Part of the folklore of high level sport is that at virtually no time in their careers are top-class athletes ever actually 100% fit. Now of course it might be that they are also just high level whingers too, but the point is that despite the conditioning, the training, the medical back up and, literally, Olympian levels of dedication they rarely achieve flawless physical perfection, 100% fitness is nigh on unattainable. I feel the same about rest.
There seems to be an awful lot of rest about, sleep, shut-eye, repose, slumber, dormancy, forty winks, call it what you will… it’s a bit like money, all around us apparently and I’m just not seeing any of it.
The downside of being on no medication for the last month is that slowly, like a creeping frost, the pain has returned to all the joints. And like frost the pain is spiky, brittle and deepening as winter approaches. But with the pain has come a new wrinkle: chronic, utterly debilitating fatigue. I’m used to tiredness, and though I wouldn’t go as far as to say I thrive on it, ask Natalie and the boys just how gay and fancy-free I am on a Sunday evening, I cope pretty well. I’ve had no choice. I’ve been doing this absurd commute for 15 years, missing at least one night’s sleep a week and now sleep so lightly that If I do set an alarm I know for a fact I won’t be asleep anymore when it goes off. Just the mere act of setting an alarm raises my tension levels to red alert and the slightest disruption means that no zeds will be had. I have spent the last 15 years of my life getting by on ‘doze’, and it’s beginning to show.
It’s not that I’ve lost the will to fight, it’s that I’m running on fumes now and so battles have to be carefully chosen or ignored, mostly the latter.
I didn’t like the smirk on the man’s face. It’s that smirk one man always reserves for another man when he knows he possesses a skill and knowledge that the other lacks. It’s practiced by mechanics the world over, plumbers also, electricians and the like.
I put my recalcitrant chainsaw on his counter and said I wanted it serviced. He snorted and offered a thin, chilling smile that revealed what looked like 17th century dental work, ‘What’s the point?’ he sneered.
Our regular go-to guy for all things lawnmower, chainsaw and hedge trimmer related can no longer be used. It’s a pity but there it is. Two years ago I took him the lawnmower which, I insisted, did not work. He got it to work first time. I put the lawnmower back in the car, which was parked on an incline, started the car up and the lawnmower went crashing through the back windscreen.
‘It might not work now,’ he said humourlessly.
In my opinion it would take an impossible level of pride swallowing to go anywhere near his establishment again. There is just no coming back from a Mr Bean-like performance on that scale, no chance that my thundering ineptitude will ever be forgotten and so as far he knows I have left the area entirely, unable to deal with the shame.
‘What do you mean, what’s the point?’ I asked, incapable of hiding the ennui on my face.
‘It would cost 80€ to do a service,’ he sneered again, ‘more than that thing’s worth.’ He waved a dismissive hand at the inert object.
‘Are you refusing to do it?’ I asked.
‘Then do it please.’ I built this chainsaw from a kit and though that may explain why the thing barely attacks a twig without breaking down, I feel some sense of connection with it. Once upon a time, with my tanks full and a modicum of vim at my disposal I’d have argued the toss maybe, ‘don’t want the work, eh?’ I’d have said, ‘Well there’s plenty that do…’ and I’d have stormed out wielding the chainsaw and it would have been at best a draw. I can’t anymore, or at least not at the moment. I’m paying twice as much as the thing cost to get it to work, whereas I could just buy another one that would definitely work and still spend less than 80€. Exhaustion has fuzzied my logic.
I had planned a lie in for Friday last week, but that never happened. Thérence misses his brothers probably more than we’d realised and to cheer him up I said I’d get him up really early and we could watch the cricket together before school. I know that doesn’t, to most people, sound like a ‘cheering up’ thing but Thérence was overjoyed with the idea. England were playing in New Zealand, the programme would start about 5am and I figured, wrongly, that there was no way he’d actually wake up when I went to get him, something that happens more and more on school days. I went into his room at the appointed time and he bounded out of his bed wearing his England Cricket kit. I was wrong then. As any England cricket fan will tell you, certainly us veterans of English cricket in the 1990s, introducing your child to the sport, and certainly the England team, is tantamount to abuse. He’s utterly besotted by the sport though, plays it when he can, watches it when he can and while a parent’s one job in life is to hide your child from the horrors of the world, I fear in this instance it’s just too damn late. The kid’s hooked. And this was a match that started at around 6 in the morning, all the others on this tour are scheduled for about two in the morning, it’s going to be a bloody long winter I can tell you. What I need is the England Cricket team to suffer a few punishing defeats in the middle of the night to put young Thérence off, but I’m also acutely aware that the England Cricket team always, always lets you down so they’ll no doubt win thriller after thriller just to keep me from any rest at all.
And it’s not just me that suffers, that Natalie and the boys wither the backlash of this permanent state of cranky, repressed half-life is obvious, but the B&B guests too.
‘Daddy,’ Thérence said, ‘there’s a man knocking on the window.’
I can only take so much. These guests had annoyed the hell out of me already anyway with their ‘early check-in’ requests and banging their cases on my walls.
‘Yes,’ I said irritably, no guest has ever knocked on my window before. They have their bit, we have ours and I wasn’t happy about this blurring of the lines.
‘Can you open the gate, please?’ he asked.
‘Why? Have you broken your arms?’
I was persuaded that maybe an early night would be a good idea, try and get some sleep while I obviously needed it rather than wait for the traditional bedtime hours. And it worked too. It worked all the way up to 1.20 am when some bastard rang the bloody doorbell.
‘What was that?’ Natalie asked.
‘The doorbell,’ I replied. I was already out of bed, normally I’m much more cautious than that, especially at 1.20 in the morning but I was so angry that my much sought after sleep had been disturbed I was in no mood for caution. ‘That bloke probably wants me to open the gate for him.’
The doorbell rang again. Pyjamas, wellington boots and a stolen hotel dressing gown should be enough to put anyone off, but when I got there, whoever it was had already gone. I saw a car down the road, it’s lights fading in the distance, was it someone wanting a room? Someone with the wrong address? Some government anti-sleep agent? Or was it a dream? I stood there shivering and could have wept with exhaustion, ‘You bastards,’ I whispered, ‘you utter, utter bastards.’ And with that sloped pointlessly back to bed.