How Long is the Night?

How long is the night? Anyone who has done shift work will know the night is very long when you are night duty and very short when you have to get up for early shift. Depending on your circumstances, late shift may provide a blissful interlude. In a previous incarnation, when we lived by Heathrow Airport, I would wake up after a late shift when Concorde took off at 11 am. I did not always get a lie in; in a house of several shift workers a shrill alarm would go off at the other end of the house, waking us up, but not our son. Cyberspouse would say ‘Just leave him, it’s up to him to get up.’ He never did, the alarm would penetrate our brains and one of us would always end up going to rouse him, perhaps a common scene in lots of homes. One morning my friend wondered why she couldn’t wake her son up, until her daughter reported that he had only arrived home ten minutes before.

Whether you have a clock radio that wakes you up for work with Farming Today or you are an insomniac trying to get back to sleep by listening to Farming Today at 5.45am, the radio is there to see many of us through the night. I have never had a television in the bedroom, but as television is renowned for sending people to sleep, I can understand why insomniacs find themselves keeping up with the adventures of an Australian vet in the middle of the night. Or perhaps you prefer Escape to the Chateau or Britain’s Fattest People when you can’t get back to sleep.

But it’s radio that does its best to soothe us to sleep. On BBC Radio 3 you can listen to Night Tracks, usually relaxing, followed by Through the Night, basically back to back concerts till 6.30 am when a new day starts. Let’s tune in to another station. BBC Radio 4 knows exactly how long the night is – four and a half hours. Today in Parliament at 11.30pm should surely send you to sleep. Midnight, more news, perhaps not, but at 12.30 am it’s Book of the Week, a nice bedtime story. In my recent blog ‘On The Radio’, Ellen commented that she would like to know the fascination with the shipping forecast.

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At 12.48am the shipping forecast comes on, preceded by the soothing / dreary tune Sailing By, which is not to send those of us tucked up in bed to sleep, but to alert mariners to be tuned in. The shipping forecast is produced by the Met Office and broadcast four times a day on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The waters around the British Isles are divided into 31 sea areas. Of interest to writers – the forecast has a limit of 350 words, except for the 0048 broadcast, which has a 380 word limit. The unique style attracts many who have no intention of putting even a foot in the sea. It is just fascinating to listen to, even though, or perhaps because we have no idea what most of it means. We like to imagine far flung mysterious islands and wave swept rocky headlands.

For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, BBC’s Zeb Soames was asked to read the shipping forecast to a worldwide audience of over a billion. Soanes says: “To the non-nautical, it is a nightly litany of the sea… It reinforces a sense of being islanders with a proud seafaring past. Whilst the listener is safely tucked-up in their bed, they can imagine small fishing-boats bobbing about at Plymouth or 170ft waves crashing against Rockall.”

There are warnings of gales in Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, and Fair Isle …   Humber, Thames. Southeast veering southwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later. Thundery showers. Moderate or good, occasionally poor.

There are weather reports from automatic weather logging stations, such as “Channel Light Vessel Automatic”; these are the coastal weather stations. More familiar sounding to those on land is the inshore waters forecast that rounds off the broadcast. The inshore coastal areas of the United Kingdom are 15 fixed stretches of coastline used in weather forecasting especially for wind-powered or small coastal craft. Each area is mentioned in the same order, clockwise round the mainland starting and finishing in the north west of Britain. You can follow places you have been on holiday or that lighthouse you visited.   North Foreland to Selsey Bill, Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis. When you hear  Adnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath including the Outer Hebrides, you know you’re back  to the beginning,  with a quick trip further north to the Shetland Isles…

If you are still awake the National Anthem is now played and BBC Radio 4 closes down for the night, but you will not be left alone, BBC World Service takes over, with all sorts of interesting programmes until 5.20 am when it’s the shipping forecast again. At 5.30 am Radio 4 is back with News Briefing and Prayer for the Day.

Many radio stations all over the world broadcast through the night; if you tune in what are your favourite stations?

Silly Saturday – Secrets of Sleep

You’ve had a busy day so it should be easy to go to sleep. A good dinner has left you relaxed. You get comfortable and your eyelids feel heavy. Voices become murmurs in the background, pleasant music lulls you into blissful sleep.

Yes, the easiest place to fall asleep is in the dark womblike embrace of the theatre, concert hall or cinema. Only a sharp dig in the ribs will disturb your deep slumber.

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At home in bed you are wide awake and alert. Writers are not the only people to suffer from insomnia, they are just the most likely to ignore the advice of sleep gurus.

No coffee after two o’clock in the afternoon.

No food after 5.30pm.

Turn off all screens by 8pm. – In winter it will be dark by then and your body clock will be telling you to go to bed.

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Writers often eat late because they are too busy writing to get to the kitchen and cook. They then take a nice strong cup of coffee to their computer to catch up with social media, where everyone else in the world has either just got up or is enjoying a relaxing afternoon. Your brain is more alert than it has been all day, you feel a blog buzz coming on; you can do it; you schedule tomorrow’s blog and finish the last chapter of your novel.

You look up from the computer and realise everyone else in the house is fast asleep and creep around hoping no one catches you up. But you are a writer and a grown up, you’re allowed to stay up late…

 

At 4.55am you are awake again and daren’t even think how long or short you have been asleep. You read your Kindle to relax, good thing the sleep guru can’t see you. Sleep eludes you for a simple scientific reason, your brain won’t stop working. It will not stop working till you are at work or in the shop trying to remember what was on the shopping list you left behind.

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And the next time you get a good sleep? When you sit down to watch your favourite television programme.

Are you a somniac or an insomniac?

sunshine-blogger

 

 

Shocking Images on Facebook

My first memory of thunder is of an afternoon in the living room with my mother and her friend. Mum and Dad rented the top half of a terraced Edwardian house. When I heard the deep rumbling I thought the house was going to fall down. Being told it was thunder meant nothing, but the obvious fact that the house didn’t fall down and the calm reaction of the grown ups allayed my fears. But how to explain to young children what is happening when most adults find it hard to grasp the science?

Last night the south of England was treated to thunder and lightning of epic proportions; in these modern days of forecasting we were expecting storms, but the early evening display seemed disappointing and only enough rain to water the garden. But by midnight thunder had returned with a vengeance. Our chalet roof slopes over the bed, only camping out would bring one closer to nature and I love hearing the rain pounding on the roof. Satisfied that my empty water butts would be filled and the garden happy I did drop off to sleep, but within half an hour I was awake again.

I had dreamed lightning was going through my hands to my fingertips; maybe it wasn’t a dream! Lying there, the thunder was so loud, the lightning so frequent I began to wonder if perhaps this really was a timely warning from angry gods, a reminder we can’t control nature. How frightened our ancestors must have been with no understanding of electricity; Thor at his angriest. How bright and vicious the bolts of lightning in the utter darkness before tamed gas and electricity. To add to the terror, we know lightning does not stay safely high up in the sky, it can strike your home or strike you down dead.

We decided to go down to our tiny conservatory and watch through the glass roof. I tried filming on my phone and at 2am enthusiastically posted a ‘can’t sleep’ video on Facebook for Australian friends to enjoy.  One minute 32 seconds of darkness and  pattering of rain with a brief flash that lit up the glass ceiling; it did not convey the drama of the night.

This morning Facebook was filled with shocking images, revealing that many photographers had not gone to bed at all. From Somerset round to the Isle of Thanet, Glastonbury Tor to Margate Harbour, on cliffs and rural hillsides hours of patience and the ability to take infinite number of digital photos, resulted in beautiful pictures even an artist could not imagine. Local television news showed viewers’ pictures, no need for their own reporters to go out these days.

And still I don’t really understand where all that crackling electrical energy comes from and where it goes to when the skies are blue and calm. No modern scientist would dare to suggest it was Thor and other ancient gods and no politician is going to listen to their warning…