Dear Dave

Wednesday 28 November 2007

All I can remember is Jeremy Clarkson

Dear Dave,

Sorry to hear the sleeping has gone out of the window again. I've rarely had to deal with children playing tag-team parent waking so I don't entirely know what to suggest. Daisy's so young that there probably isn't much you can do - if she wants to wake up in the middle of the night, she will. (Controlled crying is always worth a try, though). At least Sam's at an age where you can threaten him with reprisals if he doesn't ignore her and go back to sleep - I find that turning off Marie's night-light for a few minutes is usually enough to get her to settle down.

You've got my sympathy. I've had plenty of experience of sleepless children. I refer you back to the tricks I've learnt. Probably the most important is to have a DVD you want to watch in the player ready to go. That way, if worst comes to worst, you won't be stuck watching phone-in quizzes as you while away the small hours of the morning with a grumbly baby. It's worth making sure the DVD has subtitles so you can still follow what's going on above the whining and crying. Other options include web-surfing using a Wii, Teletext and MTV. Personally, I have many memories of semi-consciously watching repeats of Top Gear I'd recorded on TiVo. It was amusing and it didn't matter if I missed dialogue here and there thanks to a screaming baby or if I 'rested my eyes' for entire sections.

Actually, there are parts of Marie's early life where I remember more about three nutters destroying caravans in entertaining ways than I do about much else. Sleep deprivation addles your brain. I got to a point where I was functioning on autopilot most of the time. The boys were up from half seven in the morning until eight at night. Marie woke at eight in the morning and was up until eleven at night with only an hours nap in the middle. I stayed up until half past midnight to get some time to myself to help stave off insanity. Frequently, Marie then woke up at three for an hour or two of crying.

In retrospect, this was pretty horrendous but, at the time, I was cocooned in a hazy mist of zombie-dom. With one child at school, one at morning nursery and another needing regular feeds, bottles and nappies, my timetable was always laid out before me. It wasn't so much that we had a routine, it was more that there was only one way to fit everything that needed to be done around everything which had to be done. I could muddle though the day without much thought. I don't actually recall wandering around with my arms stretched out, muttering 'Brains... Brains....' but, then again, I don't actually recall very much at all.

I do have a very strong recollection of Richard Hammond trying to make an amphibious vehicle out of a camper van, however.

Strangely, that's more useful than you might imagine. By concentrating on that memory, I can make other recollections surface. I can bring back thoughts, feelings and experiences that would otherwise be forgotten. It doesn't just work for Top Gear, either - by thinking about a book I've read, a film I've watched or a computer game I've played, I can remember something of what life was like at the time and possibly even specific events from that period. Little else jogs my memory so well, apart from thinking back over times when I've been ill or exhausted. I can remember those occasions very clearly too.

This means that many of my most vivid memories are of multimedia delirium, where illness and entertainment have coincided.

For instance, I know I had gastric flu a couple of weeks after Final Fantasy VII came out. I clearly remember where I'd got to, how I felt and what our old lounge looked like from that combination of gaming and vomit. Going from that, I can also work out the time of year, how my job was going and any number of other little details. When I felt too ill to even play a game (which is very ill, by the way), I sent Sarah to the video store to find a film with explosions. She came back with Die Hard with a Vengeance - proof, if ever I needed it, that I married the right woman.

Similarly, the fifties version of Day of the Triffids is linked inescapably in my mind with the first week of my chickenpox eruption, the second week is brought back by thoughts of playing Fable on Xbox. Mention of the forthcoming Fable 2 just makes me feel queasy.

The Hellboy movie recalls a cough so bad that I had to chain-suck Lockets and sleep sitting upright in an armchair.

My one experience of sleeping rough is all the clearer in my mind because I bought West of Eden by Harry Harrison the next day. The memory of trying to keep warm while lying in a binbag on a hillside in Derbyshire is made sharper by the memory of reading about horny, humanoid dinosaurs while very, very tired.

Other people's recollections seem to be triggered by different things. Sarah's memory is jogged by smells. My mum's is organised around food. It's like she uses what people ate as some kind of mental hook. She'll tell me news she's read in the paper about an old school friend of mine that I don't even remember and, when I look blank, she'll say something along the lines of, 'You went round to his house once. You had chicken.' I'm not sure whether I find it more weird that she remembers what I had to eat or that she thinks I'll remember it too.

Quite what this tells us about any of the people involved, I've no idea, but I've been trying to work out how my kids best remember things.

Thinking about it, the descriptions they came up with to differentiate between the parent and toddler groups they went to when they were small are telling. Fraser referred to his as, "The pink one, the one downstairs and the one near John Lewis." It was an aspect of the location which stuck in his head. Marie talks about, "The one with Craig, the leaving one and the snack one." It's the most significant event of each one that makes hers memorable, whether it's the attention of a particular helper, the quality of the snack or me slinking off for three-quarters of an hour while someone else takes over.

Lewis' preferences are harder to remember (the irony!) because most of the time he just copied Fraser. Probably, given free rein, he described them with phrases like, "The one with jigsaws." He differentiates places by what's there because he has a good memory for what things contain. We keep trying to make a little more space for him in his bed but he always knows when something has been removed.

Lewis' bed covered in cuddly toys... as usual.
There's a bed under there somewhere...

Maybe there's some way I can use this knowledge to get them all to remember to wipe their feet when entering the house. If only I could work it out...

Ach, the scary thing is, even if I did work out a theory, I'd probably forget it unless I caught a cold and then watched a movie.

Ho well, maybe you can mull it over while you're watching Pirates of the Caribbean at three in the morning. Let me know if you come up with anything.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Marie has a frighteningly good memory, actually. She was watching Laura's Star on DVD the other day. She hadn't seen it for a while but she was quoting the script with ease. The film got to one bit and Marie described what was happening and followed it up by saying what was going to happen next. "And then Laura goes up to the roof and she meets a robot cat and she says, 'Hello, little cat, how are you?'"

Sarah was freaked. "How do you remember that?"

Marie just smiled. "It's a good thing to say to a robot cat if you find one on the roof."

Sarah found that kind of hard to argue with. They went back to watching the film.


Anonymous said...

I've just had the most amazing recollection of a few months back when the brand new Lee jnr. would sleep on my chest in the wee small hours while his mum caught a couple of hours between feeds. I could lie there on the couch for hours watching him (and Clarkson).

It's harder now with his talent for headbutting...
(jnr. not Clarkson - he's on the Dave channel almost non-stop).

DadsDinner said...

I don't know whether to feel affirmed by this whole Dave thing or to sue...