Two o’clock diary: Bruckner 4, birdwatchers and chamomile tea


I went to bed first. At 11pm. I was really tired. Drained. Exhausted.

It’s only Monday for crying out loud. I’ve had two days a relative peace and now one day of the working week and I’m ready to pull the duvet over my ears and ignore the rest of the week. These are weird times. Even for me.

I was definitely sleepy when my head hit the pillow. But our ageing cat stretched out across the foot of the bed made for significantly reduced foot space. And there’s something swelling underneath my jaw that is making it difficult to swallow. Its all very difficult to relax even though I want to sleep. Now my partner is snoring. And still the day buzzes around in my head intent on keeping me awake. Even the most robust of sleep strategies can’t tackle this one.

So I find myself awake, sat at the kitchen table draped in a blanket with obligatory mug of chamomile tea.

Earlier this evening (before I went to bed) I learned from Facebook that an old school associate had, after an extended period of grief brought on by the loss of her husband, found love again. They both looked blissfully happy. And it is oh so uplifting to hear. The thing we all feared may not happen ever because of her pain, has only gone and happened. We all need to hear more that lifts the soul.

A few hours later (even though I should know better) as the bed rumbled gently, I’d reckoned with myself that looking at my phone might be a strategy that would help me get to sleep. It really doesn’t. And tonight during my last ditched attempt to get back to sleep I scroll past some heartbreaking news. The husband of a colleague who I worked with at the BBC Press Office has died. It makes me gasp as I read it. They were around about the same age as me. I had only messaged the colleague a week ago to check in with her. “Still battling on. It’s not looking great. Still battling on.”

I didn’t know him, only her. But I know they were devoted to one another. Avid birdwatchers. I worked with her and frequently found myself supported by her considerable generosity and warmth, not to mention her eye for detail and love of numbers which often compensated for mine. Her easy conversation. Her sincerity. To think of her now knowing this news I’ve just discovered on my mobile phone is to think of her alone, abandoned.

The sorrow of her loss made more intense by the loss of freedom, the uselessness of video communication, the strain of constantly trying to work out what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month or even beyond. The idea that I can’t reach out to her easily to provide her with the simplest of physical gestures makes the empathy one feels all the heavier.

It isn’t that this period of time encourages or validates squatting in amongst other people’s drama, loss or pain. Instead, it is that the loss of physical connection we’ve all been subjected to makes the yearning for it, especially in a moment of need for someone for whom you care about, all the greater. In some cases too much to handle. Empathy is a bastard.

I scrabbled around for something to listen to. Schubert Impromptus unexpectedly too rich. Haydn Piano Sonatas from Leif Ove Andsnes too percussive and perhaps even hectoring.

I ended up with the opening of Bruckner 4 of all things. A shimmering beginning, distant calls from the horns. Lots of depth. Weight and strength. A sense of an epic struggle, and a sense of joyous defiance. These are not objective descriptions, only what I hear and respond to in this moment. There is a steady persistence in the repeated chords and triumphant fanfares that conclude the movement. This is an uneasy conclusion – there is more to the journey yet to go on. But maybe I’ll get to that tomorrow.