I didn’t have time for a nap yesterday. I never do, really. But increasingly I think that this is a shortcoming of my day.


For preference, assuming I had no choice but to complete a full day, I would work from early in the morning until lunchtime; then eat, nap, and do nothing for three hours, and then get going again in the late afternoon and early evening.

I think this is a good plan, but for some reason no one will allow me to integrate the middle bit (eat, nap, and do nothing) into my working day. I call it a failure of imagination.

History is full of productive nappers. Thomas Edison was notorious for how little sleep he needed, boasting that he got by on three hours a night; but when Henry Ford once visited hiim in the middle of the day, he was astonished to be told not to disturb the great inventor, because he was napping – a frequent and longstanding habit, by all accounts.

Churchill used to get into his pyjamas in the afternoon and snore for hours. Field Marshall Sir William Slim, commander-in-chief of British forces in Burma in World War Two, when he had nothing much on (i.e. a battle), would rise early, consult with his staff in the morning, take a full and extensive lunch, and do nothing except nap, stroll and read until evening, when he might deal with some correspondence. It was no use, he said, being worn out with tiredness when vital decisions had to be made. Better to establish a contemplative rhythm. Prepare yourself to think better than the enemy. And so, in the event, it proved.

I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t broach the subject with my students, proposing a five-minute constitutional in the afternoon lesson, the better to assault the imposing mound of afternoon English. I suppose it would look bad, but it would forestall the horrible fate that overcame a colleague of mine many years ago, who when teaching a naval officer with a weakness for deeply-considered if somewhat rambling oratory, and desperately fighting a rearguard against the encroaching nap, asked one last question and said to himself, he’ll answer this and I’ll be done; and then promptly fell asleep. The next thing he heard was the oratorical voice, from a long way away, saying am I boring you?

That is a difficult question to answer honestly. What my colleague should have said, of course, was that he was simply preparing to think better, and in a sane society, the naval officer would not have needed telling.


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