Sleep mode

Sleep mode – the pc stays on but uses low power. Apps stay open so when the pc wakes up, you’re instantly back to where you left off.

When I was younger, I could sleep anywhere. I’ve spent nights on floors, coaches, trains and under stars on the side of mountains. Once, memorably, I slept in an abandoned house in a tiny French village, with nothing but a febrile breeze and a band of crickets for company. In those days sleep was an irritating if necessary interruption to all the things I wanted to do, to experience. From living in student digs in a castle to racing friends up the down escalator of the Pompidou Centre to hitching across Europe in the summer (sorry Mum).


My friend and I shared the top bedroom in the front left-hand tower. We used to do Hamlet impressions on the roof.

How times have changed. Now it has to be in my bed with the linen sheets and the 100% cotton jacquard duvet cover. And most important of all, the thin cushion (for lying on my back) and the thicker cushion (for lying on my side). I remember once lumbering into my mother-in-law’s room years ago and helpfully flinging the pillows onto the bed as she made it. To my surprise she wrung her hands. “You haven’t muddled up the pillows, have you?” she demanded. I was dumbfounded. What did it matter if I had? (Those were the “If-we- have- two- pillow- cases- that- match -we’re – doing- well days) Now, I  understand.

Sleep, these days, is precious, particularly at weekends. On school nights, it’s different – though much better than it used to be – lying coiled like a spring, dreaming of recalcitrant children and OFSTED inspectors with daleks for heads. I once dreamed that my entire class had turned into adult versions of themselves and were sitting with their knees scrunched under the tables, with car-keys and mobiles where their pencil cases ought to be. To say nothing of the odd I-forgot-to-get-dressed dream and the Whoops-no-teeth dream. I can honestly say I love my job. But do I ever have these dreams on non-work days? Never.


Sometimes on school nights, when my brain is addled and active and rolling like a sackful of cats, I pretend I don’t have to get up the next day. It’s magic. I can feel myself melting and spreading like heated honey, stretching across the bed, toes tucked into cool, linen on skin, sleeping like a starfish. Sadly my husband doesn’t really appreciate the starfish thing. But then he doesn’t spend his day hunched over children’s work or wedged into chairs the size of fruit crates.

My favourite way to wake up is, slowly on summer Saturdays. The window’s open and, as I surface, I’m reeled into shore by breeze or birdsong or the lemon lift of curtains. The bed is a criss-cross of light and shade and I stretch, luxurious, into the warm bits for extra snooze. Because I can.

Sleep is really the most curious thing. I can’t think about it too much otherwise I can’t do it, but it’s such an interesting concept, this Let’s- press- the- Off- button- and -shut -ourselves- down- thing, and we do it every night mostly without thinking much. The more active among us may resent it – “Sleep, those little slices of death – how I loathe them!” wrote Edgar Allan Poe. But I prefer Arthur Schopenhauer’s: “Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death; and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed. “

A happy little note to end on. God knew what he was doing when he invented Sleep mode. A breath, a pause, a taste of that other life – where no amount of rushing around will bring you what you yearn for. But there is rest, strength, hope for the new day.


A Celtic prayer and gift from my dear friend Norita Erickson whose early death left so many of us in shock. But she lives still, I know she does…

Human Sleep mode – the human being is still alive but uses low power. Options stay open so when the human wakes up, you’re not back to where you left off. You’re given another chance.





Tea and Other Transforming Things

I refuse to believe you get fussier as you get older  more experienced (we’ve banned the “o” word in our house due to occasional bouts of melancholy). I mean it’s true that answering the question, “Can I get you a cup of tea?” is slightly long-winded these days  – “Yes please, quite strong, but not too strong. If you pour water over the teabag, go in search of milk and spoon, then squeeze the bag hard, adding about 50 ml of milk, that should be fine!” And in response to bewildered looks from colleagues, “Er, thanks!” But…this only signifies a developed appreciation for the little things in life, having accepted long ago that the bigger things, however promising, are unlikely to bring the transformational delight once anticipated.

It’s the same with mugs. At school, while younger colleagues are grabbing any receptacle likely to restrain a few mouthfuls of caffeine from lolloping unpleasantly down their leggings, I’m usually scrutinising the cupboard for just the right mug. It has to be large, of pleasant appearance – none of this World’s Best Teacher with picture of a fat teddy  for me – and preferably with gently sloping sides so you don’t surprise yourself with scalding tea across the face while swigging wildly during playtime arbitrations. (It’s so much better if you can squint down the length of your nose while delivering a lecture, to see what’s coming.)

I'm actually quite fond of this one. A child bought it for me because they'd run out of Best Teacher ones. I said "What is they'd had Second Best Teacher ones? He said that would've been fine as actually his Reception teacher had been the favourite

I’m actually quite fond of this one. A child bought it for me because they’d run out of Best Teacher mugs. I said “What if they’d had Second Best Teacher ones?” He said that would’ve been fine because actually the Reception teacher had been his favourite.

At home it’s different. I have three mugs, one for each part of the day. In the morning, I use the pale blue with the flowers on. It’s just the right size, shape and soothing colour for groggy-eyed school days. On non-school, it’s not really big enough so  I have a second one. For the afternoon, the most important cuppa of the day, I use the robin mug. Now this mug has a special place in my heart as it was given me by a child after we’d completed a topic on birds. I told the class about our robin and how he visits us every year and sits on the washing line or the log pile, his bright eyes and slab of red somehow comforting against grey skies and sadness. (I loved that class as they were gripped by my stories.) At Christmas I received the mug from a child who said it would remind me of my robin. Maybe his mother is a serious tea drinker for it’s actually the perfect mug for a 4 o’clock-ish cup of tea. Shortly after, I have to start on the decaff but this mug is great for the final cup of hard stuff – not too big, dainty, made of fine china, the handle just the right size for a fattening finger, and a tiny lip at the top for the occasional slurper.

Morning mug

Morning mug

My evening mug was demoted that Christmas from the afternoon. It’s a pleasant shape for tired fingers and has a pretty apple design. What I like most are the tiny apple leaves on the inside of the lip. Very tasteful.

So you don’t get fussier as you get ol more experienced, you just care differently. Gone are the days when you wanted fame and fortune, or a day with George Clooney, or a body like Mrs Clooney. You’re not particularly interested in status or exotic holidays or expensive jewellery. These things may have mattered once but they don’t now. The fact that you are healthy-ish and alive, and can (mostly) remember what you went into rooms for, you have a life-work balance and your children are independent and sane and able to run their lives without you – these things give great pleasure. As do sunsets and trees and a square or two of Green and Black’s chocolate.


Will there be tea and bone china in heaven? My daughter tells me I once promised her there’d be ball-pools in heaven and if she finds there aren’t, she’ll never forgive me. Well, I think God, who invented tea and ball-pools, would not set eternity in our hearts for no reason. It must be a pretty great place to be. And I believe that, for Sheila and Norita and my grand-parents, and maybe David Bowie and Alan Rickman (who knows?) and for others I have loved, unlike life’s big things, this thing did in fact bring the transformational delight they were anticipating. The biggest adventure of all.

Of course one still wants adventure here. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m settling for a dull life without the excitement of new things. Which is why I’m making a momentous decision: I’m chucking the morning and evening mugs. I want the robin mug all the time really.







Welcome to my new home.


The front entrance

 Not the easiest place to get to but you can cross at low tide. It’s only 3 miles along the causeway. You should note though that the island is cut off twice a day when the sea returns and the road disappears under pleated water. You may wish to look carefully at the Tide Tables. Otherwise you might end up like this:

You approach the island from the north so you get your first glimpse of the place beyond the village. A huddle of houses, a spire, a ruined priory. Then you see it – Beblowe Crag, a jagged tooth of whinstone and perched upon it a fairy tale castle.


View from the village

Holy Island or Lindisfarne is a tiny island off the coast of Northumbria in the North Sea. The Vikings liked to invade it and so did the Scots, so it was fortified around 1570 and remained defensive until Scottish James 1 became king of England in 1603. The two kingdoms were combined and the castle became a garrison, a naval store and then a coastguard station.

At the beginning of the twentieth century a tourist went for a walk, found it and fell in love. Luckily for Edward Hudson, as founder of Country Life Magazine he had the money to indulge his new passion. When he bought the lease from the crown in 1901, he declared, “I want to have fun with the place.” His friend Edwin Lutyens was a gifted architect and together they refurbished the castle in the seventeenth century Dutch style – simple, beautiful, understated. It’s like walking straight into a Vermeer painting.


The landing


My bedroom

Now owned by the National Trust, the rooms remain fully furnished as if the owner’s just popped out for a bit. You can wander round with your nose in the air, mentally clad in a bustle and crushed velvet, pretending the old man behind you is your butler. Any minute, with a swish of your skirts, you could swing round and declare in your best BBC accent, “I thenk we’ll teek tea in the Droring Room today…”

I don't even know who these people are. They followed me right in!

I don’t even know who these people are! They followed me in…

I love the whole castle but I think my favourite parts are the kitchen…

Imagine peeling potatoes with a view like that! You'd probably hurt yourself...

Imagine peeling potatoes with a view like this! You’d probably hurt yourself…

…And the Upper Battery (roof terrace)


The view from the Upper Battery

You can see hundreds of seals from here. You can also see the priory, unused since 1550 when Henry VIII disbanded it. Since 635, through the work of Aidan and Cuthbert and later the famous Lindisfarne Gospels, Holy Island and its priory had been the cradle of English Christianity.  Henry had the stones from the priory used to build the castle.

A wise friend once said that our longing for beautiful homes is really a hunger for heaven. I love that. A home in heaven that won’t get old and cruddy. On earth you have to spend so much time and money to keep stuff looking good. Hudson found this with Lindisfarne. Having bought it in 1918, he sold it three years later. He simply couldn’t afford to run the place.

It would still be my dream home. But it might be a pain if you run out of milk and need to borrow from the neighbours. And I bet the delivery charge on a Tesco’s shop is scandalous.  The winters are pretty grim too. According to a National Trust employee who stays there, it’s no fun stumbling around at night in a power cut looking for the loo.

Perhaps I’ll stay here for the time being. After all I haven’t actually told the National Trust I’m moving in yet.  I suppose my Saturday lie-ins might be a problem in the tourist season. I could wear my silk pyjamas. They’d fit right in. If I’m lucky no one will even notice I’m there…

If you could have the home of your dreams, where would it be and why?