Dreamscape through a bus window: In bed with Irma Kurtz

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Irma Kurtz, 58, is a writer. She is also 'Cosmopolitan' magazine's agony aunt. American by birth, she now lives in Soho, London.

Once every two or three weeks I'll have what I call one of my Wild Nights. I just can't stay in, I'm like a wind-up toy headed straight for the Coach and Horses, where I know I'll meet a lot of friends. I inevitably have a hangover the next day.

But generally I'm in bed by 10pm. I spend five or six evenings a week happily alone and only mix with a very small, close circle of friends. I gave up the Crouch End dinner-party routine long ago - I always ended up with my back against the wall, being attacked for something I had or hadn't written.

Nothing changes more as you get older than how you feel about the night. This is clearly exemplified when my 21-year-old son comes to stay - he's coming in just as I'm getting up. Which is fortunate, since there's only one bed.

Night is a time for young people. It's glamorous and exciting for them - plus there's always the chance that they'll end up in bed with somebody. I have no interest whatsoever in sex any more. I get my thrills from the day and like to be awake to witness the dawn - I generally get up about 6am.

I never read agony letters last thing at night. I worry about the people and if they need special help, I like to sort that out immediately. Unsolved problems keep people awake. I read poetry in bed - anything that comes to hand, unless I'm desperate to sleep quickly, in which case it's Pope or Milton]

I see sleep as a little death, a small funeral, going into a dark place for a few hours. So it's not surprising that I make something of a ritual out of it: I always make some herbal tea, even if I don't want it, before getting into the left- hand side of my enormous bed. I would never, ever think of sleeping on the right-hand side or even the middle. I have no idea why, as I sleep alone.

I have a pink fluffy hot-water bottle that I'm addicted to. I really miss it when I'm away. Perhaps I should give it a name - Danny . . . it's a lot cheaper and easier on the nervous system than a man. I have had several long-term relationships but never been married - no way] I'm glad all that's over.

I've slept in some strange places. When I was a student I once spent the night on a park bench in the middle of New York. I discovered that newspapers really do keep you warm. Can you imagine? You'd be dead if you did that nowadays but this was 1952 and, gosh, it was innocent and sweet.

I travelled across the States by Greyhound last year and slept sitting up every other night. I soon got the hang of it. I had one of those inflatable pillows that nobody ever buys in airports. What I enjoyed most was the drifting off, your mind slowly wandering. It reminded me of being a little girl coming home in the car at night after a day in the country. You're half asleep yet aware of shadows flickering, shapes changing; you can see through your awareness and down to things in the past.

One day we drove through Nevada, where I had never been before, and suddenly I realised I'd seen it many times in dreams. It felt so strange and alien to see yourself reflected in the window, and beyond it your dreamscape, the desert. Generally my dreams are about a feeling or an atmosphere. As if something has just happened or is about to happen. Maybe a kind of longing. The strangest thing was when I was pregnant: I suddenly realised the foetus was dreaming. The thought that you are enclosing the unknown dreams of another human being is fascinating and wonderful.

It's strange because when you are a child you can't wait to get your own bedroom. When you start having lovers and boyfriends you can't imagine how you could ever sleep alone again. Now it's gone full circle and I absolutely hate having to share a bedroom, even if I'm staying with a friend. I always feel in service when I'm with somebody else, even if they're sleeping. I kinda feel that they're my responsibility so I can't relax - it's really rather tiring.

'The Great American Bus Ride', an account of Irma Kurtz's travels, is published by 4th Estate on 24 January at pounds 6.99.

(Photograph omitted)

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