Drifting off

I wrote here recently about being a keen consumer of catch-up telly and radio. I wanted to write a little bit about silence and how I find it hard to deal with, particularly at night when I am trying to sleep. My brain is usually very busy with my synapses and connections whirring. It doesn’t stop at night. Usually at the moment I can just crash out without too much difficulty. A lot of the time, though, that isn’t possible as my brain is still working over the affairs of the day or what I have just been reading or watching. I usually put the radio on quietly and fall asleep to that, normally. Normally it’s Radio 4, drifting away to the Midnight News, the Shipping Forecast and sometimes the World Service and waking up slowly to people shouting on the Today programme. If I am unlucky, it’s Thought For The Day, just as the padre or vicar turns from being topical to bringing God into it to muck it all up.

For a couple of years, I listened to podcasts to help me sleep. Mainly it would be Desert Island Discs, conversational and occasionally insightful. I like interviews and radio as conversation rather than just arguing. Radio allows for more depth as a general rule than telly and I often get kept up longer than intended by what I hear by night, usually on the World Service.

One of the things that soothes me most is rhythmic monotony, by which I mean announcements at train stations or particularly the Shipping Forecast, a recitation of weather information that so often takes on the poetic. I have been wide awake as Sailing By finishes at 00:48 and sound asleep only a few moments later as the weather for Humber, Thames, Wight, Portland and Plymouth is being read out from a booth somewhere in central London to an audience of insomniacs and the occasional mariner. I sometimes sit on train stations and listen to the recitation of train services or about to depart. Sometimes I myself like to read out train service information, just to myself, relishing the flow of language, like a string in programming terms, information connected only by this particular event, the 15:48 to Helensburgh or whatever.

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A place that features on the Shipping Forecast: Berwick upon Tweed

Strangely, though, I find it easier to take in information in written form than aurally. Writing gives the possibility of reading over more than once. If I need to revise, however, I read it out, again and again, hearing it, reciting over and over until I have it and I can work with it in my mind from there. Radio is more controlled than television, it is more intimate and it appeals to me, I think, because I often deal with sensory overload and radio deals with just one sense whereas TV can deal with at least two. It helps my brain to power down, removing sensory input one bit at a time.

Tonight I am writing this with the backdrop of various radio programmes in the background. I was just listening to a programme from the perspective of teenagers, which was incredibly insightful. Right now I am listening to a Ted talk by an Australian singer called Megan Washington who has a stutter. After this, I will probably just turn on the radio as I am really tired and it’s after midnight as I type these words. Hopefully I will just drift away into pleasant slumber, ready to wake in the morning just a wee bit refreshed, maybe even intellectually with what I heard as I woke. We can only but see.

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