I’m no lark. At this time of the year the sun is up many hours before I am. It is breaking, rising and shining whilst I remain snoring, sinking and languishing. Earlier this week, however, fuelled by a rush of midsummer energy, enthusiasm for life, and renewed hope that it is, after all, a wonderful world, I set my alarm for 4 a.m. Not being one who usually wakens to an alarm, [or at least I’ve not done for ten years], it was a rude dislocation from my dreams, and I had trouble working out what this poke in the ear was. Then, when somewhere in my brain registered the word, ‘alarm’, I knew the only thing for it was to immediately unglue myself from the mattress and stand. No malingering, not a moment’s hesitation, or all could be lost – I know myself too well. Last night’s clothes were strategically heaped at the bottom of the bed. I pulled them on and found myself, as if by teleportation, outside and walking up the street before I realised I was awake. The self-trickery had been performed.
At 4a.m. the city is still; no breeze, no noise, no cars, just the promise-filled pre-dawn light. As adventures go, this was a small one, but there was enough excitement in me to burn away any drifts of tiredness. I was as solitary as the abandoned cider can in the gutter, and I felt as free as the two gulls that cried and swooped low over my head. This is their time to pick and scavenge the spoils from last night – but where is the usual carrion they dine on? No more the Hansel and Gretel trails of chips, kebabs and burgers joining nightclub to home. Instead, the gulls, adaptable to us humans and our curious changes in behaviour of late, search for late-night picnic spoils in parks, they re-visit what’s left behind from those wide-circled outdoor gatherings that have become the new pub, club, and entertainment venue rolled into one.
Of course, you know this, all you risers and shiners, but I’m a rookie midwife to the early morning; I know little about a day being born. On this particular morning, I was lucky, I’d picked a good one, an uncomplicated birth. The higher I climbed the pinker the gashes in the sky became. It was bright already; civil twilight, the meteorologists call it – that time in the morning when the sun is not yet up, but it is light. This is the moment when the day holds it breath. Calton Hill was my chosen spot for an unbroken view east upon the horizon, that spit of sea between Fife and East Lothian. And, just like an old-time prospector panning for gold in the gulch who suddenly sees a glint in the stones, there is was: a flash of bullion on the horizon. It rose fast, Poseidon’s burnished shield, huge and majestic, welcomed by the Halleluiah chorus of birdsong and a sudden whisper of wind. ‘Sun’s up, let’s get going,’ the other elements seemed to say, as a breeze came from nowhere and clouds scudded in and a woman walking two dogs paused to look where I was looking.
By 5.30, I was back in bed, sunlight illuminating my room through closed curtains. But I don’t need the dark to sleep; I need the shipping news. I turned my radio on low and Sailing By lulled me back to sleep.