Down in Deptford market the other day I picked up an old book called A Dictionary of Symptoms written by Dr Joan Gomez who writes articles on medical subjects for the Daily Telegraph and The Sun.
On the fly-leaf of this thick book (500 pages) someone has scribbled in pencil 6d.
I pointed this out to the owner of the stall who gave a hollow laugh and said: “If you think I’m going to get up at five o’clock in the morning and stand here all the cold morning to sell books at sixpence you’ve got another think coming.”
So I parted with 50 pence and went home. Some people can’t take a joke, like the staff in Poundland when you ask them how much things are.
I bought the good doctor’s book because I had seen that there’s a section in it about growing older, the senior years (50 and over).
I am well qualified then. After dealing with the wrinkles, senile warts, brown patches, hardening of the arteries, osteoarthritis of the spine, diminished sexual ability and many other unpleasant things, she comes to insomnia, the inability to get off to sleep or ‘Tired nature’s sweet restorer’.
Doctor Gomez says that typically the cause of difficulty in getting off to sleep is worrying about the affairs of the day, exciting television, bedtime quarrels, tea or coffee in the late evening, too full or too empty of stomach, and an airless, overheated bedroom.
Speaking personally I am one of the fortunate ones who usually doze off after a very short time with a hot water bottle and my stuffed dog with floppy ears that I rescued from a skip many years ago.
I’m very careful about what I consume after 6pm.
No sweet biscuits or chocolate because these stir up those recurring dreams of wandering about the same town where I’ve never been in my life, or the other one where I’m trying to get to work, it’s already 9am and the bus goes past without stopping time after time.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve settled in my armchair to watch a film at 9pm on Film 4 only to nod off after half an hour.
The eyelids come down quietly until I wake up with a start two hours later wondering where I am.
Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher famously claimed that they only need four or five hours in bed and drove their secretaries and staff mad by starting work at the ungodly hour of 5am.
We oldies know that we need a diminishing amount of sleep as the years pass.
Elderly couples often get up in the middle of the night, make tea, prowl around their home and look out of the window to see if it’s raining.
Some of the best sleep I ever had was at the end of the war when I was a medic in the Royal Navy.
When I joined in 1943 I was issued with a hammock which I rolled up with my bedding in it.
Then it was lashed up tightly with cord so that it looked like a 6ft-long sausage with my name and number printed on it.
This went with me wherever I went for nearly three years.
In those wartime days there was no room for bunks on warships. Poor sailors like myself had to sling our hammocks from hooks let into the deckhead (ceiling).
As the ship rolled about on the waves the hammocks bumped into one another. What with the groaning and breaking of wind it was difficult for 20 or 30 men to drop off.
Things changed for the better when I was transferred to the hospital ship. There were only 20 of us and we were able to sling our hammocks under starlit skies and be lulled to sleep in some Pacific island lagoon.
I remember thinking that people paid 10 guineas a night for that experience in peacetime. My hammock and I finally parted company in a shed at Chatham Barracks.
The war was long over and the Navy decided to dispense with my services.
They gave me civvy clothes, shoes, a trilby hat and £30 to tide me over until I got a job, and then they took my hammock, cut the strings off it and slung it into the pile in the corner of the shed.
I had pleaded with the petty officer in charge to let me keep it, but he said it was against the rules. I was sad as I walked out of the barrack gates. It was like parting with an old friend.
PS, my last tip, if you’re still awake in the middle of the night is to try taking your pillows to the other end of the bed and sleeping that way round. It works for me.