KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
S hortly after I left school, I met one of my old teachers who told me she’d taken early retirement. I was stunned — she was one of those inspirational women who you just couldn’t imagine doing anything but teach, and although she benefited from that odd agelessness that seems to affect all teachers, I reckoned she couldn’t have been more than 50. Why on earth would somebody like her retire, I wondered? And who would tell the children about monastic settlements in medieval Ireland now?
She went, she told me, because she couldn’t bear to get up in the dark. Simple as that. That hour or so, at the start of each winter weekday, was enough to ruin the rest of the day for her. And so she jettisoned an entire career — a vocation, in her case — just so that she could open her eyes in daylight.
That was years ago, but I don’t believe that a winter morning has passed since that I haven’t thought of that teacher and envied her the choice she made. Because I cannot tell you how much I hate getting up in the dark. It feels unnatural, like a most violent crime against the universe. The Dog, I’ve noticed over the past few years, raises his head from his bed when I stagger down on dark mornings but doesn’t actually stand up until the sky begins to sport hues that paint companies might describe as cobalt. He knows better than to take on nature while it is still clearly sporting a Do Not Disturb sign. Would that we had that luxury. And while screwing with the world doesn’t ruin the whole day for me, like it did for my teacher, it does start me on a back foot significant enough to ensure that at this time of year, it’s a rare day when the kids manage to get out to school without me barking at them.
We’ve got a brief reprieve now, of course. The clocks going back last weekend, as well as neatly chopping off the end of the day, have allowed most of us the luxury of rising in daylight again. But in a few short weeks, we will be back to black. And it just feels wrong.
It’s not just laziness either. In the summer, I have no difficulty getting up at five in the morning — in fact, my synchronicity with
‘I can’t tell you how much I hate getting
up in the dark. It feels unnatural, like a most violent crime against the universe’
sunrise sometimes presents its own problems: there’s not much craic to be had on a weekend dawn when everyone else in the house is only getting into the stride of their sleep. And I do really appreciate those rare June evenings when you look out at a gently gathering twilight as you’re heading for bed — but I remain to be convinced that these dark mornings make our long summer nights worthwhile.
I partly blame the years we lived in the UK. It’s not as bad there, see, simply because they don’t get to go to bed in twilight in June. And while there are dark mornings in deepest winter in London, there really are only a few of them. I do remember two particularly dark periods in my time there; one when I presented a breakfast radio show, which necessitated me not just rising in the pitch black but commuting through it as well; and another bleak period during which I worked on a morning TV show broadcast from Southampton, which saw me catch the 5.15am train from Victoria three times a week. What I remember most about that was how incredibly cold that first train of the day was, and how it would take till lunch just for my bones to thaw. I say lunchtime but of course that was dinner time for my body, which became utterly confused about not just when and what to eat but, far worse (if you’ll forgive me heading south), when to go to the toilet.
Trust me, there are few more miserable feelings than craving your dinner at 11am — and few more baffling experiences for your day-shift colleagues than when you suggest drinks at three. Which is why I’ve never applied to attend that whole Winter Solstice thingy in Newgrange. It’s not that I wouldn’t love to set eyes on a rare wonder of nature that inspired our ancestors thousands of years ago (I would, I would!), it’s just I’m not prepared to get up in the dark to do so. Honestly, you’d have thought those Neolithic tomb builders, with all their primal connections with nature, might have taken that into consideration.
Don’t miss Fiona Looney’s brilliant column, with her unique take on modern Ireland, only in the Irish Daily Mail every Wednesday.