Sounds at Midnight

The better half is baby-sitting in Rochester for a couple of days and has taken the dog. After the lights go out the house descends into total silence, broken only by the sounds of police cars hurtling up and down the Farringdon Road, hoping, with their sirens, to persuade bad people to break cover. Closer to home there is silence where there would otherwise be the delightful sounds of the better half and the less delightful sounds of the dog asleep. It is not the same without them.

As I lie there, unable to sleep and tracing the shadows of the army helicopters in the moonlight, falling on the Turkey rug in the bedroom, my thoughts go back to our stay in Dubai and Oman. We were unable to take the dog as the authorities declined his application for a visa. He was upset at the time as he had hoped to avoid Guy Fawkes night in England. As he always says, it’s not the bangs that get you but the skittery noises in between.

(I feel that there is universal principle there, but I don’t say so for fear of encouraging him; the last thing anyone wants is a dog with a taste for apothegms.)

He went to his country club and was perfectly happy. They gave him something to climb under when the bangs and the skittery noises started. Three weeks on he is no longer quite as stiff as a board and his eyes are losing that awful glassy look.

Anyway, in the darkness of Dubai and Oman there was the chance of an interesting experiment: separating the night-time sounds of the better half from those of the dog. It was, as those with a patina of culture might remark, a case of the dog that didn’t snore in the night.

Let me say straight away that there was never any danger of the better half, even asleep, making any sound that was less than wholesome, let alone snoring. I believe that I snore because she has told me so, but she never would. The dog on the other hand can snore when awake, probably even when eating his dinner or humping a Yorkshire terrier encountered by chance on an outing. It was not a case of the presence or absence of snoring; it was more than that.

It was remarkable I suppose that there was missing a layer of sound that I had thought, from its musical and sensitive qualities, to emanate from the better half but that turned out, from its absence, to be part of the dog’s contribution to our nocturnal symphony.

Again, it’s not as simple as that. The dog and the better half are very close and this is reflected in their excursions into dreamland. I remember one memorable night when they both entered REM sleep at about the same time. Both had one of those dreams of pursuing something and being foiled at the last minute. The extraordinary thing is that the better half was pursuing a rabbit and the dog a Birkin bag.

I have never mentioned this to either of them.


For the past few weeks I have been preoccupied, for reasons that will become apparent, though not yet, with thoughts of the past. The other day I went to a reunion lunch for the partners of my first law firm, which merged, and so ceased to exist, in 1982. I joined it over forty years ago. I went expecting to reminisce. In fact there were spirited conversations about the drawings of George Chinnery and the different styles of banjo-playing in bluegrass music. These are both things that are very important to me and I left feeling optimistic.

It turns out that the brother of my senior partner many years ago was the man to decipher Chinnery’s idiosyncratic shorthand.

At the weekend we went to see my mother in Yorkshire. It is always very nice to see my mother but it is also nice to see her Chinnery drawing. There are two Chinese men with very wide hats and with oxen. I gave it to her one Christmas. Sometimes I think that it would have been better to give her the slightly less successful one of the two men with the Chinese hut and to have kept the two men with very wide hats and oxen for myself, but I dismiss the thought as unworthy. If you have to live in Yorkshire it is important to have access to the best possible Chinnery drawings.

There is a Chinnery show at Asia House at the moment. He was a great artist and there are many wonderful things there, but I think that his pencil drawings were the best things he did, and the best of them my mother and I have got.

The trip to Yorkshire was fraught with traffic problems, but not the big one. Yesterday a lorry turned over and spilled tons of Marmite onto the M1. The motorway was closed in both directions. We were through before it happened, but it’s one traffic jam I would like to have been part of. There must have been a monumentality to it and also an intense feeling of Englishness.

‘Apply sparingly.’ That’s what they always said.

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