (They're evidently all faaaar too polite!)

Collin said...

Send me your address to and a copy shall be yours. :)