To Sleep, perchance to dream…

Last night I watched a documentary about sleep paralysis. The unfortunate individuals who suffer from this rare condition all seem to share similar experiences, which include an inability to make any voluntary movement and the belief that shadowy figures enter their bedrooms and threaten them. What each of the eight sufferers all agreed on was that they were fully conscious but incapable of alerting anyone to the perceived threat or defending themselves from it.

nightmare

Sleep is a mysterious but essential activity. Mammals deprived of sleep for more than three days have a tendency to develop psychoses, immune system failure and can die. Dolphins avoid drowning by allowing only one hemisphere at a time to sleep. Swallows do the same thing, which is why the little chaps are able to carry on with their epic migratory flights, without the need to find a landing strip.

dolphin

So, why do people experience sleep paralysis? It is during rapid eye movement sleep phases (REM) that we dream and that’s when the brain needs to be disconnected from it movement centre. Sometimes this lockdown mechanism doesn’t work efficiently and that’s when we are vulnerable to sleepwalking or, in the case of Regina vs Parks, a murder charge. In 1987 Kenneth Parks climbed out of bed, drove 14 miles to his parent-in-laws’ home and attacked the couple, leaving his mother-in-law for dead. He then handed himself into the police but was acting strangely. He was unresponsive to pain, despite severing tendons in both hands and seemed to be in a somnolent state. He came from a family who had a long history of parasomnia.

brain waves

I have, since acquiring my adult teeth, suffered from bruxism (nocturnal teeth grinding). My molars, particularly on the left side are worn flat on top and I had to have both my upper and lower sets realigned when I was in my forties. For the past twenty years I have worn retainers, which don’t prevent the grinding but they do inhibit the damage to my teeth, jaw and marriage. But what they also reduce is the vividness of my dreams. I always dream. They are big, adventurous, scary and more importantly in technicolour. I register reds and greens most frequently, can detect sounds, smells and feel movement. I am also aware that I am dreaming, rather than experiencing reality.

orthodentics What I learned from my orthodontist, who picks up the pieces, is that it is possible that the pain caused by my jaw clamping and tooth grinding, stimulates my brain to produce endogenous enkephalins, which produces a similar dream-like high to that produced by morphine and heroin. So, I suppose I could describe myself as a drug addict but probably less The Wire and more the River Cottage type.

omar river cottage

House sales and anal glands…

I have been a little preoccupied with household matters recently. Beloved Mr. B left last week to film in New Zealand. Alongside his declaration of undying love was the instruction to “sell the house”. I am not unduly fazed by these sort of ex cathedra decisions from my husband nor do I generally pay much heed to them, after all a great many complications can occur during his absence, which will render the application of his wishes as implausible but this time I was in complete agreement. It was time to move on!

It has been our desire for over twenty years to buy a house in South Shropshire, with at least five acres of land where we can create a haven for wildlife. What my husband dismisses with a regal wave of his hand, is that to sell our house requires an enormous input of labour; my labour to be exact. So, I started at the furthest bedroom and began the transformation. Ceiling, walls and skirting boards painted, carpets cleaned and all extraneous clutter recycled or donated. There I was, a woman in possession of a steam cleaner, disposable gloves and a plan. But as we know the ‘best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray’, or in my case, of ferrets and women.

IMG_2393 (1)Gus is our pet ferret and we’ve owned him since he was a kit and he’s now an impressive nine years old. He is an outdoor pet, never having been worked and lives in a large, two tiered enclosure under the sycamore. I would say that despite the odd burst of energy, Gus has committed himself to a twenty-three hour sleep pattern, rising indolently for breakfast and taking a short, lethargic constitutional in the afternoon. I am sure that Gus is extremely happy with this arrangement but to spice up his life, he is often brought into the house to have a play in the annex, which is accessed internally via one door. This enables me to separate him from out terrier Lily, who has a plan of her own for poor Gus. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to forget that he’s in the annex and leave him to it. Two weeks ago I suddenly realised what I’d done and went to look for him, predictably he’d found the pile of dustsheets to bury into and after a lengthy hunt I located him, much to his and my surprise. It was the element of surprise that did it for the future house sale, that and my head cold. Gus, being a card holding member of the mustelidae family, is equipped with anal scent glands, which blow off when the animal is shocked, threatened or generally irritated. Pleased not to have lost the wily fellow I popped him back into his pad and locked up for the night.IMG_1884

In full decorating mode the following morning I spread the dustsheets over the carpet and furniture in our bedroom and began to paint the ceiling and the walls. I love the smell of paint, it wakens the senses and clears the sinuses and, more relevantly, overwhelms the subtle, yet monumentally persistent stench of ferret anal gland secretion. An unpleasant, urine-like smell began to rear its ugly head about an hour into the decorating frenzy. Confused but committed I carried on, finishing late into the evening. I grabbed all of the dustsheets, admired my skill and fortitude and dumped them into the annex workshop. It was only when I got into bed that the smell began to permeate. There didn’t seem to be a source to the stench, or an explanation as to what it was, just the oily, musky smell of bladder weakness. The following day I shampooed the carpet, convinced that it was the source. It barely made a dent in the pong. I bought carpet freshener and ran the cleaner over it again but still the smell persisted, if anything it was digging in, seeping into the bed linen and the upholstery. I had to carry on with the decorating so, leaving all of the windows ajar upstairs, I spread the dustsheets over our leather suite and painted the living room ceiling. It must have taken me about an hour or so before the penny dropped. It was the dustsheets and Gus must have emptied his anal glands into them and now they were leaching the smell all over the sofa. I balled, bagged and binned them, drove to Homebase to purchase a bigger steam cleaner and a box of leather wipes. None of which made any difference.IMG_2397

Two weeks have passed and there is still a heady tang of urine around both rooms. It fades into your subconscious after a few minutes but I can only hope our early viewers are of a forgiving nature.

A Day in the life of… DI Eleanor Raven

Eleanor Raven is the protagonist of The Safe Word and The Vault.

Born in 1982 and educated at Ryerson University, she was promoted to the rank of Detective Inspector for Toronto PD homicide division in 2011.

imagesI always start my day with a good breakfast, as I find lunch is a frequent sacrifice. I like a mixture of oats, granola, berries and a cup of black coffee. Generally, I listen to the local news and flick through yesterday’s paper. I’m out by the time the current edition arrives. Toronto is a city of weather extremes and at the moment it’s hovering around the 4-6 C mark, so trousers are a must (I only own one skirt!), lined, flat-heeled boots, jacket and overcoat. The city does not allow police officers to carry weapons off-duty but as cleaning and maintenance are time consuming and essential, I bring mine to and from duty in my handbag, when I remember to un-holster. I carry a Glock .19 and have never discharged my weapon, apart from on a firing range.

toronto rain

I usually get to my office by 7 30 am, at the latest. This gives me sufficient time to catch up with paperwork, check any reports or results that have been processed over the past twenty-four hours and drink my second cup of coffee as I review the murder board. Once my partner, Detective Whitefoot, arrives there’s not much in the way of reflective time. So, the half hour before he gets here is mine. The murder board is more than just a way of organising photographs, maps and names, it’s a method of sifting the evidence and allowing your unconscious brain to play around with the facts, create a plausible scenario or link people with motivation. I drop my mind into neutral and just wait for the processing to take place.

Laurence’s arrival is a kick-start. He hasn’t created a routine yet and has a tendency to flap around, particularly if he hasn’t dropped Monster off at k9. Today is one of those days and Laurence, who doesn’t seem to recognise the need for routine in others either, will spend ten minutes calling the dog, who is just doing his rounds. Monster makes his way through homicide, takes the back stairs down to the canteen, where I assume he is given his second breakfast, and then comes back. It’s not rocket science and it concerns me that my partner, whom I depend upon to save my life, hasn’t worked out that Monster needs fifteen minutes to carry out his own business.

dog

It’s a slow day. With likely court appearances on the horizon for the Toby Adams case, I am getting my files and notes in order. It seems likely that the DA will be select three of his known murder victims to secure a first-degree conviction for Adams.

At 2.28pm we are called to attend a potential homicide in the Kensington Market region of the city. The patrol officers have already accessed the locked apartment and discovering the occupant in an advanced state of putrefaction, called it in. The body is male, probably over fifty, naked, apart from a pair of underpants and is sprawled between the bedroom and the kitchen. The cause of death appeared to be a gunshot wound to the jaw. The weapon, a small caliber handgun is discovered several feet away from a blood covered wooden chair. A quantity of dried blood has pooled below the chair and several footprints led from it to the victim. Although I have responsibility, as a senior investigating officer, to determine whether the manner of death could be considered suspicious, in this case the forensic investigators and the medical examiner all agree that, unless contradictory evidence is uncovered at the post mortem, it is likely that the victim took his own life. Having placed the gun near to his temple and pulling trigger, the bullet entered just below his cheekbone. He was probably unconscious for several minutes, when most of the blood loss took place. Regaining consciousness, he then staggered towards the bathroom where he collapsed and succumbed to shock.

bloody hand

I arrive back in my apartment at 9.43pm. I run my bath, pour a large glass of wine and let the day’s events percolate.

A Taste of Bangkok

bangkok My husband films abroad for most of the year and if I am to maintain any degree of familiarity, I do the same. I have travelled to North America, Europe, Thailand and Africa in his wake and all have been voyages into the great unknown. Generally speaking the visits have been fabulous opportunities to see wildlife and people otherwise only glimpsed at through media or zoo.

I have visited Bangkok on several occasions, discovering a world where sex is currency, street food should be avoided by delicate western stomachs and a trip in a local taxi could be your last.

street food

The Thais are predominantly Buddhist, their philosophy being that no amount of Health and Safety regulations are likely to interfere with or prevent that karmic moment when your number’s up. So, no seat belts or helmets are worn, though ironically the cabs have little shrines on the dashboard that will help to modify the bad karma imported into the car by unlucky foreigners! There is a horrible sense of impending doom everywhere, bundles of live electrical cables droop heavily onto pedestrian walkways, Rats and cockroaches skitter over street-side food counters, to the dismay of no-one, and motorcycles often bearing more than two passengers, zip along the wrong side of the road and take short cuts along the pavement. This is not a city for the faint-hearted or unwary.

cables

Bangkok, renowned for it’s easy going approach to underage sex, transgender prostitution and open brothels is tempered by its less than relaxed view of drug taking. Getting caught with drugs on or in the vicinity of your person, can result in a long stay in the Bangkok Hilton. This is apparently an ironic title for a prison closer in standard to Dante’s ninth circle of Hell.
However, pushing aside the obvious risks posed, I ventured into ‘Nana Plaza’, the city’s sex mall. It was heaving with Western men of a particular age, education and girth. They sat at numerous open bars, sipping beer and waiting, what for I had no real idea. It could be that the choice was too great, or the constant sexual indulgence was taking its toll on clogged arteries and libido. Whatever the cause, having purchased my entry ticket in the form of a gin and tonic, I was ushered into what I could only consider to be a marketplace. The interior was filled with a central arena, where topless girls, all holding a card with a number on, paraded clockwise, while we (me and a number of paunchy male customers) walked round anti-clockwise. The system had an impeccable logic. You spent the minimum amount of time viewing and, having nominated the lucky girl, wrote down the number and handed it to one of the helpful administrative types that prowled the periphery.

nana

I observed but declined politely.

A Lesson in Kind

teaching1On Thursday I taught a class of 10/11 years olds how to structure and create stories. They’d all been writing stories since they could hold a crayon but a new face, with a couple of new approaches is always welcome. They listened patiently as I enthused over structure, character and plot development but were getting sore bums by the time I’d begun to expound upon the virtues of brainstorming ‘What if?’ scenarios.They wanted to get down to the business of writing and sharing. They’d listened and now they used the writing exercise as a basis for oral storytelling, with each other but mostly with me. A couple of sentences on paper and they’re up on their feet, flapping their paper around and ready to reveal the intricacies of their plot orally.

teaching2

Writing is such a difficult way to express your thoughts and ideas. Why should you have to go through the misery of selecting words, checking punctuation and grammar and exposing yourself to repeated criticism and deconstruction? It’s so much easier and less time consuming just to adopt an expression, establish eye contact and take your listener through the labyrinths of your imagination, constructing a drama with endless possibilities and characters that are vaguely reminiscent of parents, teachers and friends. You can also do a quick volte face when the lure of the bar wins over your epic narrative; shovel in a blood-soaked battlefield; kill off that heroine that bleated too much and create a comic side-kick. You are there, reading your audience and can turn on a dime. These Homers did just that. They read my face and body language and if they thought I wasn’t sufficiently sold on a plot, they’d adapt it. But however much we want to cling onto our oral history and cherish the sit-us-down storytellers, we have to have wordsmiths. These stories, which were told with conviction and boundless energy, were raw, unformed and unedited. The majority of the class weaved the ancient themes of lost love, singular heroes, sacrifices for the good of all and escapes from hideous monsters. What they needed was the time and consideration of planning, structure, twists, reveals and character to turn these memes into something that would merit more than just a grading.

teaching3

It made me think about whether I was writing for pretty much the same reasons. I had written my first novel to prove I could, and to play around with scenarios and characters that pleased and intrigued me. The cold reality is, that as soon as you want someone to pay to buy these thoughts, you’d better be all over the structure, punctuation, twists and authenticity. I chase reviews, positions in the kindle sales ranking and brood endlessly on my progress, or lack of. For all the time spent creating a novel, the same is spent selling it. So, as I contemplate Thursday’s brief return to the classroom, where I distributed knowledge and experience like manna, I wonder whether the learning didn’t go both ways.