This week a book that probably did save my life. One of my mum’s favourite stories about my childhood is the moment when dad came home to discover her standing at the top of the stairs brandishing her screaming baby. ‘I can’t stand it any more!’ she screamed, threatening to chuck me at him.
I wasn’t what you might call a good sleeper as an infant, but I did enjoy a good bedtime story. So when mum discovered a book called ‘Wide Awake Jake’ it must have seemed like manna from heaven: A story that connected my name with the idea of going the fuck to sleep.
The Jake in the story shared my inability to switch off at bedtime, no matter how many stories his long suffering family tell him. Eventually his mum, a ‘doll faced young adult‘, tells him to go back to bed and simply YAWN.
This way he will be able to reach the castle of the mysterious Yami of Yawn, a man who holds the elusive secret of sleep.
But first Jake must make his way through a set of stock fairy tale obstacles. Dragons, giants and lions all block the dressing-gowned hero’s progress. But he remembers his mum’s advice,’when you meet a danger you just YAWN and all will be well.’
Jake finally makes it to the palace of the Yami, a vaguely Indian guru type, who invites our hero to a feast of jellies, sweets and bottles of pop. Surely the last thing you want to give an insomniac child at bedtime? Inevitably the pair fall about the place with a fit of sugar induced giggles. The punchline being, of course, that they are already asleep.
I’m not sure if Wide Awake Jake really did help me sleep, but I identified with it hugely – and still do. Those piles of books littering Jake’s bedroom floor (including Struwwelpeter – what were they thinking) show a very similar scene to the one in my daughter’s bedroom, night after weary night.
The Yami of Yawn never did reveal to me the secret of getting to sleep, but that didn’t matter any more. The truth is that for those of us with overactive imaginations, there are just too many good stories to be read to have time for sleep.