The Poet's Sleep by William Boyd

William Boyd
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THE POET’S SLEEP

I am lucky enough to be a sound sleeper, in the main, though, like everyone, when my brain is racing I have my 'nuits blanches' from time to time. However, my sound sleep is not uninterrupted.  Two things wake me in the night: recurring dreams and what I can only describe as 'London'.

I have lived in London since 1983, nearly a quarter of a century, and London, I believe, has poisoned me.  Maybe this poisoning is common to all long-term city dwellers but in my case London's toxins wake me in the night. In the small hours of the morning my joints begin to ache, my hips ache, my left thigh aches, sometimes my hands ache. I get up and walk around and the aches go away and I can return to bed and sleep again.

I look at the window sill outside my study, dark with a fine-grained dusty powder — pollution falling from London's sky. I wipe it clean and two days later it's back again. I’ve been breathing this stuff into my lungs for nearly twenty-five years and I believe it’s created in me a form of latent hypersensitivity -- a kind of year-long allergy problem -- summer or winter, it doesn’t matter.  When it rains in the night it’s worse, as if the rain is bringing the black powder closer to earth and when I wake I think I'm suffering from chronic arthritis. But as soon as I leave my bed and move around the ache goes away.  I've come to consider it as a tax my body has to pay if I want to live in London — the most interesting city on the planet.

As for the recurring dreams, there are three of them: strangers cut down trees in my garden (I don’t have a garden); pipes leak water behind walls; beneath the floorboards of my house small fires smoulder. They make me wake in the night, these recurring dreams. Any suggestions Dr Freud?

Written for an article on writers’ sleep disorders in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung March 2007

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