Ian McMillan: Ease and simplicity of the forehead tap alarm

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Some people need an alarm clock to wake them up and their sweet dreams are turned to sonic nightmares by the abrupt ringing of a bell or an insistent beep or, in the case of certain novelty alarm clocks, cartoon characters shouting to them to Wake Up Dude!

Over the years I’ve met people who slept so deeply they had to put the alarm clock in a drawer so it rang and rattled and the sleeper had to open the drawer then turn the noise off. One sound recordist I met put the alarm clock in another room connected to his bedroom by microphones and wires so that when it went off, it blared through a loudspeaker next to his ear and he had to stagger next door to click it off.

Round here they still tell tales of the Knocker Up, a bloke with a stick who used to rap on the miner’s bedroom window until the slumberer awoke. A long philosophical discussion could be had in the tap rooms of the South Yorkshire coalfield if you just posed the simple question “Who knocks up the Knocker Up?”

Well, I don’t want to sound smug but I don’t need any of that. I just rely on the old tried-and-tested “tap on the forehead” method. It’s like my personal, gentle version of the Knocker Up. It’s simple. As soon as I get in bed I hit myself on the forehead five times and then I wake up the next morning at 0500 hours. It has to be a soft tap or I get a headache and it has to be a certain place on my forehead or it doesn’t work.

I heard about the forehead-tapping alarm from Arthur, my old mate on the building site near Sheffield where I worked decades ago. One rainy day a bricklayer was complaining that his alarm had broken so he’d missed his bus. Arthur piped up from behind his huge mug of tea, his face wreathed with steam, “Tha wants to crack thissen on’t heead!” His suggestion was drowned out by derision and flying crisp packets but later on, as we stacked bricks, I asked Arthur to explain and he said that he’d learned it from his dad and his dad before him. I pictured generations of blokes all looking like Arthur and all waking up at precise times without the aid of alarms and I resolved to join that skull-slapping fraternity.

It’s not an exact science, of course. It only works in hours; I’ve tried giving myself a gentler tap if I want to wake up at half-past but your head just counts it as another tap and adds an hour on. After the clocks go forward or back it takes a few days to synchronise and jet-lag plays havoc with it. After a trip to Canada a few years ago I thought it had broken and would never work again but eventually it returned.

Over the years, I’ve thought about marketing a self-tapping wake-up device, a sort of velvet-covered hammer that you strap to your head and is worked by batteries and pulleys and dongles (you can tell I’m just at the research stage) so you pull a switch as you retire and it does the job for you. But to be honest it’s just as simple to tap your own head with your fingers. Try it sometime. One word of advice: don’t use a chair leg.

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