Pale moon rising – Frank McNally fails to witness the lunar eclipse
The guilt and Fomo had returned. That light cloud could easily have cleared
The “Super Blood Wolf Moon” over Marseille. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
I didn’t mean to get up for the Super Blood Wolf Moon on Sunday night, superbly marketed as it was. In fact, when waking anyway just before 5am, and remembering the eclipse was due to start at 4.40, I wracked my brain for arguments in favour of going back to sleep and ignoring this supposedly spectacular event.
The best argument, based on evidence supplied by the tip of my nose, was that it was freezing outside.
On the other hand, I was awake now, and would be a while, one way or other. So a combination of guilt and fear of missing out began to rise. Then the clincher: the moon had been over the front garden earlier. Never mind its alignment with Earth: rudimentary calculation suggested it could now be over the back, and directly visible from the bathroom window. With a quick visit there, I could kill two birds.
The moon wasn’t visible from the bathroom. But what the hell, I was up now. So I braced myself while climbing into cold clothes. Then I tip-toed downstairs, and went out into the frost.
There was little to see. Obscured by light cloud or mist, the moon was just about visible, but far from super, and no way bloody. As for any wolfish qualities, you’d have had to be easily excited to howl. Ho-hum, I thought, heading back to bed.
Minutes later, instead of experiencing sleep, I was thinking about it, and about modern research on the subject. Surprise, surprise: it turns out the old adage on how much people need – “six hours for a man, seven for a woman, eight for a fool” – has no scientific basis.
The most authoritative findings of late have been by a neuroscientist, Matthew Walker, who turned two decades of research into a 2017 best-selling book.
A professor at the University of California, Walker is no fool, and yet admits to needing slumber levels formerly prescribed for the weak of wit.
Or as he told the Financial Times in a recent interview: “I have a non-negotiable eight-hour sleep opportunity window”.
Luckily he lives on the US west coast. Although Californians have the same work ethic as New Yorkers, he says, their obsession with self-knowledge, and maximising potential, means they also value the need for rest more than is fashionable elsewhere.
Sometimes it’s a “kind of health competition”, Walker suggests: people excuse themselves from socialising because, in the buzz phrase, they have to “kill [their] sleep score tonight”.
Killing his own score meant he was having de-caffeinated tea even during the FT interview, which was over lunch.
Otherwise, he pointed out, a quarter of any caffeine (the drug’s “quarter-life”) would remain in his brain 12 hours later.
For such insights, he is now much in demand as a “sleep consultant” with Google and other companies.
Some of this returned to me in bed the other night, because by now I was myself consulting Google to find out how long the eclipse would last. The guilt and FOMO had returned. That light cloud could easily have cleared, revealing something unforgettable.
I was also checking Twitter, where – yes – there were reported Irish sightings. Not for the first time, I realised what a bad idea having an iPhone beside the bed is, even as an alarm clock.
Super Blood Wolf Moon or not, social media never sleeps, and there is always somebody out there getting excited.
But by then I was up again, wincing my way into clothes discarded just long enough to return to single-figure temperatures. Then I rechecked the lunar window-of-opportunity – no change there – before tiptoeing out to renew acquaintance with the frost.
The moon was still a gauze-draped non-event. But this time I thought I’d give it a sporting chance with a walk around the block. En route, I reflected on the possibility that my being awake had something to with the large amounts of caffeine consumed the day before, some of which must not have reached its half-life yet.
In modern Dublin, they say, you’re never more than nine feet away from a coffee outlet. I passed two (both closed, unlike my eyes) during the walk. I also passed another thing we’ve imported from the US: a 24-hour-gym. For this alone, the nocturnal ramble was not without revelation. Although the moon remained elusive, I did at least catch a rare glimpse of the gym at 5.25am. I had often wondered. Sure enough, even at that ungodly hour, there were three people working out.