I’m not very good at being still — physically or mentally. I have a hard time binge watching shows for more than a couple of hours before I want to go off and do something else that popped into my brain. There’s always something bouncing around in there, often multiple layers, with pictures over words over soundtracks.

“Obelisk with Five Stones 1” 2020, Pencil, by Andy Coughlan

A single word said with a certain cadence will prompt a song to start playing — half the time with lyrics that don’t even include that word but the way someone said it prompted the soundtrack. I don’t get to control it, and it may last for days, especially if it has a repetitive beat.


I was working one production day at the University Press when the student editor, Julie Garcia, began humming a tune I recognized. “Ah,” I said, “The Great Escape.” I didn’t know you liked that film.” She said, “I’ve never heard of it.” “Then why are you humming the theme tune?” says I. “Because that’s what you hum every production day when you are working.” I was sure that was not true. Julie simply lifted her head and said, to no one in particular, “What does Andy hum on production days?” only for the whole office to start humming ‘The Great Escape.”

(By the way, I’m pretty sure the tune will be in my head for the next week, running underneath whatever else is going on. I think there is some comfort in the repetition. It can be looped ad nauseum. Also, when I “hear” it, I get all the orchestration going on).

But as usual, that’s not the point of this story. The unchecked brain thing manifests itself in somewhat patchy sleep patterns. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not walking around exhausted all day, but I do tend to wake up with random thoughts which lead to thoughts which lead to other thoughts, etc., etc.

“Obelisk with Five Stones 2” 2020, Pencil, by Andy Coughlan

A few weeks ago, my partner Ramona decided to sign up for “Calm,” a series of audio stories that are designed to be listened to in bed and lead to sleep. The first one was narrated by Stephen Fry. I like Stephen Fry (I think it’s a requirement if one is English). The story had something to do with sheep (cue joke about counting them). The setting was pastoral and we were supposed to imaging walking gently through the countryside.


Honestly, it didn’t do much for me. I wondered where this countryside was. It seemed vaguely like Sussex, where I’m from, but it could have been Kent. Kent and Sussex are neighboring counties on the south coast of England. They are rivals at cricket. Kent is nice, but Sussex is better. I’m sure a Kentish man would disagree. Is someone from Kent a Kentish man? If so, what is someone from Sussex? I thought about that most of the night, resisting the urge to get out of bed and look it up. I was glad Ramona was asleep —Apparently the storytelling works.

Side note. People from the east side of Kent are called Men or Maids of Kent. People from the west (closest to Sussex) are Kentish Men or Maids. There is no term for someone from Sussex. However, when I looked that up, I found out that the tasty steak and kidney pudding is a Sussex invention, as well as banoffee pie, which my sister makes. And The Cure are from Crawley in West Sussex, but I digress.

“Obelisk with Five Stones 3” 2020, Pencil, by Andy Coughlan

The next story time I did not go to bed straight away. I sneaked into the room to the mellifluous tones of another Englishman leading us down a country road (same road?). After some stuff and nonsense about hedgerows (I’m really not a country guy) the voice said we come across an ancient obelisk made of five stones on the edge of the path. That was all I needed to get my brain going again. What kind of obelisk was it? And why five stones? Did the stones fit together or were they balanced on top of one another? Maybe there were five stone obelisks and I misheard? What did it or they look like?


After 20 minutes I got up because my mind was racing. I started imagining the obelisk. I made quick sketches. I went online and looked up ancient obelisks, but they didn’t really capture what I thought they should look like on a country road in England (maybe it wasn’t in England. The description could have been France or maybe north Italy). Did it have carvings on it? Or words?

The obelisk question played on a permanent quiet loop under my thoughts for about five days. After that, it just came and went at odd times — obviously, it still does, hence this post.

The drawings on this post are what I think the obelisk probably looked like. Unless they don’t, but that’s a whole other train of thought and I’m hoping writing this down is the end of it, because I really need to obsess over something else.

I don’t listen to stories at night anymore. Apparently, “Calm” comes before a brainstorm.

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