He should have gone to a Premier Inn
On the whole, I’m pretty good at sleeping. Once I’m off, it’d take the equivalent of a herd of angry buffalo doing the Macarena to wake me. However, as I’ve aged, I’ve started to experience the occasional bout of broken sleep, which gives me some sympathy for Proust’s plight.
Now that man really struggled with sleep – eight pages dedicated a blow by blow account of his insomnia. The complicated descriptions of sheet and pillow configurations necessary to lull him into that desired place, slumber, are unsurpassed, and reveal, not a small amount of OCD. Still, it has to be said, he writes insomnia with sheer, melancholy beauty. I love the image evoked when he says
“I would rest my cheeks tenderly against the lovely cheeks of the pillow, which, full and fresh, are like the cheeks of our childhood”
Two faces mirrored, yet forever separated by time.
It came as no surprise to learn that Proust spent an inordinate amount of time in bed. He wrote copiously there, and due to frailty and illness, experienced more ‘duvet days’ than most. The problem with a day spent in bed is that the night is unlikely to then bring sleep, and everyone knows that night-time hours pass much more slowly than daylight hours.
However, if Proust were writing today, I don’t think this eulogy to insomnia would have been written. Now we have the wondrous internet, not a day goes by without some self-proclaimed expert bombarding us with bullet-pointed ‘how to’s’ to conquer insomnia, along with every other minor ailment of our lives. Proust would know to unwind in a lavender bath with a cup of valerian tea, plan a brisk walk for earlier in the day (not too close to bedtime, mind, he wouldn’t want those exercise endorphins to be still buzzing around keeping him awake). He could do some yoga, or a spot of meditation, read a calming novel, pop a few herbal Kalms, or score some sleeping pills from the GP. Then if he woke up in the night, there’d always be Netflix to keep him from drowning in despair at the cold existential horror of his perpetual isolation.
And if all else failed, he could make like Lenny Henry and go to a Premier Inn. Their pillows might not be made from the cheeks of childhood, but they’re so good, you’re guaranteed to sleep even if your bed’s situated on the concourse of a Railway Station in rush hour.