Sarah Sands: We can have the smooth man or the crumpled man

Related Topics

How the world divides is a popular old parlour game, but in the hands of novelists it assumes a grander design. In an
Independent interview on Friday, Martin Amis said that Zadie Smith divided between the organised and disorganised, Nabokov chose those who sleep well and those who do not, while Martin was at one with his late father Kingsley in separating the attractive from the unattractive. He did not mention Robert Benchley's witticism that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don't.

I favour Nabokov's split as the most profound. You can teach yourself to become organised, and attractiveness does not inform character in the way that sleep does.

On the same day as Amis's pronouncement, the political biographer Bruce "The Brute" Anderson, observed that while Gordon Brown thrashes about at night as sleepless as the Ancient Mariner, David Cameron sleeps like a baby the moment his head hits the pillow.

This goes to the essence of the men. It is a battle between the sleepless and the sleep filled. The derided election poster of Cameron did not look particularly airbrushed, but it did show a man completely rested. This leads to the calm and self-contained quality noted by Jonathan Yeo, the portrait painter. "Cameron was happy in his own skin," he said last week. As opposed to Gordon Brown who has the skin of a vampire and Audenesque creases round his eyes.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Brown sells himself on adversity. He is a leader for troubled times. He might encourage comparisons with a fellow insomniac, Winston Churchill. If we are about to enter a double dip recession, do we want a prime minister glowing with a Davos tan, or would we prefer someone who looked like a bag of old socks? If something is trivial, we say that it is "not worth losing sleep over". The corollary is that important matters are worth keeping awake for.

As Leonard Cohen said: "The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world." George Bush's critics never forgave him for tucking himself up in bed by 10pm every night. You should not be able to sleep through a war if you are commander-in-chief, although soldiers are trained to sleep anywhere, even while standing.

Ideally, you need to look weathered without looking knackered. Jack Bauer gets it right in the television series 24. Most of us would start to nod off after about 18 hours, but Bauer manages without sleep, food or water. Some cup-a-soup and a snooze would destroy the tension and the heroism.

I think that Brown's private temper-related tiredness is permissible. Like Carlo Ancelotti, I judge our stars by their behaviour on the field. The Prime Minister may be clumsy and gaffe-ridden but nobody can doubt his stamina. David Cameron's supporters would say that he is just as dogged, but does not show the same wear and tear. In James Hanning and Francis Elliott's biography of Cameron, the dissection of the Hutton report coincides with the extreme suffering and multiple fits of Cameron's late son, Ivan. Yet Cameron never faltered.

I wonder if there is a sub-division of Nabokov's dictum. It is not those who sleep well and those who don't, but those who cope without sleep and those who don't. That gives Gordon Brown the chance of two new bedfellows, Margaret Thatcher and Napoleon.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the London Evening Standard

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The daily catch-up: heatwave update; duck tape and market socialism

John Rentoul
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform