Admittedly, there are perhaps far too many nights when this here medium keeps my attention, even if I intend to retire with a good book. Blame it all on bloody YouTube’s related videos bar and its annoyingly irresistible tag, ‘recommended for you’. Last night I was still watching old Queens Park Rangers games from the mid-70s at 3.00am; every time I sat through one Stan Bowles hat-trick scored on a pitch resembling Aintree the day after the Grand National, I spotted another one waiting in line for me. This happens a lot when you’re a night-owl and the allure of old football retains a particular magic absent from today’s excuse for it; at least players then could get on with the game instead of arriving with a shopping-list of causes requiring them to signal their virtue before eventually kicking-off. Ditto even cricket, as I gathered from its return to BBC TV yesterday; perhaps the Beeb only agreed to take the taking-the-knee highlights as the next phase of their plan to re-educate all the ‘Karens’ out there.

However, it is always my aim to end the day with a book, even if I sometimes leave it too late. It was never a problem when my much-missed feline companion dictated the evening schedule; she liked to be in bed by a certain time and she had a habit of staring me out around 2.00am if I was still reading. The unceasing vigilance with which she wore down my resistance simply by sitting beside the nearest lamp and fixing me with a glare that informed me she wanted the lights out never failed to prematurely curtail a chapter; but at least I was aware the earlier I began, the more reading time I’d have. After she passed away, nocturnal discipline became a little lax and I didn’t really get back into the habit of a bedtime book until I purchased a proper bedside lamp.

With my Edwardian bed designed along the lines of those in hospital-based ‘Carry On’ movies, a clip-on lamp seemed the best option. It gave me no excuse not to round off the day with a book and I have tried to break free from Brian Moore introducing one more vintage edition of ‘The Big Match’ at a reasonable hour ever since. Most nights, I manage it. Reading is one of three notable activities that the item of household furniture in question is the ideal location for – and probably the most underrated activity of the three, which is ironic considering it can often be the most rewarding. Last thing at night is the one time of the day that seems tailor-made for reading, when one’s head is cleared in preparation for sleep and there are no external distractions – no phone-calls, nobody ringing the doorbell, and (if lucky) no antisocial neighbours running through their audition for the Ministry of Sound. If there are any background noises, they can be especially selected to enhance the reading experience, perhaps the gentle tick-tock of a clock or maybe a quiet, conducive soundtrack in the distance.

Some – though not me – were fortunate to be told a bedtime story every night as a child, something that can forever associate books with bedtime in the mind thereafter; if spared this lesson, bedtime reading can begin with combing the pages of a comic via undercover torchlight and then inevitably progress to less wholesome ‘reading’ material. If one can make it to an actual book, however, it can prove an invaluable aid to sleep. Indeed, if inducing slumber is a perennial problem, reading before lights-out not only gives one something more stimulating to think about than the routine banal concerns that plague daytime, but it can also accelerate the gradual heaviness of the eyelids better than any sleeping pill. Personally, I tend to find I can surrender to sleep far easier if I’ve been reading before switching the lamp off than if not. And, let’s be honest, with so much shit polluting life ‘out there’ at the moment, what a relief it is to be able to escape into an alternate reality before the Land of Nod, one where none of 2020 is either relevant or even in existence.

Of all the books I’ve read over the past 20 years, the vast majority have been read during this precious window of the day. About six or seven years back, I sedately worked my way through ‘War and Peace’ over a period of around twelve months, and I think every line was digested with my head propped-up by pillows. I do sometimes read a little during the day, but the material is usually of the magazine or newspaper variety; when it comes to a book, it’s so much easier to give it your full attention when in bed. Moreover, as was the case with Tolstoy’s doorstopper, bedtime is the ultimate breathing space in which one can take one’s time; there’s no sense of having to rush or hurry the job up. A couple of pages or perhaps a chapter – it doesn’t matter; there are no deadlines. If a book running to over 1,300 pages takes a year to read in nightly instalments, so be it. Whoever said it had to be read in a month?

I find I switch between literary genres with each book, depending on how long the last one took to read. If I’ve just read a heavyweight novel, the next one will probably be a more lightweight autobiography; after that, I might read a collection of short stories and maybe then another novel and so on. I’m currently at the back end of ‘Boswell’s London Journal, 1762-1763’, the day-to-day jottings of Dr Johnson’s celebrated biographer, and a text that lay undiscovered for almost 200 years until unearthed and published in the 1950s. As with most diaries penned by a gifted writer, it provides a unique and authentic insight into the times in which it was written. This is early Georgian London as seen through the eyes of an alien – Boswell was a Scot at another moment in British history when the Union was going through one of its more fragile phases; the Jacobite Rebellion had only taken place less than 20 years previously and its ramifications were still being felt by Scots south of the border.

Boswell’s journal not only paints the atmosphere of the capital as it was in the early 1760s with wondrous vivacity, but his portrait of a man-about-town hobnobbing with other fascinating characters and occasionally paying the physically painful price for a bit of rough and tumble with a whore makes for a damn good read. Being able to end each day in Georgian London by proxy is certainly a better way to bid farewell to said day than enduring the less engaging place where one actually happens to be; and one can only get that in bed. That other refuge for reading – the lavatory – has its merits, though all can depend on the duration of the bowel movement; not that we all haven’t succumbed to pins & needles if the reading material has proven hard to put down; but magazines that can be snatched in dribs and drabs are more complementary to the toilet library than the book. The book belongs to bedtime.

I used to have a sensible system whereby I never owned a book I hadn’t read. When I finished one and it was time for another, I’d pop to the local Oxfam and nose around the shelves until I found something I fancied. However, in recent years I’ve been bought a lot of books for birthdays and Christmases and am still working my way through the ones I have. I don’t do badly, though; it’s surprising how many books one can read in a year as long as the bedtime routine is upheld. As far as the persistent insomniac with a penchant for extremely late nights goes, it’s the best bedtime routine there is.

© The Editor

8 thoughts on “A BOOK AT BEDTIME

  1. Is there and cause & effect thing going on – does the insomnia cause the books or vice-versa? Fortunately I’m not insomniac so haven’t sought that cure.

    However, my own personal bedtime vice is to leave the radio on, initially Radio 4, which then becomes the World Service from 1pm to around 5:30am. On the occasional wakeful moments through the night, it’s often a surprise and delight to coincide with some fascinating international topic which gets no coverage on other mainstream schedules, sometimes so interesting that I then make great efforts to stay awake to hear it through.

    And before I know it, it’s ‘Farming Today’ again, with its liberal litany of red-faced shit-shovellers whinging about how they’ll struggle to afford yet another new Range Rover this year because we’d rather have good value food than sponsor their tax-exempted inefficiency and landed profligacy.

    Try it sometime, unlike reading you can do it with your eyes closed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funnily enough, even though it airs far too early for bedtime, I admit I do like to hear the old Shipping Forecast in the background at 12.48 for the same reason all other landlubbers do; and as the World Service follows it, I do often catch stuff on there afterwards. I tend to alternate between that and Radio 3 if I’m in more of a musical mood after 1.00. As for the insomina/book connection, it seems completely random most of the time – sometimes I sleep, other times I don’t. But it probably does come to me a little easier if I read a bit beforehand rather than being detained by YT videos. On the whole, I’ve gradually figured I don’t need more than four or five hours’ sleep max., so I make do as best I can, really.


  2. Bedtime reading. Have always done that. Wakening up with the light still on and the book sometimes on the floor. My problem was that I had forgotten the last few pages, or chapter that I had read, and the following night was always going back through the pages til once again I had rejoined the plot. A bit like TV serials where each episode starts with “Previously on……”.Subconsciously I read a lot of the book twice.
    Radio4. I miss the UK Theme that used to be played every morning, not for patriotic reasons but because it was very cheerful. The constancy of that and the sombre measured tones of the Shipping Forecast set me up for the day. Now no Theme and they seem to allow the latest green recruit read the Shipping forecast. Probably knowing that all shipping gets its weather forecasts from satelites, in real time, and therefore the Beeb goes through the motions, no doubt still collecting the dosh.
    And talking of going through the motions:-
    What I have aways hated has been that R4 closing dirge, Sailing By. To me it recalls that scene in Ancient Mariner where the ship is becalmed in a greasy steamy sweaty sea. The Beeb promised it would be dropped at the same time as the Theme. But no. They lied.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree about the sad loss of the UK Theme, that composite of the constituent parts seemed so much better for having been compiled by a foreigner.
      Same with the perfunctory reading of the Shipping Forecast, it needs to he done with a rhythm which the current junior presenters seem to lack.
      I can take or leave Sailing By, it’s not offensive – maybe they should alternate with the theme from Pugwash.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is one voice that does the Shipping Forecast justice – not sure of the announcer’s name, but he has that kind of rich, old-school West Indian accent that enhances the imaginary ‘romance’ of the place names. Does it for me, anyway…


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