x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

For a child who cannot sleep, take to the road

Taking Astrid to a party when she hadn't slept properly would be like letting a doberman pinscher run amok amid a gaggle of frolicking geese.

Going to the party didn't seem like such a good idea. After sporadic bouts of waking during the night, Astrid was displaying a classic sign (for her) of sleep deprivation. Without sleep she is not so much Jekyll and Hyde as jackal and Hyde. She clamps her teeth on to exposed flesh without provocation and apparently without reason.

Biting, which we had hoped was a brief phase, seems to have hardened into habit, at least for the moment. If we did go to the birthday party of her friend Harry, she would need to be continually monitored or muzzled. Going when she hadn't slept properly would be, we decided, like letting a doberman pinscher run amok amid a gaggle of frolicking geese.

Staying and playing in the apartment was also a bad idea. Tiredness makes Astrid clumsy. She bumps into door jambs and tumbles off chairs. We needed a passive activity, something that involved not doing much, something that allowed for the possibility, however slim, of sleep.

Television, the obvious choice, did not work. Astrid usually sits quietly and watches an episode of In the Night Garden, but on this occasion she wouldn't sit still. She kept standing up and running off. One moment she would be fetching a book and wanting to read it, the next she would want to watch her programme again, then she would want to read a book. There is something about this curious flitting which is very annoying. Gripped by exasperation and despair, seemingly without hope for resolution, I had an idea: let's go for a drive.

With keys and Astrid in hand, I headed for the car. We set off out of Abu Dhabi over Sheikh Zayed Bridge. The bridge was almost empty, perhaps because it was a Saturday, save for a car pulled over at the side of the road. Its driver stood teetering on the crash barrier, trying to photograph the gargantuan concrete struts that zigzag up and down like a roller coaster.

Astrid was still awake, so I headed for the Dubai motorway. By the time we curved on to the route to Dubai, her head had lolled back and her eyes were closed. She had fallen asleep. The road was quite empty, not clogged with cars speeding along, almost bumper to bumper as it is more often than not. It was quite pleasant. At first I thought this lack of traffic was behind this unexpected feeling. Then I realised the main source of my enjoyment: I was on the road to nowhere.

Driving is usually about getting from A to B. Any delay is an impediment, any problem - a traffic jam, traffic lights, slow drivers, roadworks - a barrier between you and where you want to go. In such circumstances, driving is chock-full of frenzy and frantic annoyance. But without a destination it can be a joy. By removing the main purpose behind the activity, by taking out the reason for doing it in the first place, motoring attains a meditative quality.

The main reason for me to be driving was to keep Astrid asleep. The only limitations were fuel and my bladder: the former was heading towards empty, while the latter was moving towards full. I took the turn off for the Yas Tourist Drive and meandered around the island glancing up at the remarkable edifices. Astrid looked peaceful and content. Amazing to think, I thought, that these buildings and Astrid are about the same age.

A green light started flashing and I had to brake hard. Astrid jolted forwards but went back to sleep. The signs for the Yas Tourist Drive said straight ahead, so I did a U-turn. I didn't want to be sucked in to driving somewhere. I just wanted to keep driving until Astrid woke up.