Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Uhtceare

I wondered if I couldn't sleep last night because I had had a couple of glasses of wine, but that doesn't normally stop me (or, indeed, have any noticeable effect at all - I'm made of sterner stuff than that). More likely it was the fault of being woken at about 2am by the most infernal racket on the street. Since I quickly diganosed that this was a snow plough, I suppose I had better start getting used to being roused in this nefarious manner. Howbeit, I couldn't get back to sleep by any device whatever, which was most frustrating. I had the same problem when I worked at St Marys, when, although I lived in a little village in rural Oxfordshire, the articulated lorries and other traffic zooming down the hill outside my window would jolt me awake at about 5am, and after an hour or so of silent furious cursing and wishing the most immoderate punishments of motorcyclists, I had to accept I was up for the day. I used to have to go to Streatham (a highly populous and insalubrious district of South London) for a decent night's sleep. No joke.
Last night was the same gig - once woken, no hope of return. I did my Achilles routine of shifting around into every possible position in the hope that the direction I was facing would make some miraculous difference, but nothing. Once you've strted that carry-on you really are awake, and that's fatal: because then the uhtceare start. This fine word is an Anglo-Saxon coinage, a hapaxlegomenon from an anonymous poem called The Wife's Lament. Uhtceare is usually translated as something like "worries around dawn," but I tend to think of it as "that 5am feeling." You know the drill: it's 5am, you can't sleep and every single last tiny insignificant and non-existent anxiety, as well as every huge, important and genuinely pressing one, is crowding in on your mind. No sooner do you manage to chase one away than the next pops up, even uglier and more irrational than the last. They are all distorted and magnified massively because the godless time of day provides no hope of any context, reasoned response, or ability to do anything whatsoever about them, which causes usually manageable but nevertheless deep-seated panic. You have no way of breaking the cycle. You have no perspective. You have no further chance of slumber. What you have is uhtceare.
After a trawl through the standard litany of exams, the trip I haven't packed for, money, dead cat; exams, the trip I haven't packed for, money, dead cat, etc, I realised that I wasn't going to get to sleep, put the light on, and read Hard Times for an hour or so. Not Dickens best. And in no way preferable to a decent night's kip. But better than lying awake thinking of exams, the trip I haven't packed for, money, or my dead and much-missed cat.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You keep a very elegant blog my lady.
It is a pleasure to read and I am sorry I have not contacted you before now to say hello.

Fiona in Glasgow

5:25 p.m.  
Blogger Cie said...

What a fantastic word, thank you, thank you. Over the last fortnight I have been waking fretfully between 4 and 5 am with frequency, but now I have a name for it, perhaps this will abate... Looking forward to seeing you next week.

12:08 p.m.  

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