For you the War is over!


Posted by in March's Magazine

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Late night screens open ended entertainment, boxset viewing, podcasts etc. Can, without self-discipline,
retard sleep and become addictive 

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Bright eyes, burning like Kindle fire.

I love the sound of angle-grinders (in the morning).

Lullaby: Go to sleep… go to sleep… go to feckin sleep

‘I’m a year from fifty and to paraphrase REM “…I feel fine” – reading glasses, aching knees and fingers aside – what isn’t fine is the wake-dream state that seems my permanent lot since developing an addiction to comedy and technology podcasts. 

I’ve drifted off to sleep every night since my early teens to some audio or other, but what began as taped spoken-word soundtracks to Star Wars clicking off after forty-five minutes can now extend to ten hours. It’s been suggested, by an amateur clinician, aka mate, who read it on Wikipedia, that I’m possessed of “mild-spectrum Asperger’s syndrome, with a tendency to obsess over minutiae, and display obsessive-compulsive behaviour.” This is of course shite, but symptoms do include insomnia, plus “a dismissal of the diagnosis as a common symptom of sufferers.” You just can’t win.

The point being, if digital content fascinates the listener – and there’s a never-ending supply online of boat-floating fascinators, available – how does one switch off when your droopy ears have less wisdom than your fizzing brain? Baby Driver’s lead character listens to music constantly to block out the tinnitus from a hearing injury. 

What excuse do I have for listening to professional man/boy Richard Herring asking consecutive guests if “they have tried to fellate either themselves or the actor Keith Allen, favour an armpit dispensing suntan lotion, or might prefer to consume self-regenerating hand ham as a foodstuff?” Pelvic tremors at 3am from laughing are at least keeping middle age spread at bay, with stomach floor muscles as tight as an ironing board.

Unlimited choice of niche interests has become a tyranny of its own, and whether it’s nineteen cheeses at Waitrose, or pages and pages of OnDemand content I’m frankly burnt out. My diminishing coven of close, embittered friends are the gatekeepers of my taste, thus determining what I watch. The rest of the tidal wave of media can be taken care of by a TV recorder that watches boring programs so you don’t have to. 

At twenty, I remember highlighting pages of the Radio Times, buying fifty VHS tapes and burning them up over Christmas, storing them in ever increasing piles, rarely to be looked at again. The ubiquity of downloads, cheap storage and digital streaming means we’re liberated from the object – if we choose to be – but choice pushes decision making beyond breaking point.  

Perhaps BBC drama are also experiencing burn out, as light entertainment finds new audiences for reheated/remade old scripts, or homages to the classics (Hancock, Steptoe & Son, Dad’s Army, Porridge, and the execrable even on first broadcast Are You Being Served are sorry examples). The rationale? If it worked then, it’ll work now – so leave off expensive innovation. 

Caution amongst the international commercial film community is also well known as sequels and remakes provide an inbuilt insurance against failure. As audiences shrink for terrestrial TV and under-and-over thirties fragment themselves amidst web content on YouTube and Podcasts, event viewing becomes more rare. 

Content aside, pre-bed overuse of screens or eBook readers on light-emissive tablets, cut into our circadian deep sleep; bodies aren’t used to bright lights overnight, as I discovered with an insomniac on a holiday trip – they couldn’t sleep with lights off, me with them on: what could go wrong? 

Solutions for late night swiping include the excellent f.lux (https://justgetflux.com/), that adjusts the colour temperature of your screen or Blue Shade (https://bit.ly/2xnaPDR) which encourages the sleep-promoting melatonin by supressing the amount of blue light emitted. 

My instinct though, is that good sleep isn’t just about avoiding shiny screens peered into excessively. A little while ago, after forming very anti-social habits involving red wine, Call of Duty: World at War, and Simonov self-loading semi-automatic carbines, I realised Nazi-killing late at night, while great for European mid-forties democracy, was not so good for snoozing. 

The gameplay pitter-pattered into dreams and I awoke sweating in half-waking states, I witnessed Red Army colleagues fall before the Wehrmacht, until tyranny was eventually toppled and Hammer and Sickle flew atop Berlin’s wrecked chancellery. Perhaps the pain in my fingers and wrists were a sign it was time to stop fighting and lay down my arms. Someone says “Для вас Марк, война окончена!” Or, “For you Mark, the war is over!” 

As children and toddlers we will recall, and as parents will doubtless confirm, our youthful appetites for repetitive stories, told over and again that provide comforts that persist into adulthood. 

I kid myself two hours of phone-ins on solving computer snafus are good for my business, or comedians goofing off is useful to my creative writing, but the truth is it’s the equivalent of a bath full of bubbles or the soft whispering of a sound we strain to remember: perhaps a parent mewing, “sleep tight little one, night, night.”

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