I know it's a truism that you don't sleep as well when you are older. In my case, the age factor is magnified by Freddy the cat believing that 5:40am is the correct time for rising (cats being 'crepuscular', a delightful word that should have wider currency). Thankfully, the talented Tracey of The Pet Shed, the animal whisperer of Beautiful Downtown Banchory, has now trimmed his claws so he can't stick them into sensitive areas but contents himself with patting me on the face to wake me up. Unfortunately, he still bites if that doesn't work, but as a rescue cat, he has his issues.
The trouble is that whenever I wake in the night just now, I begin to think of all the things I haven't done to enable me to move house. Last night, I woke at 3am only to realise I couldn't remember what I had done with the keys of the storage unit I had hired (downsizing to a smaller house, there will be stuff that won't fit so this seemed a good way of putting off the evil hour of trying to put 'a quart into a pint pot'). Had I added the keys to my overcrowded keyring? I knew that if I didn't get up and check I would never go back to sleep, so had to get up, go downstairs and check the key box. Success – there were the lock-up keys, I had added them to my keyring.
By now Freddy was keen to play, even if I wasn't. And then he wanted a 4am snack… by 4.30 I was back in bed, trying to go to sleep again, and was still awake at 6.30, snatching a couple of hours before the alarm went off at 8.
John Buchan as therapy
One way I try to encourage sleep is to re-read one of the 'feel-good' books that I have already read several times, and as someone who is not detail conscious, I always discover a detail I've previously missed. As I've previously pointed out, I am pretty familiar with the Buchan oeuvre apart from Sick Heart River
, which I can't read because it amounts to JB foreseeing his own death. Castle Gay
isn't as funny as Huntingtower
, its prequel, but much of it is set around a by-election in the Borders, something with which Buchan was very familiar, as well as the role of journalists in the pursuit of celebrity.
I've always thought JB could see further than most of us – he was ever interested in the wider shores of psychology – but what about this prediction, from the pugnacious Dougal Crombie, late of the Gorbals Diehards: 'Damn it, man, in another half century there will be nothing left, and we'll be a mere disconsidered province of England…'.
I had never noticed before this rather prescient view of the Unionist aim in the book. Later, Buchan holds forth about the character of Scottish politics:
The Scottish Radical is a much misunderstood person… [he] was a man who held an inviolable set of principles on which he was entirely unable to compromise… when the Liberal Party began to compromise, he joined Labour; when Labour began to compromise by natural transition he became a Communist… He is honesty incarnate, but his mind lacks flexibility.
Buchan was a rara avis
, in that he loved journalism and politics and those who attempted to work in these fields, and essentially he was a man who genuinely liked good people, whatever their politics. I am certain he would have pulled the legs off our SNP decision makers, but would have had a soft spot for their idealism. He could never have imagined Westminster politicians who had used their role to break the law or to award suspect contracts to their chums. In Buchan land, these people would have met a very sticky end.
The long goodbye
Why is it that when you want to cancel with a supplier because you are moving house, it's made practically impossible to discover the appropriate email or phone number? And then once you have been on the phone for an hour listening to the horrible music, the person you finally get hold of tries to blackmail you to keep their inadequate organisation going? 'We'll give you a £20 gift card.' Well, I'm maybe cheap but not that
If I'm allowed to advertise, The Brown Award for good customer service on moving house is shared between O****** Energy, who always respond rapidly and helpfully to emails, and ** at Enniskillen (clue, it's the original telephony provider), where two polite and helpful ladies were only too pleased to help even though I was cancelling their service.
It's ironic – or maybe not – that the good call responders were female. What many of these organisations forget is that most people – even the young – prefer to speak with an individual rather than a chat bot, and that if things go wrong, the call handler has a unique power to turn things around by a sympathetic and caring approach. And you don't have to like people either – in my case, I place humans pretty far down my list of preferred species, but I have had awards for customer care, because I was pretending
to be nice. And, as we know, it's possible to fake it until you make it.
Many people with visual difficulties live much fuller lives because they have guide dogs. Many years ago I worked with such an individual, who was a highly effective industrial relations negotiator in spite of his visual impairment, and his dog would have qualified for canine sainthood. What happens if you get a psychopathic guide dog who hates humans? Would they happily lead their owner into the oncoming traffic? Or at the very least break into the pet food cupboard and pinch all the canine sweeties?
As Alexander McCall Smith once pointed out, it's cats who are psychopaths and dogs who are the sympathetic and helpful creatures. I wonder if the same categories apply to politicians...
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant