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The French condition, “la petit mort” hung in my head as I...




The French condition, “la petit mort” hung in my head as I woke up this morning, for there was a moment, as there is almost every day, when, upon waking, I could so easily fling myself back into sleep. Just like Ghandhi. “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die.”


The room is dark, and cool, perfumed faintly of lavender; the bed sheets are soft; the world is barely waking, this being 5, or - at best - 5.15 .am.


But Bertie is doing his paw thing, extending it to my nose, a greeting made with all the polite hesitancy of an Oxford philosophy delegate at his first international conference. But hesitant or not, it is never withdrawn. Bertie maybe polite but he is also determined. The paw will gently tap my nose if not first seized. This morphs into “All Clear, Stations Go.” He and Archibald begin an enthusiastic tumble; Bianca waddles up through the duvet and Coco lifts her silky, sleepy head from the adjacent pillow and yawns. The girls, I note, are far more languid in their first movements, than the boys. Do bitches feel “le petit mort” more than males?


But I am now nearing the point of maximum danger - and greatest decision. I unbolt the doors, and the dogs tumble out onto the lawns and run around palms, mango, and clove trees. Archie begins the first of 2-3 circuits round the fences to ensure we have not succumbed to overnight attacks from wild elephants, armed dacoits, homeless monkeys, or feral peacocks. I return to the bedroom.


It is still dark, cool, perfumed. I can feel that rapturous tug of sleep winching my head and heart towards the bed again. It is as inexorable as an AA Rescue Lorry winching up one of my suddenly dead cars off the M4 and onto its back. “La Petit Mort,” notes the AA Man shrewdly. “La Petit Mort.”


Quite why the French reserved the little death to post coital siestas seems very mysterious, and not a little bit mean - from a rationing point of view. I’m English, I don’t need sex. I can feel La Petit Mort simply upon waking. And if I succumb now I’ll be out for at least two more hours.


So I do they only thing possible when waging a defensive campaign driven by thoughts of victory. I open the large sliding doors to let in the jungle air, and the view of wave upon wave of green mountains, hills, and valleys. There it is, the jungle; fixed as the call to prayer, but ever changing.


I turn off the Air-Conditioners; put on the fans, pull off the duvet and switch on The Archers. After this there can be no retreat. It’s like burning the boats.


As village politics erupts at Radio 4’s Home Farm and The Bull around the composition of the cricket team and Tracey Horrobin’s hen party, the dogs return one by one from their brief outing, curl up and join me, listening to the soap opera. By ten to six it is all over bar the next step. The day, like a blini now merely waiting for its dollop of caviar and crème fraîche, is ready to begin.


But this jungle waking is, for all its dangerous rip cords and underwater currents, a relatively easy challenge. Waking up in London at ten to six when I had a normal job and the virtuous inclination to swim 50 lengths in the gym before the office – that was much harder. The water was always too cold; the other gym goers demotivating assembled like an order of silent monks hours before the dissolution of the monasteries, sleepy, cross, and awkward. The surge of city traffic noises rising like trenchant humidity. The Office itself waiting, like a vortex, or the chamber of a demanding mistress displeased with the roses just delivered.

School was little better; the windows open whether it was minus ten or plus ten outside; 30 other boys in the long dormitory caught in the institutional tentacles of a school schedule that drove us from class room to class room, playing field to canteen. There La Petit Mort was presidentially present - but kept hard at bay by howling prefects and unyielding teachers in Harris tweeds.


Memories of La Petit Mort follow me through the day, like naughty angels.


But by 7 am they are all busted flushes; they have no chance of cutting through the dogged determination to keep buggering on.


All across the estate people are busy, sweeping leaves, brushing terrazzo, feeding goats, making cinnamon buns, laying tables, netting the odd petal of pink frangipani off the swimming pool. Early tuk tuks come and go, collecting people, depositing fresh tuna. In the frangipani trees outside my office square-tailed bulbuls with red beaks are building a nest. Never has keep-buggering-on been so better able to overcome the English version of La Petit Mort.


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