Category Archives: Bedtime Story

Northern Hands

I have northern hands. They are my grandfather’s on my mother’s side: squared off, sturdy, safe?

I see my grandad spinning a knife on the polished dining table after tea – the bone handle spinning, silver plated SHEFFIELD slowing, slowing, ready to point out the person who would be doing the washing up.

My grandad always did the washing up. And peeled the vegetables.

I do the same, but I don’t spin a knife.

I have his hands and they are northern, Lancashire hands, worn in with the good earth and the pit dust of somewhere like Newton-in-Makerfield. I have the hands that he was yet to grow into as a boy, walking through the Queensway Tunnel under the River Mersey with an uncle the night before it opened in the summer of 1934. I have the hands that dovetailed joints and played ludo and grew vegetables and wrote a PhD about the infinity of numbers. I have those hands, and the stories that lie in them, and I’m grateful.

My daughter's hands

My daughter’s hands

My mother has them too.

The Philosophy of Forgiveness

I have a long-standing habit of listening to spoken word at bedtime. I suppose I can roundly blame my mother for this, as she was a dedicated 1970s bedtime story reader. (It is fashionable to lump everything on upbringing these days, but hopefully for not too much longer as we finally consent to grow up as a generation and take responsibility for ourselves. In the meantime, I also blame Philip Larkin for pointing it out.)

Furthermore, I can blame my poor mother for an association my tired brain makes which is spoken word + head on pillow + close eyes = fall asleep in short order. It is, you understand, the spoken word that is the guaranteed soporific. Oftentimes, I try to close eyes + head on pillow and all that = is dancing thoughts leaping and pirouetting in my brain and keeping me awake.

My mother read me fiction, not the newspaper, so once I was older I replaced her with Charles Dickens. Not the actual Charles Dickens sitting on the bed, but an actor’s voice reading Dickens’ words – Great Expectations on audio. As I would fall asleep in short order it took years to hear the whole thing all the way through, albeit completely out of sequence. Then I broke my tape recorder and moved onto the radio – Radio 4, the World Tonight with Robin Lustig to be precise. The thing was, that the news would quite often rev me up, rather than wind me down, and after many, many years of this habit, I knocked it on the head as a bad job on many counts.

I moved on to Melvyn Bragg and the In Our Time podcasts, which are actually too long at three quarters of an hour for a bedtime story. The earpiece I wear to avoid broadcasting the show around the house (I am a little deaf) gets uncomfortable, so I don’t drop off into a deep sleep, rather I snooze uneasily and fitfully as Melvyn bustles his guests along, snapping at their heels all the while.

Which is a very lengthy preamble to say that now I listen to a rather excellent set of *podcasts by Philosophy Bites which is where I came across the philosopher Lucy Allais’ rather interesting interview on forgiveness.

Which I will say more about tomorrow, and illustrate with a song.

I know. You can’t wait.

*at about 15 – 20 minutes the perfect length for bedtime, and sufficiently engaging to nod off to. When the subject matter is intellectually taxing (that’s you Daniel Dennett) I simply employ the method I used as a child when my mother read certain sections of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and become immediately comatose.