For those who, like me, have trouble dropping off to sleep sometimes, there are all manner of deep sleep videos on YouTube or apps you can install on your mobile phone all of which promise to send you into a deep and refreshing
slumber within half an hour. I haven’t actually tried any of them out for myself although my purpose in writing this blog (apart from hopefully entertaining you) is to introduce you to my own, personal sleep-inducing aid.
When the Eldest of the Darling Daughters was a new-born, Mr B and I - every bit as sleep-deprived as any first-time parents - were astonished to discover by happy accident a way of soothing our tiny
daughter to sleep. We only discovered it when Gracie Fields came on the radio singing “Sally, Sally, pride of our alley” in her distinctive high, high voice - and immediately our littl’un went off to sleep. It may, of course, have been a
Unfortunately - and possibly understandably - we didn’t possess any Gracie Fields records at the time, nor did the radio oblige by playing
“Sally” again so we weren’t able to test out our theory. Nevertheless we never forgot the blessed three hours of respite which Gracie and Sally-in-the-Alley granted us that day.
The advantage of my sleep aid is that you can guarantee that it will be played for you on BBC Radio Four twice a night without fail, once at 00.48 and again at 5.20 a.m. I am, of course, talking about that most quintessentially
of all British traditions - the Shipping Forecast. It has been described as being quirkier than cricket and one of the greatest examples of the classic British understatement. I don’t understand a word of it but that doesn’t matter, it isn’t
actually intended for me but for all the mariners (ancient or otherwise) out at sea in the dark waters. Just thinking of them, far away in the cold blackness, listening in and noting down that vital information about the weather conditions in “Viking,
Forth, Tyne, Dogger” and the rest is enough to have me snuggling down under the comfort of my duvet, full of sleepy thankfulness.
If, as is often the
case for me, you are tuned in and waiting for the forecast just after midnight, there is the added bonus of listening to “Sailing By”, which sets the scene beautifully for what is to follow, while at the same time apparently helping sailors find
the right frequency. This isn’t particularly useful for me at the moment but you never know, do you, when I might find myself out in Cromarty or German Bight, fiddling with my compass and long range radio? Immediately after this Shipping Forecast, the
National Anthem is played, signalling the end of Radio 4 for the day and the start of the World Service. It is probably best, should you be the kind of patriotic person like my dear Mum who insisted everybody stand up for the National Anthem, to be asleep
by this time, lulled by the thought of visibility in Lundy being “moderate to good, occasionally poor”.
I speak as one who often catches both
the 00.48 and the 5.20 versions (after trips downstairs to Answer The Call from Mr B) when I say that there is no other lullaby quite like the Shipping Forecast. Catch it if you can.
It might not work for everybody. Some years ago now, when grandson Sam (Eldest of the Not So Little Welsh Boys) was just a baby, we had a wonderful family holiday in France, taking over a large, well-equipped and truly beautiful gîte in Normandy.
On one particular evening, Sam’s parents - Our Boy and the Darling Daughter-in-law - decided to take advantage of for once having live-in baby-sitters by having a quiet meal out, just the two of them.
Sam, maybe sensing their absence, took a while to settle; indeed it was only by rocking him in my arms while chanting: “Little Sam Ball / little Sam Ball / little Sam, little Sam / Little Sam Ball” that he finally
dropped off to sleep. It was my own Gracie Fields / Shipping Forecast moment, you might say.
When Sam’s parents returned from their night out, their first
question was how their little lad had been while they were away. I waited for somebody to draw attention to my successful soothing, anticipating (i) the gratitude and (ii) the congratulations which would doubtless be heading my way. The Youngest of the Darling
Daughters was quick to respond:
“He dropped off in the end - Mum bored him to sleep...”