I started by attempting to name and thereby count all the players in my AFL team, Essendon. Not as easy as it sounds because, early in the season, there have been retirements, new recruits and de-listings and the elevation of occasional players to full-time spots. There are 22 players in a selected team and I could name 19. Not bad, I thought. I could also name the coach and the team doctor as a result of frantic media coverage of a drugs-in-sport issue. I have views on this matter but this isn’t the place for them.
I moved on to the Sydney Swans, Jean’s team, whose games I watch most weeks. The Swans seem to have had no significant retirements and relatively few newcomers but I only got to 14. Naturally, one knows one’s own team best.
Drifting, but still awake, I started to summon up the names and faces of people I’d studied under and worked with in university History departments at Melbourne and Monash. Inevitably, the recollections induced images. At Melbourne, where I could recall 19 staff members, there was a chain smoker with ash on his waistcoat and a teacher of Renaissance history who wore high-buttoning Italianate suits and shoes to match. In those days many academics wore suits, especially at Melbourne. Sports clothes and even more casual apparel were creeping in at Monash but true sumptuary liberation had to wait until the 1970s. At the ANU as a research student I occasionally wore a kaftan, to the horror of a conservative professor whose own eccentricities, it was said, included snapping erect penises from Balinese statues.
I got to a count of 22 people at Monash, 23 including myself as a lowly tutor. Beards were more common than at Melbourne (I grew one); there was a pipe smoker and three members, including me, who rolled their own. In the 1960s and early 1970s things were very different in the Humanities. I doubt there would be a History department in Australia now with 20 full-time staff. There were very few part-timers then. Now, the casualisation of the work force, with all the evils it brings, is a matter of great concern in universities.
I segued to an old favourite – naming and listing, in order, the heavyweight boxing champions of the world from John L Sullivan to Muhammed Ali. (This gets tricky after the retirement of Gene Tunney but I can usually straighten it out. The title has fragmented under different boxing organisations and I lose track.)
I’ve tried this several times now and by this point, or in truth before then, I am usually asleep. I have a few other techniques to call on, provided by people who read the insomnia column. One involves listening to and participating in a quiz on a commercial radio station; another recommendation is a large glass of port before retiring. I prefer the latter but, as a diabetic, it would play hell with my blood glucose level.