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Usually I’m Anthony Trollope, but not this week

In previous pieces I have mentioned Universal Knowledge, with the understanding that there isn’t much of it, and that some people’s idea of what is universally known is very different from other people’s ideas. Porlock, Battleship Potemkin, Cargo Cult: I never assume that these terms are familiar to friends and family. And the same goes with the name Anthony Trollope. People I speak to, or people who read these words, might have read every book that he wrote, or they might never have heard of him.

Ten years ago I could have summarized my knowledge of him with three facts: he was a prolific Victorian novelist (his books included “The Warden”, “Barchester Towers”, indeed the whole “Barsetshire Chronicles” series); he is credited with inventing the post box in his day job working for the post office; and he is the favourite author of former Prime Minister John Major. He is also an ancestor of the contemporary novelist Joanna Trollope. (And for the record I haven’t read any books by either Trollope, Anthony or Joanna.)

Since reading this article from Oliver Burkeman in 2009 I have thought of Anthony Trollope primarily for his daily habits. As the article states, Trollope would get up early and write between 5am and 8am before heading to his day job. And even if he finished one book during that three-hour stretch he would just carry on and start his next book. I have told this story dozens of times.

I often get up around 5am, and say to myself “I’m Anthony Trollope”, or explain my habits to others as “keeping Anthony Trollope hours”. I usually have to explain the reference. Unlike Trollope I don’t get three uninterrupted hours, but I am happy if I can get 90 minutes before other members of the family wake. It’s an introvert thing: I need time to myself. When I was younger, time to myself was always late at night, especially those hours between midnight and 3am. We might call this “Keith Richards Time”, but only if you could carry on till the children have gone to school and you can spend the day in bed.

It took a while to rearrange my sleep patterns. As someone who habitually stayed up late at night there was a deep-seated feeling that I might be missing out on something by going to bed early. But as you get older you can replace FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) with JOMO (the Joy of Missing Out), also summarized by Oliver Burkeman in this excellent article.

I blame “The Tyranny of Live Sport” for thousands of hours spent doing things that I hadn’t planned. A live tennis match goes on for 5 hours rather than 3, there’s a tense run-chase in a cricket One Day International, or a commentator like John McEnroe or Michael Johnson is broadcasting and I have to listen.

But I can also thank live sport for helping me to change my sleeping habits. In the winter of 2010/11 I followed the England cricket team’s Ashes tour of Australia very keenly. I assumed that I would follow the matches late at night, maybe stay up till 2am and struggle to get 5 hours in bed before heading to work the next day. Matches typically begin at midnight UK time and finish around 7am (although it’s different in Perth, Western Australia). During the 2006/07 Ashes tour I would stay up till 2 or 3am to watch the first session of play, often with my new-born daughter asleep in her Moses basket beside me, or lying with her head on my shoulder. England lost that tour so heavily that I wasn’t tempted to stay up any later than 2am to watch. And our sleeping patterns were all over the place with a 2 year old and a 2 month old to take care of. In 2010/11 however the children were 4 and 6 and I experimented with going to bed before 9pm, for the first time in my adult life. I would wake between 3 and 4am, tune into Test Match Special on the radio, and then (because England were typically playing so well on that tour) I would head downstairs to watch live. By 5am I had made my coffee, eaten my breakfast and felt ready for the day ahead. I even joined a gym at this time so that I could have a swim at 6.30am before the kids headed to school and nursery, and my working day began. And England won that series, their first victory in Australia since 1986/87.

This experience has given me habits that I had never formed before. I can now go to bed before 9pm knowing that I can get up between 3 and 4am. This has been useful for early morning flights, early starts at work, or just having time to myself. But this week I have had two late nights in a row – in bed after 2am on Tuesday and Wednesday night (an Arsenal football match one night and a late-night gig at the Blues Kitchen in Camden Town the next). Usually I’m Anthony Trollope, but not this week. And it doesn’t feel right.


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