Far Too Early

It feels as though you’ve only just closed your eyes, when the alarm clock buzzes its way into your consciousness. Through the darkness, the numerals flash at you irritably as if they, too, are annoyed at being called into service so early. The rest of the room is lit dimly and intermittently with the red blinking before you swing yourself out from under the warmth of the duvet, and give the large plastic button a hefty thwack. It doesn’t make you any more glad to be awake, but at least it serves as something to punish.

As you yawn and stretch your neck, you go to the skylight window and poke your head out cautiously, feel the harsh subzero breeze strike your cheeks and ears, and feel your eyes water with the abrupt change in temperature. You see that the skies are clear of cloud, which accounts for the frost on the other side of the glass and which will mean a fresh blue morning, when the sun rises behind the dark shapes of the mountains. All the world seems to be asleep: there’s not a single light on in the buildings around you, no sound from the street, no pinpricks of light making their way along the main road across the lake. You congratulate yourself silently for managing to get up so early again before heading for the shower: the heat and needles of water will blast away any remaining cobwebs.

After dressing and packing your laptop, you pull on a warm jacket and flick the light switch, throwing your home back into complete darkness. You ride the lift down through the silent building, step into the freshness of the pre-dawn world and make your way up the hill to the train station. An old woman watches as her dog defecates in a resentful way: the look on the animal’s face reflects your own misgivings on being out in the cold so early. Further up the street, small signs of life: the baker’s van is just turning into your road and another solitary figure, wrapped up in woolly hat and gloves, crosses your path on his way up to the High Street. His eyes crinkle, though you can’t tell whether in greeting or against the wind. His huddled figure recedes as you cross the silent roundabout and make your way up the dark steps to the elevated station road.

There’s a little more life as you walk through the subway: a lone cleaner rides his noisy way around the station as orange-jacketed workers whistle and call to each other. The last of the exceptionally long overnight goods trains squeals its way through the points to head southward, delivering inarticulate lorries and their sleeping drivers to the coast, ready to be loaded onto the waiting ships bound for distant shores. The familiar faces greet you disinterestedly as you board the local train: the squat little woman with dark hair, bundled up again despite the stifling heat of the compartment; the solidly built guy with a limp; the annoying guy who always finds someone to talk to, wearing sandals without socks in defiance of the winter and using his loud laugh to make sure that no-one else dozes too deeply. The kid with the dreadlocks and big woolly hat is here again, off to skive off as much of his apprenticeship as possible; the guy sitting quietly in the paltry first class section with a satchel on his lap will spring up as the train pulls out of the station and surprise no-one when he carries out his ticket spot check. All who are here will sigh resignedly and prove for the third time this week that their pre-purchased travel passes are as valid today as they were yesterday, and the day before.

The train pulls out on time, thanks to the lack of slow-moving tourists at this unearthly hour, and the darkness begins whizzing by the windows as heads loll. More wraith-like figures float into view at each of the village stations, drawn out of the dark lanes by the brightly lit train. You half expect a small girl and large ghost-like figure to board at some point, but then realize that the film of which you are thinking isn’t set in Switzerland, but fictional Japan. A brief view into a slow-moving train passing alongside shows you the inside of a fat man’s mouth as he greets the world with a yawn, before you pull into the largest town on your journey and see shopkeepers trudging along the side streets, taxi drivers chatting to each other through the smoke-wreathed spaces between their cars, and the indomitable cheeriness of the fifty-something woman reading the morning paper in the platform kiosk. The train arrives at its destination and sheds its passengers, you walk to the next platform and smoke a cigarette blearily as the second hand ticks its noisy way round to the departure of your connection.

The local train along the second lake of your day is uncomfortable, laid on for local travellers rather than tourists heading eastward, but you manage to doze anyway, with your head on the window frame and the laboured breathing of the unhealthy looking regular making sure you won’t miss your stop. By the time you get to the office, an hour and a half after swatting the alarm, you feel almost refreshed. Unlocking the office and glancing out across the harbour to see mist rising from the water, you are ready to start work: a fresh aroma greets you as you fill a mug with coffee and you settle down in front of the screen, to start the day gently and await the eventual arrival of the rest of the team.

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