Monday, June 18, 2007

In defence of larks

The columnist Johann Hari, who I enjoy reading and sometimes agree with, posted a great piece about how harsh the world is towards natural night-owls: people who naturally wake around noon, and go to sleep as dawn is breaking.

I had a taste of that as a student, when I would struggle to get out of bed at 9am for a 9:30 lecture, and then stay up chatting until 2am. It could have been worse: one of my room-mates went nocturnal and slept from about 7am to 5pm. Funnily enough, he failed.

But now I have quite the opposite problem. Bit by bit, I am waking earlier. My children wake up at 6am (on a good day), but I am usually up before them. Days starting at 4am have got more and more common; I no longer even consider that a problem. And of course the converse of this is obvious: I have done most of my productive work by lunchtime, and by 8pm or 9pm, when other people are just starting to go out and do things, I am falling asleep on my feet. If Johann is a natural owl, it seems I must be something of a lark.

Have you ever seen the world at 4am? It's a grim place: cold, dark, and lonely. You've just woken up, there's no hope of getting back to sleep, and you know you're going to have to wait hours before you can have any meaningful human contact.

But there are positive sides to getting up so early too. Here are some of mine:
- watch films. Not the stuff that's on at 4am; I have a digital video now so I record anything that looks interesting, so that if I wake up early, I have something to do. Old films, obscure films, the kinds of films shown by BBC4 or Film4 late at night are good.
- write. There are lots of things which are socially unacceptable at 4am in a shared house: playing the guitar, hammering, drilling, moving around. But sitting at the computer writing - novels, film scripts, computer games, whatever - is fairly quiet. It's amazing how a couple of hours in a morning several times a week adds up.
- go shopping. Even here in the sticks, our big Tesco store is now open 24-7 (except Saturday and Sunday nights). If you can cope with certain sections like the fish counter being closed, it's a great time to shop because, surprise surprise, the shop is fairly empty. It's also interesting to see what kind of person is out shopping (or working) at that time in the morning.
- make friends on the other side of the world. The internet at least never sleeps, and the sun never sets on it.
- work. No good for jobs with fixed hours of course, but some jobs are getting more flexible. I'm allowed to start work at 7am and finish at 3. Occasionally I can work from home, and then I'll start work when I wake up - 2am on one occasion. That means I've done most of a day's work (uninterrupted) by the time other people are up and I can spend the day with family and just fielding occasional phone calls or e-mails. With a bit more organization and access to wi-fi I could even go out shopping.

Of course it's still fairly lonely, and as a naturally gregarious person it's frustrating that when I am at my most awake and full of ideas, everyone else is asleep.