The wail of air-raid sirens signals another attack by the Luftwaffe. The screaming noise is punctuated by the dull percussive thud of bombs. Just on the edge of hearing the angry bee-swarm-hum of propeller engines provide a droning bass note; ceaselessly framing the other sounds in hateful monotone.
Nights are spent lying in uncomfortable positions as the sirens turf families from the comfort of their beds and, even when there is no sound, rest is fitful and expectant of another disruption. The usual patterns of life for many have gone – street lights disconnected, rationing queues for basic supplies and even beloved pets have been humanely destroyed; their owners sadly justify it as necessary to conserve what resources are available.
Only when exhaustion grows irresistible do people actually sleep in this time of confusion, destruction and fear.
Whilst I don’t pretend to understand the mortal terror that must accompany being under siege from deadly areal bombardment, I feel that having two children under two years old does give an amuse bouche of what it must have been like. To wit, eardrum rupturing noise, debris flying everywhere and people around me literally shitting themselves.
The other night I was roused from my deep sleep, by the stereophonic effect of a monitor to my right screaming and a real life, actual baby screaming to my left. As per agreement I was in change of the boy and my wife, having the required equipment, was on baby-keeping-alive duty.
The upshot being I had to get up and deal with our eldest.
Keeping sane as a parent is often about maintaining little patterns of behaviour and in these instances I follow a very simple routine:
Move a little.
Pause in the forlorn hope that the boy will put himself back to sleep.
Get a dig in the ribs for lying in bed whilst the boy screams.
Stumble to dresser for milk bottles.
Walk into wall.
Shuffle to boy’s room.
He’s standing there yelling.
Pick up and hope he hasn’t wet through his pyjamas.
Swear under breath.
Change boy as he tries out his Greco-Roman wrestling moves.
Give him a bottle as he tries to work out why his sleeves now have little booties at the end.
Put back in cot.
Go back to bed.
I’ve got this routine so ingrained that the whole process takes place in a hazy doze and takes a maximum of ten minutes. Sleep is generally easy to find afterwards.
Unless six inches from your head is a small pink sack of gas and grumpiness.
And your eldest son is teething.
Nary three seconds after laying my weary head down, suffused with happiness at having fulfilled my parental duties, the monitor sprung back into demonic life.
“Did you give him Bonjella?” the wife mumbled.
“No, it’s not part of the routine” I replied. Duh.
“Well, he is teething” she said pointedly.
“Fine” I said secretly hoping that if I very slowly got out of bed he would put himself back to sleep.
He didn’t. And wouldn’t. For most of the night.
Back and forth in a bleary-eyed marathon, providing more milk, Bonjella, Calpol, cuddles and soft toys. As I lay back down in bed after completing my rounds there would be a few minutes quiet from his room before yet another wail would start.
The baby, nestled in his mother’s arms, was alternating between screaming and burping like I’d imagine the taste testers at the Fanta’s Thai factory do (two words – Red Fanta).
In an astounding example of fraternal alignment, the two children were coordinating their noise production to provide minimal amounts of respite.
Moments like these are stressful. When you then start to think that you’ve got to go to work in the morning a sense of frustration sets in. In very short order you find yourself becoming angry at the noise, the disruption, the thought of those reports to write or meetings to attend and why won’t you just sleep!
Luckily, my wife has great empathy and knew I was approaching the end of my tether. She deftly took over and ordered me to bed. I obeyed without question. As I calmed so did the rest of my family. The boy’s tired yelps of pain lessened, the baby had passed enough gas to put a serious dent in the Kyoto Protocol and my wife softly slipped back into bed.
“Thank you,” I murmured.
She rested a gentle hand on my back.
“I love you” she said.
“I love you too” I said.
“Meow,” said the cat approximately one picometer from my face, aspirating fishy cat breath up my nose, “meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow.”
The all clear has sounded and with its last pervasive wail people can at last rest. There may well be another attack tomorrow but for tonight, those who have missed the appalling destruction of the German bombs, are moving towards sleep.
Except for Gerald Tomkins, a middle manager of a bank in Stepney whose cat has started to meow piercingly in the darkness.
“Right! I’m taking that bloody thing to the vet’s first thing tomorrow,” he says, “how can we be expected to win a war if we can’t even sleep through the night?”
“Worse than the Naizs” mumbles his wife in agreement.
“Need to conserve supplies anyway” says Gerald decisively.