Bella has her own bed in the corner of our room. She is not encouraged to come onto ours although she likes to very much. This is because when she is relaxed she tends to leak; she has what Dale, her vet, has identified as an unexpectedly short urethra (I hope that she won’t mind my sharing that with you): USU for short. She sleeps on her grey blanket and under her white blanket. The rule is that when she wakes up I get out of bed and cover her all over with her white blanket. By this stage it is usually a little damp: not because of her USU, because the lower one is dry; I try not to think about this.
She likes being covered. It reminds her of one of her favourite snatches of poetry:
They tuck you up your mum and dad
They may not want to but they do
My understanding of the rule is that I will continue to cover her up when she wakes but that she will be allowed onto our bed only when it is light outside. Her understanding is that after two coverings she is allowed onto our bed: a sort of ‘Three Strikes and You’re In’.
Last night the difference between the two interpretations was exposed. By three in the morning she had had five coverings and was whimpering loudly. This is her trump card: let me in or I wake the better half: then we’re both in trouble. I took her downstairs to anticipate her morning offices in the back garden, turning off the alarm, and then on again. I covered her a sixth time, making soothing remarks between my teeth. Ten minutes later she was at my side whimpering, so I let her onto the bed.
She immediately embraced REM sleep, assuming the character of her alter ego, Swims Like Seals, surfing the Atlantic breakers: below the waterline her legs furiously pumping. Below the waterline, of course, approximated to my ribs.
All the excitement: I couldn’t sleep. I lay listening to the sounds of the Plaistow night. To my astonishment I heard sleigh bells in the sky; distant cries of jollity. In a moment I realised what it was. I have an iPhone, and I have downloaded an ‘app’ which yulifies your mise-en-scène. I thought it might be fun for Christmas and I hadn’t realised that, like Westfield, it would be operating gamely and festively in early November. There are five settings for degrees of yulification:
1 Not a bit
2 A bit
3 A bit more
4 Quite a bit
5 Really quite a bit
Some idiot, no doubt me, had left it on 5. I turned it off. The sounds of Santa and his merry elves faded and were replaced by sullen and heavy rain.
Ever since I was a child, terrors have come to haunt me when I can’t sleep. Then it was Jack the Ripper and the notional pike in The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher. Now it is Jack the Ripper and Mr Putin. Unbidden, images of both floated before me.
Sometimes an internal trade is possible. You offer the horrible to evade the truly dreadful. I deliberately called to mind Mary Kelly’s eviscerated belly, in that appalling photograph taken in Miller’s Court of the final Ripper victim; but even as it revealed itself the little dictator’s smug and botoxed features superimposed themselves on her butchered loins.
I tried another tactic: reflecting on books that I’ve read. I thought of In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile, by Dan Davies. This excellent account (originally intended to be titled Apocalypse Now Then) has many fascinating stories and insights, not least the unerring capacity of our police forces to get everything diametrically wrong, but in the last resort it seemed to me that Savile was not so unusual; he was a routine psychopath, and what was interesting was the determination of people to be taken in by him. I enumerated, like sheep, his psychopathic characteristics:
1 Lack of empathy for his victims, or indeed anyone else;
2 Lack of humour: boisterousness doesn’t count;
3 Steely determination to get what he wanted;
4 Brutal arrogance;
5 Charm. We may have been immune but others weren’t, even if, like Mrs Thatcher and Diana, Princess of Wales, they tended towards the swivel-eyed end of the human spectrum.
I was congratulating myself on successfully changing the subject when Mr Putin swam into my mind again – how he shaped up against Savile’s five criteria. I remembered the incident of the Kursk. A Russian submarine failed with a crew of sailors, thereupon faced with the prospect of a slow and agonising death. Various navies offered to rescue them, including ours, but until it was too late Mr Putin declined, on the grounds, presumably, that foreigners might discover some of his nasty secrets. The men died. Mr Putin was asked by a journalist for his thoughts on the Kursk.
‘It sank,’ he said.
Of course there is no suggestion that he has been forcing his member into the virgin orifices of twelve-year-old Komsomol girls, but his pronouncements on the subject of human relations have been chilling, and he is a close friend of Mr Berlusconi.
So there it is: Putin – Savile without the charm.
This wasn’t getting me anywhere as regards sleep. Then an even greater horror nudged at the edge of my mind: Mr Putin’s parting; I was going to visualise his parting, that brutally neat and un-Savile-like division of his hair, sparse and thin to the left, sparse and thinning to the right.
That couldn’t be tolerated. There was only one thing to be done. I seized my iPhone and turned it to 5, yulification-max. Mr Putin’s parting faded from my mind’s eye. Sleigh bells crashed in a Phil Spector-like wall of sound. Dirt from the chimney fell into the fireplace. Someone was up there – coming down. A foot emerged.
A foot in Cossack boots…