I have two sets of friends – those who don’t call me in the afternoon because they think I might be taking a nap, and those who do for the same reason.
Like Samuel Coleridge, I sometimes get calls from insurance agents. But I leave no poem unfinished. Or even started.
The Greeks who have gods for everything don’t have one for the afternoon nap. The Titans who even have a god for afterthoughts and excuses were clearly folks to whom the siesta was something waiting to be invented. And no, the rumour that he slept just for four hours a day – sometimes the amount some of us sleep after lunch – is not the reason Mr Bonaparte Sr. named his son ‘Nap’ Oleon.
Keats didn’t think it worthwhile to write an ode to the afternoon nap, perhaps because a nightingale interrupted his effort once, as he tells us in an ode to that bird which begins:
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk.
Non-nappers might have no idea what he is talking about but those who like to doze off a bit to break up their day know he is describing the approach of drowsiness following a meal with plenty of liquids. That might be the most misunderstood poem in the English language; Keats’s attempt at writing an ode to the nap is somehow being read as one to a bird that sings and keeps everybody up. That was a poem which was written in a couple of hours in the morning; had Keats written it at night we might have had an ode to an owl. Or even an ode to the public transport system outside every city-dweller’s window.
I tend to doze off – let me admit this frankly with that honesty for which I am known from one end of my table to the other – while watching cricket matches in the afternoon. A casual glance to see that everything is in order and then off I go with the words of an excited commentator ringing in my ears. When I wake up a couple of wickets have fallen and my efforts are then focussed on finding out what has already happened rather than on what will happen.
But it’s not just at home. I tend to drop off as soon as I get into my seat in an aircraft. The Safety Lecture is in any case high on the list of Things We Don’t Listen To.
“Welcome to Flight No. 3.1415, which as some of you know is the value of pi,” begins the safety lecturer holding up what looks like a popcorn packet with wires attached. “Some passengers are stored under your seats, and in the event of a crash, please make sure you get their names and addresses. In the unlikely event of our reaching our destination on time, oxygen masks will drop from the nearby aircraft; please grab one and fall asleep because we are going to take our time getting to the terminal in our usual delayed fashion. Should any of you require any assistance on landing, please walk through the door marked ‘Exit’ and trouble somebody else on the road.”
Or at least that’s what it sounds like through the mists of my nap.
“Hi folks, I am your pilot,” begins the folksy pilot. “If you look out of the window on the right, you can see my house which I purchased twenty years ago and am still paying for; on your left is the house my wife bought after we were divorced. I need to get out of this job and do something that brings in more money. Like baby sitting or pretending to be the echo in Echoing Mountains. Anyway, we are flying over the Grand Canyon, or is that the Eiffel Tower? I’ll tell you in a minute...”
Meanwhile, the steward bends forward with an expectant look in his eyes. “Do you want to eat some duty free shopping now, sir, or shall I bring you the small bag with fake peanuts on an elaborate trolley so you can buy a couple for your girlfriend as earrings?”
Coleridge might have been woken up by an insurance agent. Cricket commentators, pilots and stewards put me to sleep. And then my princess charming arrives – a phone call – to bring me back to earth again.