It is a fitful sleep that I’m relieved to be out of. I wiggle my fingers and feel my hands, reassured that they’re still attached to my arms and not performing a solo tap-dance routine, on stage at The London Palladium. Where does all this random stuff come from? I wonder if dreams are really a parallel universe that you slip into with each sleep, picking personal details from an avatar list like the latest Facebook game. I sigh. Too much thought too early in the day.
I lean across Mark’s sleeping shoulder to look at the time. With vibrant green luminosity the alarm clock declares it’s Four In The Morning, and the song of the same name jumps into my mind, trying to become today’s earworm. Thankfully I’m lucid enough to decline. I sigh again; it’s my morning off and I didn’t want to wake up early, I don’t want lucidity at four in the morning I want sleep.
Dawn Light is just visible through the gap in the curtain. What a good stage name that would be for someone. I mentally go through the alphabet concocting witty stage names, but it’s not sleep inducing and it gets a bit hysterical when W is Willy Wanker. Then the pre-dawn-chorus blackbird begins his solo serenade; exquisite notes from tiny lungs finding their way through the open bedroom window, catching heartstrings like a choirboy in a cathedral. Hoping his lullaby will lull me back to sleep, I snuggle under the duvet, but my eyes are too wide open and my brain too willing to invite every fret to a conference call.
How did we all become so comfortable with abnormal, and accept a situation none of us dreamt possible? Ordinary and normal feel like old-fashioned words, words we only use in a past tense. Here in my precious corner of Dorset (and especially here, under the duvet in my bed) the real world feels as far away as an open hairdresser. Everything simply gets on with living, despite to the mayhem the newspapers tell us is happening elsewhere. Our hedgerows are alive with blossom, the roadside verges awash with wild flowers, and you can literally hear the grass grow. Swallows have returned from migration oblivious to anything except their routine, and trees return to leaf just as trees always do. So why am I so unsettled?
YEEEEEKKK! SNUFFLE TRUFFLE SQUEEEEEEEEAL!!!! WEEEEEEEEE!! EEEEEEE!!!!
I jerk with alarm at the guttural noises before realising it’s a pair of badgers squabbling in the garden, right under the bedroom window. Loudly and vehemently they’re arguing over a slug. Unkindly, I think about the government TB badger cull and try to go back to the blackbird song, but he’s found a quieter roost to greet the dawn. Even my fretting can’t compete with the raucous squeals. Luckily, the garden has enough slugs to placate the entire badger population, and the argument is soon forgotten as the enemies eat their fill, and snuffle back home to the woods before daytime arrives.
Inquisitive about the commotion, I hear the cats leave their beds downstairs in the utility room, and go out to the garden through the cat flap. Sammy jumps from the wall to the shed, and climbs on to the roof, where he takes the scenic route across the house, slip-sliding on the slates until he reaches the cast iron gutter. His four legs ooplonk two-up-two-down around the edge until he gets to the open bedroom window, and I see from the shadow on the curtain that he’s adjacent to the windowpane. I hold my breath as he mutters a plaintive MIAOW, but instead of trying to squeeze through the gap, he moves along and perches on the chimney breast outside the bathroom.
Ok, if I shut my eyes tight and practise slow breaths, I can get back to sleep. In the distance I hear a dog fox shouting his staccato bark. It goes on and on and on some more, getting ever closer and ever louder, and unfortunately not in sync with my breathing pattern. Unkindly I think about foxhunting days from the past. The fox disturbs the matron of the Red Devon Cattle who graze the field outside the house. Matron always heralds the dawn in case no-one has noticed daylight has arrived, and this morning, with a full herd of mothers and new calves, she is especially vigilant and vociferous with her greeting. LADIES!! BE VERY VERY AWARE DAYLIGHT IS HERE! Unfortunately those mothers need a lot of telling until daylight seeps into their psyche. Eventually, they answer the prompt with a united fanfare WE ARE AWARE!! WE SEE THE DAWN!! THANKYOUUUUUUUUUU. My thoughts shift from fox hunting to roast beef. Note to self: what happened to Loving Kindness?
Sleep. Try again for sleep. I decide to count my blessings but the joy of simple pleasures is tinged with immense sadness, which I feel in the depths of my heart and soul, but which I dare not acknowledge for fear of never coming up for air. I dare not allow myself the pleasure of grief because it would swallow me whole, and I cannot risk empathies because I would need to revisit dark places, and they are still too dark. To put it bluntly, my compassion has compassed. I’m sorry people are dying without a loved one to hold their hand; my mother died like that. I’m sorry family members are dying too young; Mark’s sister died of cancer at 51. I’m sorry people have lost jobs and businesses; we are both self-employed and living off meagre savings is precarious. I’m not moaning because this is my life and I’m supposed to be counting my blessings, but these are my early morning thoughts and I can feel sorry for myself if I want. And I haven’t even begun worrying about what my cancer’s doing.
Outside, I hear a sudden hiss and spit and caterwaul, and know that Sooty, the feral cat from the farm has over-strayed onto our cat’s territory. I know Sammy will guard the chimneybreast while his brave little sister Rita will fluff her tail into bottlebrush mode, and face her foe with arched stance. There’s a lot of hissing, and then quiet. Sooty has retreated and the chimneybreast did not fall into enemy hands.
Then suddenly, as if at the tap of an invisible conductor’s baton, the Dawn Chorus strikes up, every bird finding its place in the nature scale. Wrens and blackbirds, thrushes and finches harmonise alongside, and those with less melodious songs chirrup and tweet the background beat. The Jackdaws emerge from their tree-hole nests to settle arguments from the night before, and the automatic crow-scarer across the valley fires its first volley of sound.
Faron Young, Willie Nelson and, surprisingly, Johnny Cash join together for a full rendition of Four In The Morning. The earworm is planted. The blackbird has flown. The badgers and fox are blissfully ASLEEP in their dens. The cats are hunting for a pre-breakfast snack. The cows feeding their calves. Beside me, my husband gently snores. And so, on this rare morning off I get up at five o’clock and drink two mugs of tea. The cats greet me with thinly disguised cupboard love. I Google earplugs on Amazon and put them in my basket. At checkout I think twice. I guess everyone needs a Noisy Neighbour story in their repertoire. It stopped me worrying, and the cats are so pleased to be fed early.