Anthem for the sleepless

21st April 2006 at 01:00
At last, this weekend the Radio 4 UK anthem is going. Tomorrow will be the last airing of that medley of jingoistic ditties which for many insomniac teachers symbolises, not the nation, but a time painfully recalled.

If you've ever seen stress turn into sleeplessness, you may recall being wide awake at 4am, desperately wanting to sleep at least once before the day begins. The anthem always announced our failure to sleep, rubber-stamping another night of anxiety.

For better or worse, it heralded Farming Today, where bovine details bore us into caffeine-like wakefulness almost as if the farmyard sheep were taunting, "Baaah, should have counted a few more of us!" Forgive the question, but are there any farmers left? I thought nowadays food came from Tesco! If they do exist, they're surely already up and about by 3am milking cows, when I'm desperately trying to dodge insomnia.

I mean, what is middle-of-the-night broadcasting for? Does anyone really set their alarm clocks for 3am, thinking about the World Service, muttering to themselves, "I mustn't miss Latvia Today"?

Middle-of-the-night radio is there to take our minds off the stress that keeps us awake. For most of the night, World Service news plays along, reporting diverting stories like the traffic congestion in Hamburg or the Koreans cloning a goat.

You drift in and out of sleep, semiconsciously conflating news stories, thinking you just heard about a goat suffering from congestion or the Koreans cloning a hamburger.

The UK anthem always came like a bucket of water, drenching you into wakefulness with ironic strains of "Early One Morning" - rubbing it in, just for good measure.

Over the years, even the tunes that made up the anthem struck a chord with us light sleepers.

"Rule Britannia" made us think of some bullying dominatrix at work; "Danny Boy" made us want to run away to our mums and "What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?" gave us ideas about how we could cope.

So here I am, tapping at the keyboard at 5.15am, stunned at the commodity price for beef.

Maybe they'll come up with something to really help me back to the land of nod - Martin Jarvis reading "Every Child Matters" or Ruth Kelly explaining the education white paper.

No, hold it there! We want to be sent back for a short nap, not comatose for the rest of the day. Good morning!

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