Please don’t wake me, no don’t shake me,
Leave me where I am, I’m only sleeping
(The Beatles I’m Only Sleeping)
It’s four o’clock in the morning and I’m lying in a bunkbed in a Victorian-era University building in Edinburgh. No, it’s not a student party thrown by a couple of ‘legends’. In fact I am attending a play – no less – that recounts the tale of Medea, a sorceress from Greek mythology. Even at the best of times, it’s difficult to persuade me to go to the theatre. Comedians can have an in-built and often unfair suspicion of actors, a feeling we could do their job but they couldn’t do ours. It’s similar to the attitude people have towards management consultants. But this play is a bit different. The audience are expected to play a number of roles in the play – including that of Medea’s children. And in this particular scene, we have to pretend that we are asleep.
As the play is six-hours long and my preparation for the role involved being in a pub for the five hours prior to kick-off, this is a part that comes naturally to me. While the professional actors do some acting in the background I drift off to sleep. For twenty minutes, I am completely in character. As a matter of fact, as the play reaches its denouement, I conclude that all scenes – even the one where Medea flies into a murderous rage – still require an extra in the background who is asleep. These sleeps were less successful as I kept on being woken up by all the acting that was going on around me.
Sleep – it’s a beautiful word. Even saying it makes me sleepy. It’s such a pleasurable experience the only shame is that we are not awake to enjoy it properly. But it’s enjoyable only when the conditions are right – where you’re comfortable, and you’re not supposed to be somewhere else at the time. And preferably, if you don’t have the irrational anxiety that you are going to be kidnapped by banjo-strumming rednecks. The latter fear occurs if you have to pull in off the motorway when motorway hypnosis becomes a little too pronounced.
Having had a couple of teeny-tiny-but-that’s-all-it-takes-y micro-sleeps on motorways in the past, I made the one rule I always stick to in my otherwise undisciplined life: When driving, pull over if you’re tired.
The doze on the motorway layby during the day-time can be quite pleasant. The vvvvvvVVVVVVVVVVVVWOOOOooommmmm of other vehicles as they approach and recede eventually becomes rhythmic and soporific as the car rocks in their wake.
At night though, all that was benign now seems menacing. There is no lonelier place than a motorway in the middle of the night. Most of them are new routes so there are no houses nearby. There is a phone every kilometre or so but they are to be used if there is something actually wrong – not if you’re just being a Big Scaredy-Pants. When driving home from a gig in the middle of the night and the need for sleep arises, the first consideration is where should I pull in? Preferably nowhere in the Midlands. If I don’t have the luxury of that option, which layby should I choose? An empty one? But then if the murderous locals hop over the wall carrying an array of antiquated agricultural tools, the apparent absence of witnesses will spur them to attack with greater impunity.
How about this one here – with the truck parked in it? That should, in theory, be safer but I’ve seen the film Breakdown. I know there are psycho truckers out there. And I have in the past been mistaken for Kurt Russell. But I’m too tired to be this irrational so I pull in and fall into an uneasy sleep. After a few minutes headlights wake me as another car parks nearby. I feel like I’m on stakeout in a cop-movie and this is The Drop. A man will emerge with a combination lock brief case. Its cash contents will be counted by the second-in-command bad guy, the one who dies just before Alan Rickman/Jeremy Irons. Then the 100 kays of Columbian Friskie Powder will be taken from the truck to the car. Then they’ll see me: Just a dumb shmuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. “I’m sorry Mr O’Regan but I can’t let you live. You have seen too much. What a pity as I enjoyed your articles in the Cork News – inconsequential fluff though they were.” And to his lieutenant: “Hand him over to those locals with the antiquated agricultural implements. They’ll know what to do.”
The relative unlikelihood of this situation doesn’t matter. The sleep is too fitful – like I have an internal snooze button.
A biological snooze button is still less annoying than its electronic equivalent. I have on occasion pressed the ‘sure-I’ve-plenty-of-time’ button on my alarm-clock every five minutes for two hours. And each time I’ve awoken furious at the alarm for its impertinence in daring to decide when I should get up. On a few occasions, I’ve engaged in that most risky and foolish of behaviours: Unprotected snooze. There should be health warnings about unprotected snooze – a campaign of adverts showing young vivacious people laughing and partying with each other and exchanging lascivious glances. The camera zooms in on them as they head to bed. The woman produces an alarm clock and raises a questioning eyebrow. The man laughs and shakes his head.
The following morning they are shown, distraught at the airport as their flight takes off. The tagline reads: “Snoozing: Don’t be Afraid To Raise The Alarm.”
I’m doing some different unprotected snoozing towards the end of the play in Edinburgh. Medea is finally losing it and has threatened to kill all around her. The audience is told to run and hide. I find a secret spot and make myself comfortable.
When I wake up it’s six in the morning and the play is over. Time for bed.