This week I read an article by Eva Wiseman in The Observer which considered sleep: the way we value it, the way it has been commodified, and the fact that sleep always comes: that ‘losing sleep needn’t be anything to lose sleep about’.
I suppose where lack of sleep results from an over busy life, from jobs and activities and chores and tasks spilling over the waking hours to flood one’s sleeping time, this may be true. Sleep will come when times are less busy – when life’s endless tasks are more manageable. But when sleep is absent because of the horrors which lie behind every closed eyelid, or because of the repetitive, spiralling thoughts which grow louder and louder in one’s mind, because of images that cannot be erased from the mind’s eye, or raw emotion which overwhelms us at night and runs riot through our bodies, perhaps the eventuality of sleep is less definite.
Sleep is important. We need sleep to stay sane. If you are struggling with negative thoughts or emotions, with your mental health, or with a difficult situation, a lack of sleep is only going to accentuate your worries and your perceived inability to cope. With a lack of sleep your mind loses its ability to think rationally and reasonably. Problems grow larger and darker and more overwhelming. And this is serious. This is something to lose sleep over. This is dangerous.
When Greg died I couldn’t sleep. For months my nights were regularly disturbed. I started taking sleeping pills, prescribed by my doctor, which helped. My waking lessened, and when I did wake I was less distressed – I could fall asleep again relatively easily. I’ve noticed that despite this my dreams, when I remember them, are distressing. Frequently my dreams are not explicitly about Greg – they are just dark and threatening. I dreamt about one of the shootings I heard about on the news, but my dream reimagined the shooter specifically targeting children. The next day I couldn’t remember if this was true or not.
Now my sleep is pretty much under control. I no longer need sleeping pills but rely on Harry Potter audiobooks to lull me to sleep every night. They prevent my mind from wandering.
The Cooking – Smoked Haddock Chowder
When Greg and I were in our early teens our Dad lived in California, in a suburb of San Francisco. We both enjoyed our holidays to California and we saw a lot over the course of our visits. Dad moved there from Venezuela, and it was pleasant to visit a country which felt safe and clean and offered more freedom to two European children. San Francisco as a city was alluring – it felt cool. Its brilliant red bridge and never ending slopes were distinctively different. Greg sauntered through the streets in his skater hoody, hat, and baggy jeans – looking cool (for an 11 year old) and feeling cool too, I imagine.
San Francisco is famous for, among other things, the seals that gather on the harbour. Hundreds of seals bathe in the sun on the city pavements and tourists huddle around them to take photos. After visiting the seal spot Dad, Greg and I went to a restaurant for some chowder. The chowder in San Francisco is served in hollowed out sough dough rolls – after eating the soup within you can then break the bowl apart and eat that too. It was a memorable meal.
My own Chowder is a Jamie Oliver recipe – his Smoky Haddock Corn Chowder from his 30 minute meal book. It’s not a meal you could do on a regular basis, unless you’re Jamie Oliver and money is no object. It’s an expensive meal. But timewise it is easily doable – this took me just under an hour which is ironically good for a 30 minute meal! And, unless you want to do the tiger prawns, it all happens in one pot so there’s hardly any washing up!
Spring onions, bacon, potatoes, sweetcorn and haddock are put into the pan with chicken stock. A little later cream and prawns are added, and you can mash it all up a bit if you want to. And that is the chowder done! The tiger prawns (which were bought raw and unpeeled) are seasoned and coated in cayenne pepper and cinnamon then cooked on each side under the grill. And that is the prawns done! The chowder was fantastic: the consistency was slightly thick, but with chunks of fish/ potato/ sweetcorn mixed in; the textures were varied; the smokiness of the bacon gave the whole thing a depth of flavour; and the haddock remained the star of the show. The tiger prawns were a very special accompaniment, and just delicious. Taster quote: ‘really heart-warming food’. A success, and one for the weekly menu if one is feeling flush.