Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Sleepless in Ukkel

Of course there are some good things about summer. Our cool, dark house makes more sense in this weather, for one thing. Also, when the fret and the panic recedes, which it usually does eventually, I like the slow, empty aimless way days spool out, measured out in abandoned cups of tea and breaks to watch the chickens and trips down to the cellar to look at the washing machine: suddenly it's eleven, then suddenly it's three, then suddenly it's seven and you're not quite sure how, but it doesn't really matter because there's tomorrow and tomorrow looks much the same, everyone in Belgium is on holiday, so no one needs to go to get up early. We can sit on the sofa, thighs rubbing on the scratchy stupid tweedy fabric, watching bad TV and eating Picard imitation Cornettos under the intensely pleading eye of the dog, who can hear the rustle of a Cornetto wrapper at 500 paces and who knows he has a decent chance - if he stares hard enough for long enough - of getting the tip.

I like the swifts screaming and swooping low in the street out front and the tortoises trundling purposefully around the yard out back, far faster than you might imagine and the chickens lying companionably in the deep dustbowl they have scratched out, occasionally shuffling a wing to create a little cooling dust shower.

I like riding the streets on the back of my beloved's motorbike in the evenings, teenage boy style, holding onto the bars at the back, feet dangling off the footrests, enjoying the momentary illusion of insouciance that brings even though we are old and fat and bits of us ache and niggle and we're thoroughly souciant - we're perpetually worried about one thing or another and often several things at once.

I like the hats round here at the moment, my god the hats. The guy with the bench - remember him - favours a leather cowboy hat, but he has a new rival in the form of a woman who wears a Napoleonic tricorne. Even more puzzling was this guy, spotted yesterday:

I like my mate, Bin Duck, always there, every morning when I walk the dog:

I like the much greater acceptability of weekday drinking, spritzes and some kind of cheap "natural" wine at the bobo market out of one of those thick glass school canteen tumblers, or watery mojitos in plastic beakers, all sugar and ice and two mint leaves that stick to your teeth.

I like my first cup of tea of the day, sitting outside in the shade because it's already hot, with all the smells of the garden: chicken and cut grass and a forgotten half cup of coffee and a soupçon of someone's last night's barbecue. Also, I wrote in my book about how there's a week in the summer here when the whole neighbourhood smells of honey and it's now, right now, even my basement smells of honey when I go down there to stand in the cool and slowly fold clothes, which I do a lot at the moment (#we'llalwayshavelaundry).

Sleep, though. Fuck, who can sleep in summer?

Last night's attempt.

Read until hit heavily on face by Kindle, dropping off. Turn out light. Attempt to sleep. I just fell asleep! This will be easy!

Some unhappy attempts to resolve the duvet or no duvet dilemma. I need the weight of the duvet but of course it is stifling. Duvet around knees? Around waist? One leg under one leg out? There is no satisfactory solution.

First pillow flip.

Usual sleeping position - I favour a left sided recovery position but with top leg really high - hurts hip. Shuffle. Find something vaguely comfortable. Knee starts hurting. Turn over. Try on other side. Whole body feels WRONG.

Second pillow flip.

Watch is too close to head and ticking disturbs me. Move hand. Hand goes numb. Shake hand around.

Something on my face clicking, like, my nose? Or mouth? Moving around to stop the clicking. Clicking continues. Why is my face clicking? What the fuck?

Find a non-clicking head position. Loud ticking watch problem recurs. Move hand. Pins and needles. Shake hand. Get over-heated.

Third pillow flip.


Pick at brexitfoot.


Fourth pillow flip.

Sudden surge of existential dread. Try to think about tea towels. I don't know why I decided this might work, but it is actually quite effective. No surge of dread can survive the listing of all the tea towels in the house. "The red stripe. The red and green stripe. The green checks. The pigeons. The weird Anthropologie one. The Betty's one." Can't you feel yourself starting to drop off?

Jerked out of near-sleep by EVIL DEATH MOSQUITO. He/she who has taken it upon him/herself to bite each one of my fingers in turn. Hide under duvet. Get too hot. Come out. Mosquito has been waiting. Get up. Find insect repellent. Lie on back in a citronella smear for a couple of minutes. Remember I can't sleep like that. Back to the side #1 recovery position. Switch to side #2.

Nine thousandth pillow flip.

Sleep for five minutes. Woken by one of: mosquito, husband thrashing, one of those dreams where you're falling off something and wake with a violent start.

Chest area (I'm being coy, you know what I mean) fills mysteriously with hot-cold sticky river of sweat.

Give in to despair. Review every terrible thing ever done. Examine deepest fears. Contemplate own death. Try to think about tea towels again.

Pillow flip.

Become distracted from despair by obsessively thinking about some minor logistical problem.

Scratch fingerbites and pick at brexitfoot in manner of rabid dog.

etc etc etc etc ad nauseam or ad finally fall asleep and have florid dreams about competition law (true).


30% Ammonia scent (bite remedy)
30% Unabated itch
10% Wig sweat
10% Nails of Shame
10% Rice paper roll addiction
10% Yes, I have succumbed to Pokemon Go and I am sorry, I love it. I used to work for a Pokemon card producing company in my law days and my knowledge of Pokemon circa 2001 is UNRIVALLED.

You? Sleep solutions, summer consolations, Pokemon addictions?


Anna Maria said...

Last night's sleep had a very similar pattern, not just because of the heat, but also absence of snoring spouse. Logically, I should sleep better without someone double my weight snoring and trashing, but I need those irritations to sleep. Also, child now rises at 5:30 to sneak downstairs to play games, so I had to get up and shout at him, and there was no going back to snoozing after that.
Luckily, he has not discovered Pokemon Go, My knowledge can be summed up thus: they are Japanese and one is cute and yellow, and is called Picachu (or it might be the noise it makes) - that's it.
As I couldn't sleep, I read quite a bit of Laura Lippman's crime novel, Sugar House. Really like the Baltimore setting - Lippman lives there and is married to David Simon, who wrote the Baltimore-set The Wire (that will forever be my favourite boxset), and there is something about that place - Anne Tyler is one of favourite novelists and I adored season I of Serial.

Hilary who can't windsurf said...

I'd like to add the 'fan on / fan off' conundrum, as follows:

Somewhere around "perhaps I'll just have a TINY CORNER of the duvet over me, thereby fooling my idiot body into thinking it is covered up while (aha!) not being" and obsessional thoughts about iced water, the following thought occurs.

I HAVE A FAN! I mean, exactly for this sort of night. In fact, ordered at about 3am on just such a night years ago and put together at another 3am on just such another night about a week later (all the best furniture assembly, as shopping, is done at 3am).

I'll turn the fan on.

No, hang on, this is awful. It's really really bad for the environment (generally, obviously; for my immediate environment it would be excellent). Think of the carbon footprint. No fan. You can do this.

No, I will turn the fan on. It'll be fine.


Fan proves to have a little unpredictable grawnch-y noise at the far extent of its rotation. You'd think it would be regular, wouldn't you? It's not.


Lie awake in wind tunnel. A warm wind tunnel. Wonder if possible to get crick in neck from warm draught. It is.


Gradually get used to sound effects and wonderful cooling breeze. Start to drift happily off. BUT STOP! Conscience wishes to remind me about my carbon footprint. And the burning rainforests. And Armageddon.

OK. I have it. The fan manufacturers have planned for this. They have (for the variably en-guiltened fan-user) allowed a delayed timer off switch. I can choose between 30 minutes, 1, 2 and 4 hours before the fan will automatically switch off.

*SET TO 2 HOURS* (I’m not a monster. A monster would have chosen 4h).

Fall, blissfully, asleep.

Two hours later, woken by fan switching off. Dunk head in cold water. Repeat from start.

T said...

Do you wear a watch to bed?! Or am I missing something obvious?

I direct you to Oliver Burkeman in, I think, (wait, I'll just go find the link) here:


Won't help with heat but bizarrely calming.

Anonymous said...

Apparently it's a thing to put sheets (or at least pillow-cases) in the freezer before bed.
I first read about it in this article from the Guardian a few years back, the comments are excellent and will induce laughter in even the most morose of summer-haters:

Robin said...

Much the same over here in Leuven. Duvet dilemma. Evil mosquitos, etc. Minus ticking face, tho. I think listing tea towels is a brilliant technique, must try it.

Rosie Redfield said...

Mosquito solution: Buy nice big white bed net at IKEA. Drape romantically over bed. Flail around in the net getting in and out of bed, especially when you get up to turn on the fan (because the net reduces the air circulation).

Morelle said...

Regards mosquito bites: I always have an Azaron stick lying on my bedside table. It works miraculously well. Liberally apply to mosquito bite, wait 30 seconds max, and bingo: the itching stops, the swelling subsides. The stick smells of nothing in particular, another plus of this amazing product. Don't know how I managed before it was invented. And no, I'm not being paid by them to say this.
Of course, as long as the mosquito is alive, it will prevent falling asleep. Is there something that makes humans more attractive for mosquitoes? You could spray your husband with that...

redfox said...

I adore Pokemon Go, it delights me and husband and child alike (punctuated by little bursts of anti-delight when a lovely fat or rare something gets away, but necessary for the sweetness of success other times). The absolute highlight of my birthday this week was knocking off work early to go play, and knocking over two gyms in the single outing. VERY satisfying. I love seeing the other people out playing it as well--the little furtive movements of some and gleeful forthrightness of others. I love the woman I overheard saying "Get into my ball, you cute little bug!" and the man who squealed "Ooooh, a ZUBAT!" Also I love the little animations of the beasts once you've caught them, especially the ridiculous flopping Magikarp. That is how I feel.

redfox said...

Barista #1: Oh look, a catter-pie*.
Barista #2 and self, simultaneously, insufferably, and clearly involuntarily: "Catter-pee."

*The pronunciation a reasonable person would certainly think it had, based on the spelling.

Margaret said...

I don't get the no window screens of Europe. Or lack of AC. I know my country is circling the drain, but lord have mercy we know how to deal with summer. Do not get me started on ice cubes.

Rosie Bell said...

This is my sleep tip - I go through the alphabet listing things beginning with each letter. Current favourite is actors - pick a gender then get first name for each letter of the alphabet and movie. Don't be too hard on yourself, if you can't think of one, just move on.
e.g. A - Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect. B - Brooke Shields, Blue Lagoon. Works for me! And slightly less boring than tea towels.

Rosie Bell said...

Should add - the movie is any movie in which they had a role, doesn't have to begin with the same letter.

Dydo.W said...

My daughter from Perth came to visit and said it's SOOO hot there in summer she has to sleep with a towel from the freezer. I said, Oh, darling you should get married then you can sleep with a big drip every night.(she wasn't amused but I laughed hysterically, mainly because I'm divorced!)
I downloaded a meditation app on my phone and have started listening to that at 3am when I'm desperate. Seems to help.

Pockets McGee said...

Oh yes, the Oliver Burkeman thing!! As someone who regularly wakes during the night, and ALWAYS seems to have some ridiculous earworm to prevent me sleeping (I won't tell you what the latest one is, but it's been going on for weeks. I cannot even begin to think where I heard it, and yet - there it is, whirling around my brain at 2am *sigh*), I thought 'shuffling your thoughts - pffft - utter nonsense.' But it does work. MIRACLE!

Also, a fan is great for getting rid of the mosquitoes. Apparently, they can't fly in a breeze, which is why they only appear when it is very very still. Or so I've been told. Could be cobblers, but I haven't been bitten in years?!

Anonymous said...

OMG, look at all that wonderfully colourful food that your tortoises have to eat. I am so not going to let my tortoise see this or he will get even more bad tempered than ever - and their very own plate too!

Waffle said...

devonbabe - ha, this is EXCEPTIONAL, they usually only get greens, but our two new ladies are being very fussy, so I was trying to coax them into eating... It didn't work.

Waffle said...

Fan people - I hear you. And we have a fan. But I hate it, hate the feel of it, moving or still, blowing AIR at me. ARGH. Yes, I am beyond redemption. We even have a small A/C unit, hangover from top floor central London summer of 2003 hell, but have lent it to a pregnant lady.

Lissa said...

My solution to duvet/no duvet problem: use a single fitted sheet instead of a duvet - it curls nicely around your feet/shoulders and gives the illusion of covering, but WITH NO EXTRA HEAT. I do not charge for this tip.

Anonymous said...

As even looking at a duvet would surely induce immediate death from spontaneous combustion in central Spain any time between June and October, I use the duvet covers without the duvet. Normally I just lie on top without "opening" the bed at all but if there is a freak drop in temperature in the middle of the night I can just crawl under the duvet cover. It was useful when I got cold from horrible night sweats associated to pneumonia a few weeks ago as well.
Air-conditioning is a necessary evil when it's 35ºC at 3 a.m. and there's not a breath of wind to come through the blinds.
I have been known to get out of bed and take a cold shower in the middle of the night, half-asleep. Even the god damn toothpaste is hot coming out of the tube, for god's sake. I think we have earned the right to a/c. The only place hotter than this is probably Qatar.

Angela Lambert said...

Just done my consolations,then saw yours.

Jonathan Lethbridge said...

Bin Goose actually.....

Waffle said...

Jonathan GODAMMIT.

Jonathan said...

Well at least you didn't take the kindle to bed (because the bedroom is the only quiet house), and then get woken up by your other half going to bed, with the kindle dropped in your lap, sitting against the headboard, and your chin on your chest... not that I've done that twice in the last week, honest.

Anonymous said...

Clearly I have not been paying regular attention, glad for you in the beloved updates.
Allegedly fresh cedar wood is unattractive to moths And to mosquitoes, so perhaps worth a try.
My mother was a proponent of putting a fan in the hallway outside of the bedrooms, drawing the cool night air in through the windows while not rustling the air around the sleepers. Seemed to work?
Sweet dreams.

Patience_Crabstick said...

I had to laugh at "try to think about tea towels." I will try that tactic the next time I'm jolted awake in the middle of the night and start worrying about things.

Anonymous said...

Guilty confession: I may have spent way too much at the COS sales! So many pretty things!!!

Anonymous said...

Hilarious! But did you know that only pregnant female mosquitoes suck blood and make that ultrasonic whining noise ... males feed on flower nectar ;)

Anonymous said...

Wake up! We need you!

Helen B said...

So, belatedly, having strictly followed your pillowflip, turnoverturnoverturnoveragain routine for approx 40 years I was told, not long ago, that in order to switch off my anxious, sleepless brain long enough to actually drop off I need to bore it, rather than attempt to empty it.

The well-tested scientific theory/made up quackery goes that you just conjure up a sequence of random items, allowing them to pass through your mind, which distracts you from actual thinking. I tried it and miraculously dropped off almost immediately, though trying it again last night did take rather longer, when I had a panic that my items weren't random enough, and that my bastard subconscious was ordering and categorising them.... 'donkey, fence, cloud, rabbit......gah, it's a fucking countryside Fuzzyfelt scene....more randomness.....icecream, barbell, jam, shotgun.....zzzzzzzzzzzz'

Unknown said...

Impressed by Sue's mother's fan in hallway solution

Pictures of capybaras on the Olympic golf course:

Alan said...

Helen B, there is nothing random about "ice cream, barbell, jam, shotgun" that was the exact sequence of events at our last family picnic.

Leanne Burrell said...

Where did you go? Just finished your book and loved it!!!!!

Dichohecho said...

I'll see Jonathan's bin goose and raise him bin Egyptian goose. A close contender for my favourite sort of goose, alongside Canada - they're so 60s decor.

Sol Sam said...

Listening to soothing music is a one of my solution when I am having a hard time sleeping. But most of the time I easily fall asleep because the whole day I am tired looking for business web page that can help me expand my business, while taking care a toddler and a 10 month old baby.

GlassesShop said...

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Flowers Next said...

Bin Goose actually..... Send Flowers To Japan

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