Entry 04: Awake in the Witching Hour
I can’t believe this time exists beyond binge drinking and the all-encompassing oblivion of night-time anxiety.
My disassociated corpse searches the room for last night’s pre-chosen outfit and glass of water my past self, so wisely, gifted my present self. Hydration hits me and my eyes begin to focus, the abstracted lens of sleep lifting as a pulse of excitement drives me to check for my passport just one more time, and again just for safety, and again, and again. Brains don’t operate at this hour.
My flatmate’s alarm disturbs the strange density of the morning, awaking him for work. His shifts often last until the same time tomorrow. The man is a titan. A trained tamer of the A.M. hour.
Our eyes meet in the corridor and I try to dribble out something resembling a ‘good morning’. He laughs, skins a joint and goes on his way, conquering the clock with an insouciant indifference to circadian safety.
I wobble out the block and march to the bus stop. The 53 arrives right on time. Workers, in all stages of consciousness, tap in, sit down, zone out.
I nearly miss my stop, but the blue glow of a TFL roundel registers somewhere at the back of my brain, prompting a desperate run down the stairs and a dive through the doors.
Woolwich awaits. Bodies move in reluctant rhythm towards the DLR. First service is in ten minutes. I tap in again, let the groaning steel escalator lower me and my swaying body into its stomach.
Our eyes meet in the corridor and i try to dribble out something resembling a ‘good morning’.
It smells down here. Not quite the micro-particulate, smoggy, industrialised stench of the London tubes, but more of people, and people’s mornings. A stale air of bodies peeled from bed, bad breath, skipped showers. I add to the musk. Coffee cups surprisingly absent, everyone is resigned, even caffeine can’t enliven the moment. Besides, all the baristas are sat here, on their way to serve the first militant wave of bankers, builders and befuddled creatures ascending into their glass and steel towers. That’s how early, or late, it is. Even the caffeine cranks aren’t at their posts.
I reach London City Airport at 5.40am.
I’m nudged by the need for a cigarette, but, honestly, it passes as quickly as it comes. I really don’t want to need a shit mid-security checks. I’ll save that condensing beauty for forty-thousand feet above planet earth. The mile high excretion club.
A chirpy, tonal gentleman chimes at me as I mash my boarding pass into an automated gate.
‘Good morning, sir!’ He’s pretty much singing.
‘It really fucking is morning, innit!’ I say.
He laughs heartily. Tells me he’s been up for hours and loves seeing people like myself, mind-blown at the ability of some people to subsist in such a shitty hour.
I unload my belongings into the security tray, search my pockets for stuff I know isn’t there, though it’s always worth a look: little penknife, stash of drugs, weapons of mass destruction, and, god forbid, any aqueous liquid above 100ml. Sweat glimmers on my upper lip as the staunch mercenary at security eyes me up.
I walk through the scanner, accepting my fate. I’ve done nothing wrong, but surely fifteen years in prison for some unknown possession isn’t that bad, is it? Tiredness makes you strike strange deals with fate, however deluded.
I make it through unscathed and proceed to meander around the dull offerings of duty free, before sitting down in the waiting area. 5.54am.
How does anyone brine their brain at 5.54am and make it to work?
London city airport, at 5.54am, is a zoo. Men and women, looking polished and sharp, ready for a day of deals and business trips to Frankfurt are fucking necking pints. Call me inexperienced, naive, whatever you would, but how does anyone brine their brain at 5.54am and make it to work? Pint men and women of all stature are at varying degrees through their drinks, some already returning with more foaming rounds to top up the last. A ploy to stave off the inevitable terror that they will have to abstain for half-an-hour during take-off?
I’ve witnessed a microcosmic encapsulation of the British business psyche here. Beverage before business, because business before beverage would probably cause the whole sprawl of London Docklands to strangle everyone, here, there and everywhere, London to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to London. Punching numbers and chasing cheques must only be operationally possible at a sufficient level of inebriation.
Sat aside from the rabble are an old couple, sipping red wine. Adjacent to them, with their air of aristocracy, are a couple of suits, lingering and sipping gin and tonics. The only normal people in here seem to be the ones mushed in their seats, choking on their tongues as saliva drips on their shoulders, jolting them awake when asphyxiation activates the alarm bell for departure.
I haven’t flown much in my adult life. So maybe this is normal and one day I’m going to learn the beauty of getting spangled out-of-hours in a city airport.
But, right now, after this early morning shit-show, I think I need a sleep, a shit, and a psychotherapist to help me unpack what the hell it is that makes the early hours of London so depraved, so perilous and on reflection, so utterly hilarious.
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