Coronavira Dreamin’

Warm oat milk with a shot of brandy really is my saviour in these difficult times. 

I’ve never been a great sleeper – in fact, I truly hate going to bed owing to major FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I was the same as a baby, a young child, and even at 61 I have a terror that something might be happening from which I have been excluded (actually, that might just be FOBH – Fear Of Being Hated).

I thought that in the current crisis, my sleep patterns might become disrupted, but given that there is nothing happening from which anyone can exclude me, bedtime isn’t such an ordeal. But the milk and brandy give me something to look forward to; they’re very soothing, doubtless bringing back childhood memories of warm milk before being tucked up for the night. In those days, though, I hated the skin that formed on the top of the dairy milk; thankfully, there is no foreskin on oat milk and I really do love it (I no longer buy almond milk, by the way, because I learned that the pesticides they use to spray the almond trees kill all the bees. I don’t like bees at all, but hey, they need an office job, too).

More than one in five people (22%) say that their sleep quality has suffered since the rise of Coronavirus, and many are reporting an increase in strange or vivid dreams. Mark Blagrove, a leading expert in sleep and dreaming at Swansea University in the UK, also says that a lot of people will be having very emotional dreams.

Last night, I dreamt about my mother and her dog, Maddie. My mum’s house in Bristol is currently under offer, but in the dream, I was in the house in Bridgend, where I spent my teenage years. Last week, the neighbour directly opposite that house died. We were all very close and one of her two daughters, Nerys, at that time was my best friend. I bumped into her in Bath last year and it was as if we’d seen each other the day before, despite decades having passed.

The dream took me back to that Coity house, where I was disturbed to find that the buyers (for the Bristol house) had already started to move their stuff in, despite exchange and completion not having taken place. They had even glued a rack for utensils to a kitchen cupboard. I was crying and upon leaving the house saw Mum, her back to me, walking up the drive. “MUM! MUM!” I called, but she didn’t answer. I caught up with her but when I reached out to touch her, my hand went through her and she walked on before disappearing altogether. I returned to the house and tried to remove the utensil rack.

In the next part of the dream, Mum had died and I was holding her Bichon Frise, Maddie. Mum was always fearful of Maddie outliving her because she didn’t know where the dog would go. In the dream, I decided to take her with me to New York; in reality, she had been euthanised (I still cannot bear to say the words “put down”) 15 months before Mum was admitted to hospital for the last time.

It was at least 10 years before I dreamt about my dad, following his death in 1990, but I dream about Mum all the time. As the one-year anniversary approaches next month, I won’t pretend it’s been a good 12 months. My own health, which had been suffering as a result of stress for a while, hadn’t been great with all the long haul travelling, and being hospitalised with a suspected heart attack last year did not help matters (it turned out not to be, but the loneliness of lying alone in a hospital bed, on the opposite side of the Atlantic from friends and family, gave me a lot of thinking time).

It is ironic that self-isolation has given me a calm and contentedness that I haven’t felt in decades. I’m sure it won’t last, because human contact is, basically, what humans thrive on. But I am finding the space – physically, mentally and emotionally – rather soothing. It’s a long time since I’ve had such a defined routine in my life (although I could recite the Virgin Atlantic flight schedule by rote) and structure is, for me, the easiest way to survive these bizarre times.

Also ironic is that I’m talking to family and friends far more than I ever managed to do in “real life” as we must now remember it. I have been Face Timing, talking on the phone and, yesterday, participated in an online quiz on Zoom with a group of people and made new friends into the bargain. After a slight initial self-consciousness, it genuinely felt as if we were in the same room. We laughed, joked, showed off our different awards (even in the throes of a killer virus, media folk are so competitive) and, after the quiz, stayed online to talk about other matters.

Zoom, by the way, is terrific. It’s a conference app on which you can host 10 people for free and, for $149pa, up to 100 (you can have as many hosts and people as you like, by the way; the price goes up accordingly).

So, it was quite an event filled weekend. I cleaned my apartment and changed my bed linen (always a Saturday morning job), did my washing, coloured my hair and squeezed the blackheads in my nose (a daily job, but I get a strange kick out of it, especially the squishy ones that lurk in the corners and ooze out gratefully, like inmates jumping a prison wall).

It’s now lunchtime here and I’m having homemade chicken curry, a glass of Whispering Angel rosé and looking forward to a quiet afternoon of reading and watching TV. Who knows: I might even decide to speak to another human.

Before long, it’ll be bedtime again, and I’ll be hitting the Courvoisier. Incidentally, did you know that brandy/Cognac has no carbohydrates and is very good for “bad” cholesterol.

Now if that thought doesn’t give you sweet dreams, I don’t know what will.