Ian McMillan: No cause for alarm, but will the bells toll for thee?

I pride myself that I hardly ever need the alarm clock to wake me up; as I’ve described before in this column, I favour the ‘sharp taps on the skull’ method as practised by The Ancient Wise Men of Maltby.

Five sharp taps on the head when I go to bed and I wake up at five in the morning. I’ve yet to perfect the semi-tap, so that I wake up at half-past the hour, but I’m sure I’ll come up with a solution someday, involving working out the subtle difference between a tap and a pat. Either that or I’ll come up with mild concussion. A word to the wise: Don’t tap anybody else on the head. It doesn’t work and they don’t like it, especially on public transport. Self-tapping is the only way.

Oddly, though, I usually set the alarm even though I know I won’t need it, and I’ve noticed that, these last few weeks, I’ve started suffering from what I can only describe as Alarm Clock Anxiety. To boil it down to its essence (which is what I know a lot of people would like to do to their alarm clock) I’ve started thinking that even though I’ve clicked the clock off, it might somehow switch itself back on again and start beeping, perhaps after a modicum of time has passed; perhaps even later in the afternoon it will suddenly begin to try and get everybody out of bed even though they’re up.

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I know: daft, isn’t it? It’s a version of bolting the stable door after the horse has not only bolted but has gone to live abroad under an assumed name.

So, the McMillan bedtime routine is this: I slide between the sheets. I tap my head sharply the required number of times. I lean over and turn the alarm clock on, even though I’m convinced I won’t need it. I fall into a deep and dreamless sleep and I snore like an industrial carpet cleaning machine singing karaoke in a loud and crowded city centre pub. A few hours later, I wake up just before the alarm clock goes off. I’ve had the alarm clock for years and I know that just before it beeps it makes what I can only describe as a preparatory click, a clearing of the throat before it does its job; it’s like the conductor of an orchestra tapping his baton on a music stand. It’s at that moment my hand thrusts out and turns the alarm off.

I get up. I leave the alarm clock where it was and go downstairs and then I think it might go off so I rush back and take it downstairs with me. I click it and click it. Yes, it’s really off. No, it’s not. Yes, it is. I think my nervousness comes from when I was once on an early morning train and my alarm clock went off in my bag on the luggage rack. I ignored it. I may even have looked round smugly. I may even have tutted. Then it became obvious to me where the monotonous music was coming from and I reached up, red-faced, and turned it off.

So now I keep going back to the alarm clock and making sure it’s turned off. I take the battery out. I leave the battery several feet from the clock. Now it can’t go off. Now it can’t go off and wake the rest of the house or the rest of the street or the rest of Darfield up.

Or can it? What’s that beeping noise?