SECOND THOUGHTS; We're strangers in the night

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"Do you know, something extraordinary happened," says Simon, as we sit down to supper with him and Lou. "The other morning we came down and there were tufts of cut blond hair on the breakfast table - and beside them the kitchen scissors. Which had been taken out of the drawer."

"Cut blond hair?" we echo, unclear. "What? Lou's hair?"

She - blonde as a buttercup - shrugs, snips chives over the new potatoes.

"Who else's?" Simon grins. "It was the weirdest thing. We'll never know."

"But," I persist, not at all happy to leave it there, "who did it? I mean, do you think it was you, Si? Or did someone break in and actually cut Lou's hair?"

Lou shudders. "What a horrible thought."

"Hold on, how do you know for certain it was Lou's hair?" my partner adds pedantically.

"And get this," says Lou. "The Magimix blade was missing."

"The Magimix blade?"

"Gone. From the drawer. We've never seen it again."

"You think that's connected?" I ask.

Simon, loving it, jabs his knife in the butter. "We'll never know," he says again.

"But there must be some explanation."

"Indeed."

"Do you think you could have done it in your sleep?"

"I did sleepwalk as a kid," he admits.

"Well then ... "

"But not for years."

"As far as you know," we interject in unison.

"Even if you did, why would you want to trim Lou's hair?" I ask. We all laugh.

"They were just little tufts," Lou's hand goes to her head. "The sort you might get from underneath."

"And did your hair look like it had been cut?"

"Not really. Not as far as I could tell."

Simon smiles again. For a moment, we eat in fascinated silence.

The mere thought of sleepwalking always fills me with profound unease. Sleep is this great, blank space, this unaccounted-for period - this letting- go. Your body is vulnerable for hours at a time on a regular basis. It is a practice for death.

Our first baby could neither fall (and it is like falling) asleep nor wake without crying. This continued for the first year of his life - as though he had to grow into the idea of sleep. This makes perfect sense to me. I have always found sleep hard; I have never welcomed oblivion.

The first sleepwalker I knew was my little sister. She came into my room in the middle of the night and looked at the wall above my head and said, "Have you got my gnomie?" (Her most cherished possession at the time was a china gnome.)

Then I had a stepfather who was a sleepwalker. One night my mother found him in the garden peeing by moonlight on a rose bush his mother had given him for his birthday. (Micturition is apparently a favourite pastime of sleepwalkers.) Another time, we were on holiday in Wales at a caravan site - all seven of us in our tight, sweaty sleeping bags - and he woke us by leaping from his bed in the night.

"Where are you off to?" my mother asked.

"I have to chase a girl around the caravan," he barked with lugubrious anxiety.

A year or two later, we swapped the caravan for a boat. "What is it?" my mother would say as, each night at 2am, he blundered up on deck. "Making a note of what the weather's doing," he would snap officiously, fast asleep.

As far as I know, all I have ever done in my sleep is laugh, just sit up and cackle helplessly. It does not happen often and is infinitely less embarrassing than self-watering the flowerbeds, but still I am not at all comfortable with the idea. I donot like to be so unaware. Who is this person who dissolves into giggles in the night? What exactly is so funny?

OK, so all that happened, apparently, was that Lou got a haircut. But what was the phantom hairdresser doing with the Magimix blade? Where did that come in? Did he have a go with that first? Or maybe it is not missing at all - maybe it is just wedged at the back of some drawer. You only need two unexplained events in the same night and instantly we think they have to be related.

We drive back from Simon and Lou's and, once the babysitter has left, I go to check on the children as I always do. They are sleeping soundly, limbs flung out, bottoms hunched, the room ringing with the adenoidal chorus of their snores.

Much later that night, there is a loud, unwieldy cry and I stumble in to find Chloe sitting up, seething. "Get these kittens out of my bed," she orders. "Get them out!" Her eyes stare beyond me, wild and dark, in a state of sleep.

"You're having a dream, sweetheart." I settle her, smoothing her hair, rubbing her small, fat back. "Close your eyes, go to sleep."

"Listen to me," she berates in true Chloe fashion. "I want them out of here. Now!"

The digital clock says 3.10am. "Do it!" she says, visibly, helplessly asleep.

"OK, OK." I make imaginary kitten-disposal motions with my hands. "Look, I'm dealing with the kittens. They're gone."

She gives me a weary look and falls back on the pillow and I creep out, praying she is satisfied, hoping she never decides to mess with Magimix blades.

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