Thoughts that go bump in the night

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The Independent Culture
WOKE UP the other morning, suddenly, at 4.30, absolutely frantic with worry about the Universe. You know the sort of thing, bottom sheet rucked up, inexplicable sand in the bed, tubercular glow of the street- lamps, cold sweat, palpitations.

It's not always the Universe. There are lots of other things to worry about: what is actually happening in my modem, where my other Space Pen - writes upside down, underwater, in zero gravity - has got to (Space, probably); whether there's a market for used pencil shavings, and, if so, what; who designs burglar-alarms' beeps, and how they feel about their work; whether I would finally be happy if I had a silver Zippo, a Fortis GMT chronograph, a Prince of Wales suit, a complete Oxford Latin Dictionary, the entire Creed range of gentlemen's eaux de parfum, a motorcycle and a Tyrolean hat; why Ginster's, Peter's, Miller's and all the other piemakers in the country are allowed to go on getting away with it; whether Frank Sinatra really is dead; whether there's any point lying in bed fretting or would it be better to get up and then risk feeling knackered all day ... so that, around 7pm I'd have to go out for a well-chilled Mai Tai just to keep going, but one thing would lead to another and I'd meet some paradisiac popsy in a sleazy bar who, hypnotised by my sesquipedalian manliness, would cry "Give it to me, big word!" and take me back to her place where I would be unable to Do It on account of being knackered because I hadn't had the sense to lie in bed fretting instead of getting up.

But the Universe leads the pack. You can worry about the Universe when you've exhausted all other possibilities. It even beats cancer. The only problem is, you never really seem to get anywhere. Sometimes you think you've got somewhere and you nod off happily enough, but then when you wake up there's nothing. Half-way through breakfast you think: "Good heavens! I actually got somewhere with the Universe last night!"; but try to be more specific and there's merely a vacuum, of the sort which Nature is supposed to abhor but doesn't.

I've been fretting about it more than usual lately, though. I finally managed to get the hang of quantum mechanics, which is as significant a piece of ammunition for a confirmed Universe-fretter as a new flesh- eating bacterium for a hypochondriac. At the same time, people have begun sending me unsolicited auguries and prognostications. A few days ago I got an entire horoscope by e-mail, full of stuff about trines and oppositions and rising signs, and basically telling me that I was going to have the most horrible year, not only of my life, but of anybody's, and that the purpose of my existence was to serve as a warning to others. And then the Jehovah's Witnesses turned up at the door, which, given that I live on the top floor and my bell doesn't work, is alarmingly spooky in itself.

So I decided to do something so unexpected, so egregious, that it would startle them into a radical re-assessment of their life and beliefs.

I invited them in for a cup of tea.

They sat down and I said, Nice weather, wouldn't you say, and they said, We've Jehovah to thank for that, and then they told me all about Jehovah (who, as far as I can see, is basically the same as God, except even more narrow-minded) and denounced my horoscope and explained how I could be saved, which was basically by listening to them and not listening to anyone else, which just goes to show that all religions are, at root, the same religion, credo in unum nostrum.

So I went out for a walk. You can think things through when you go out for a walk, don't you find? Assailed by stench and rumble, gassed by fumes and deafened by jabbering tourists and mad, pot-bellied roadwork gangs, the mind disengages itself from the surroundings and roams free. And so it did. I suddenly had an extraordinary insight, and I knew exactly what would happen. I would get home, and reach for my pen, at which point the insight would vanish completely. So I thought, This time it is not going to happen. I shall go to Tottenham Court Road and buy one of those speech bubbles, those tiny digital Thought Recorders that you can use to put down your Thoughts while walking along or having a bath or making love or even having just woken in a crumpled frenzy.

The process of getting to the shop and choosing my Thought Recorder of course completely drove from my mind the Thought I had wanted to Record, but I wasn't too upset. I was tooled up now, and ready for anything my brain could throw at me.

Four thirty the following morning, there it went again. Sudden catastrophic thudding, a tangle of sheets, eyes snapping open, brain screaming its head off: "The Universe! The Universe!" But this time I was ready. I grabbed my Thought Recorder, jabbed RECORD and started jabbering wildly. Got it all down, Turned over, went to sleep.

In the morning there it was. I listened to it over breakfast and it all made perfect sense: a perfect synthesis of Jehovah, the strong atomic force, quantum gravity, necromancy, astrology, New Age therapy and the moral failure of modern corporatism. I was, although I say it myself, most impressed.

Naturally, one doesn't want to keep it to oneself, so later that evening I popped out for a drink with some friends and took my Thought Recorder along too. At the appropriate moment, I pulled it out. "That's neat," they said. "What is it?"

"It's a Thought Recorder," I said. "Do you want to hear a Thought?"

"Yes please," they said.

I hit PLAY. "Right! Right, look!" it said. "The thing about the Universe is ... we're talking about discontinuity ... observable data's no good unless it follows the predictions of the theory ... the consistency isn't inherent in the methodology but interdisciplinary ... so far it's coherent ... the problem with God is - "

I turned it off. It was bollocks. My special Big Thought had gone off somehow, during the day. I have written a stiff note to the manufacturers insisting they rectify the problem. Until then, as far as the Universe is concerned, you'll just have to be patient.