Bright sparks of cre­ativ­ity light up the dark­ness of in­som­nia

The Herald - Arts - - TV & RADIO - Anne Simp­son

How much worse would in­som­nia be with­out the com­pan­ion­ship of ra­dio? How much less creative would the artist be if re­stricted to nine-to- ve? This week Ra­dio 3 de­voted The Es­say, nightly at 10.45pm, to The Dark­est Hour, ve med­i­ta­tions on the lack of shut-eye which ram­bled through a pro­fu­sion of thoughts, rather like sleep­less­ness it­self.

But the se­ries also re­vealed how to turn a long yawn into some­thing pos­i­tive. In Mon­day’s pro­gramme the nov­el­ist Mar­garet Drabble (pic­tured) warned against re­gard­ing in­som­nia as an ill­ness. If it was in­stead con­sid­ered in­ter­est­ing and wor­thy of re­spect, the lone­li­ness that came with it “was far less dis­tress­ing.” Drabble dated her lack of sleep from moth­er­hood although when she was small, her late-night chat­ter would cause her own ex­as­per­ated mother to plead: “Shut up and go to sleep.” Now in the gritty small hours that was the mantra she re­peated to her­self. When sleep came vivid dreams ar­rived, dreams of ver­tigo where Drabble woke “be­fore the body hit the ground.” But in her Wed­nes­day Es­say, AL Kennedy de­scribed sleep as an in­tru­sion on pre­cious writ­ing time. Her pre­ferred work­ing mode was to ham­mer the key­board for up to three days with­out suc­cumb­ing once to the pil­low. But this had come at a hor­rid price, trap­ping her in a loop of spine trou­ble, mus­cle wastage and pain so chronic it forced her to buy gro­ceries one tin at a time.

Kennedy knew her phys­i­cal health now de­pended on ditch­ing this de­struc­tive regime. But the prob­lem for all these es­say­ists was whether a nor­mal sleep pat­tern would crip­ple cre­ativ­ity. Kennedy’s mea­gre sleep ra­tion had be­gun in child­hood when she kept her bed­room door open “just enough to let the mon­sters in.” That habit had stayed with her, and on nd­ing that “sheets are im­per­vi­ous to mon­sters”, she’d slept with her head un­der the cov­ers ever since.

Michael Por­tillo’s ex­cel­lent Cap­i­tal­ism on Trial ( Ra­dio 4) reached its con­clu­sion on Tues­day. And the mes­sage: we’re in a mess not even the unloved bankers un­der­stand.

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