The Stomach at 3.00AM

Midway through the first week of 2006 and the New Year’s Eve nausea has not lifted. In fact, I have developed new symptoms. Apart from the temperature fluctuations, headaches, body aches and nausea, I’ve been subject to weird emotional highs-and-lows. One minute I am planning suicide, the next I am buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm.

I stayed home from work today. I tried to do a few minor household chores rather than mope around, but I shouldn’t have bothered. After an unsuccessful attempt at rearranging the kitchen cupboards, I lose my temper with a frying pan and burst into tears. Moments later I am angry and hurl a spatula across the room. The day continues in a similar fashion.

At midday, I eat a small can of pineapple (it’s the only thing that doesn’t make me feel sick) and watch television. My mood is stable. However, when I hear the mid-70s bubblegum tune ‘January’ by Pilot on the neighbour’s radio, I start sobbing. I lay down and fall asleep, but wake screaming only minutes later after a nightmare involving toy soldiers and a giant rabbit. At 3.30pm I am reading a book about hypnosis. At 6.00pm I am having dinner with my daughters, and everything appears normal (except for the fact that they eat schnitzel and I eat pineapple).

I am left alone in the evening and decide to go to bed early, but cannot sleep. I am still awake when my daughters come home, and then go to bed. I am still awake at 1.00am. I get up and work on some images I’ve been preparing for my new website. I spend an hour manipulating an image of Paris Hilton’s left nipple. At 3.00am I read some of ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ by C.S. Lewis. I read the real estate section of last weekend’s newspaper. I decide my next house will have turrets and a moat.

At about 4.30am I attempt to write some poetry. I write random lines about the things I can see and hear.

the wind delights
in the lack of traffic
careers up and down the street

trees, bushes dance in admiration

only the clock and I are awake

the clock beats me with its whip

yesterday’s things are still fast asleep
the clothes are draped across furniture, exhausted
the books are perched on shelves, wings folded

I crawl to the rim of my pillow
poised at the edge of sleep
but unable to jump

When my eyes start to shut involuntarily, I put away the pen and paper and lay down on my bed. But as soon as my head hits the pillow I am fully awake again. At 5.30am I give up all hope of sleep, and eat breakfast. At 7.00am I am reading the morning news on the Internet and getting ready for work.

At 8.15am I sit on the sofa, dressed for work in my suit and tie. I was meant to catch the bus at 8.10am, but feel so sick I can barely walk. My sleepless night has worsened the feeling of nausea. I am now shaking, and feel pale and clammy. I ring the office to tell them I will not be at work again, then I ring the local medical centre to make yet another appointment with the doctor. I decide that I am either allergic to sleep, or suffering from some kind of bizarre as-yet-unnamed syndrome.

Later, while waiting for the doctor, I try and think of a name for my syndrome.

The Year in Review – a Review

One of the things I like most about the Christmas/New Year period is the appearance of the ‘best of year’ lists – music, movies, celebrity couples, royal babies etc.

Not that you can take them very seriously; they tell you more about the publication’s readership or editorial angle than the quality of the actual item. Look at the music lists, for example. The NME, a UK music institution, is rabidly Anglo in its selection of the ‘best of 2005’ – Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, Editors, Engineers, Babyshambles all feature, while Pitchfork magazine, the voice of alternative America, includes indie favourites Deerhoof, Wolf Parade, New Pornographers, Animal Collective and the Decemberists among the year’s best.

Meanwhile, Q magazine, whose readership seems to be confined to Oasis, Coldplay, Radiohead and Texas (yes, Texas) fans, voted ‘X + Y’ as the best of the year, possibly the only magazine in the world to do so.

Rolling Stone’s ‘best of’ list is peppered with rock ‘n’ roll icons like Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and Paul MacCartney, indicative of its more ‘mature’, conservative readership.

In the quest for lists and reviews I’ve recently discovered, an internet resource which gathers review information on games, movies, music and books from around the world, and using a ‘magical formula’ determines the overall critical response to a particular release. Metacritic also contains a handy summary page of the major ‘Top 10’ end-of-year lists, and a ‘definitive’ list of the ‘best reviewed’ albums of the year.

According to Metacritic’s calculations, Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Illinois’ is the ‘best reviewed’ cd of 2005, having featured in 27 ‘best of’ lists and nominated ‘best album’ on 7 of those lists. Other ‘best reviewed’ albums include Kanye West, Antony & the Johnsons, My Morning Jacket and MIA.

‘Illinois’ also topped my own personal ‘best of’ list, which looks like a hybrid of the UK and US favourites, with a couple of ‘outsiders’ thrown in for good measure:

1. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
2. LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem
3. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
4. Beck – Guero
5. The Go-Betweens – Oceans Apart
6. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
7. Franz Ferdinand – You Could Have It So Much Better
8. Mercury Rev – The Secret Migration
9. My Morning Jacket – Z
10. Architecture In Helsinki – In Case We Die
11. Editors – The Back Room
12. Engineers – Engineers
13. Ladytron – Witching Hour
14. The Duke Spirit – Cuts Across The Land
15. Sleater-Kinney – The Woods

‘Illinois’ should actually be listed a few points higher – not just one – than any other album on the list – it’s that good! A ridiculously ambitious pop symphony that manages to weave UFOs, serial killers, Frank Lloyd Wright, zombies, Superman and much more into its 75 minutes.

With another 48 states to cover in his ’50 states’ saga, Sufjan Stevens is going to be kept busy until the middle of the century, long after I’ve left the planet. I’ll be happy as long as I get to hear his take on my favourite US state – Maryland.*

In the meantime, a New Year beckons, and it’s time to start a new list…

* I always imagine some sort of giant theme park. Y’know, Disneyland, Movieland, Maryland etc…

New Year’s Nausea

For the first time in years I actually want to go to a New Year’s Party, and find myself too sick to even stand (isn’t that how New Year’s Eve is meant to end, not start?) Most years I feign illness to avoid New Year’s Eve, with its depressingly desperate attempts at frivolity, and spend the evening watching tv or reading in peace and perfect health. This year my body has rebelled. I even begin to wonder if, after years of imitating illness at this time of the year, my body has begun to actually assume a set of symptoms (a sort of ‘body that cried sick’ syndrome).

At 11.00am, I am allowing the shopping trolley to push me around the supermarket. At 2.00pm, I am laying on the floor halfway between the bucket and the sofa. By 7.00pm I have given up all hope of celebration, and curl in a foetal position on my bed. Apart from the overwhelming nausea, I ache all over and suffer from weird temperature fluctuations. One minute I am icy, the next I am sweating.

My daughter and her boyfriend have been working all day, and have decided to stay home and spend the night watching tv. I soon wonder if they wish they hadn’t gone out after all. Every now and again I call out for help – a cool flannel, a glass of water, a bucket. I imagine they turn up the volume of the tv in an attempt to drown out my moaning.

I find myself slipping in and out of an increasingly bizarre series of dreams, all of which end with me screaming, crying or falling out of bed. I dream that I am trapped under my bed. I dream that I am trapped in an alternate reality and cannot move my legs. I dream that I have gone back in time. It is 1983. My family live in Iceland. I visit them and cry when my dead sister talks to me (she is taller than I remember.)

I dream that a cat has gone to sleep on my face, and I wake up gasping for breath. I dream that I am watching a Woody Allen western. I dream that Gene Hackman is presenting a lecture on animation. I dream that my workplace has initiated a complex bathroom roster. We now have to share toilet time. I don’t like the idea of unzipping in front of the receptionist.

When I dream that someone else is trapped under my bed, I decide ‘enough is enough’ and give up trying to sleep. I lay in the dark listening to the clock tick and the muffled sounds of television from the next room. As midnight approaches, I hear people in the next street count down the New Year, then cheer and set off firecrackers. Strangely enough, about ten minutes later, I hear another group of people doing the same thing in another direction. I realise that one of them must have been a dream…