In The Bird-Loft

For a long time, I used to go to bed early. And I mean early. Sometimes I would go to bed a mere ten or fifteen minutes after I’d got up. My alarm would clang, I’d bound out of bed hale and hearty, splash my face with icy water from the spigot, gobble down some sponge cake with a dollop of marmalade, yawn, and stagger back into bed, and fall asleep, and dream. For much of this period it is probably true to say that I lived in dreamland rather than in the real world, although, maddeningly, I could never remember more than a few disconnected and unintelligible fragments of my dreams. I would wake with vague, fugitive visions of, for example, Hazel Blears juggling cream crackers and windswept moorland and albino hens in a concrete bath, but with not a clue as to the significance of any of them. I suppose I could have gone to see a psychic or a psychiatrist, if I desperately needed to know the meaning of my dreams, but I rarely stayed awake long enough to make that possible, and it was very unlikely that I could get one to come to me, given the forbidding nature of my home.

I lived, at this time, at the top of a tower on a promontory lashed by gales. The tower was blackened with grime and weatherbeaten and crumbling. The promontory, too, was crumbling, perceptibly, great chunks of it breaking off and falling into the sea every day. I knew that I would have to move out of the tower, to find a safer haven, but to do so I would have to remain awake for at least an hour or two. I preferred to sleep, and to dream.

The bed I have referred to was not really a bed, as you would understand it. It could more accurately be described as a mat of scattered hay and straw, with the occasional lump of mud and clod of muck tucked here and there. For a pillow, I had a long-dead grunting hog, expertly preserved and stuffed by an equally long-dead taxidermist. My duvet was one of the first of its kind to be imported into this country. It was Teutonic, puffy and bulked out with compressed stable gas, and grease-resistant. No wonder I slept so soundly. My room at the top of the tower had once been a bird-loft, and the skeletons of a number of starlings and robins were still strewn on the rafters and sills. No birds came while I lived there, for birds have always been fearful of me, even when I am asleep.

Very, very occasionally, during these years, I would remain up and about for more than ten or fifteen minutes. Sometimes I shuffled down the rope-ladder to the foot of the tower to inspect the becrumblement of the promontory at close quarters. Sometimes I hied over to Old Ma Purgative’s clifftop superstore to fetch supplies of sponge cake and marmalade. Sometimes I fiddled about with the clanger on my alarm to try to muffle it a tad. Sometimes I taunted faraway birds by shaking a stick in the air and shouting. But mostly, in those days, I used to go to bed early.

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