1 June 2009
I have a week off - at least, so far I have - and the prospect of catching up on a spot of shuteye is a most attractive one. Yet when the next batch of dawn calls comes along, I'll relish it.
For the last three weeks the latest I have dragged my sorry arse out of bed on a weekday is 4.10am. The earliest is 3am. This is because of some breakfast show cover on Pure 107.8FM in Stockport and then 102.4 Wish FM in Wigan. The latter involved the 3am starts as Wigan is a bit further away from me than Stockport and the show starts at 6am, an hour earlier.
An alarm clock at 3am doesn't really wake you up. The six minute snooze to which I treat myself prior to the second alarm acts as the slow waking process - you are conscious but still beyond drowsy. After many years of doing inhuman shifts, my body now has an involuntary way of maintaining my consciousness levels until the second alarm sounds, and that involves a frenetic, unceasing waggle of my toes.
Once out of bed, I'm fine. I'm not a rush job at that time, I want to allow myself time to shower, shave, make myself some breakfast and give myself time to eat it. Some people on earlier-than-thou shifts are out of the house within literally two minutes of throwing aside the quilt. I can't do that. They must stink. And they must be hungry. And they won't have even begun to wake up.
Although it's a weekday alarm, I'm also aware that at 3am, as I'm tiptoeing round the house getting ready, that people elsewhere are still considering the prospect of going to bed. That does feel strange, especially when Saturday night comes round and I'm doing the nightclub gig, as I finish at 3am on Sunday and as I crawl, dog tired, under the sheets at the bed and breakfast ten minutes later, I'm aware that on five of the six previous days I was just getting up at precisely the same time.
Driving on a motorway between the hours of 3.30am and 5.30am is also a strange experience. At this time of year it's practically daylight by setting off time and, having tucked myself in no later than 9pm the night before, it's daylight then too. This means that early risers in a British summer see no proper darkness at all for five days of the week.
Being on a motorway, in daylight, when it's conspicuous by its emptiness, is good for someone in my job. As I'm freelance, I can't afford to be complacent. Long though it is, the drive is uneventful thanks to the sheer lack of traffic and it allows me to concentrate my mind, psyche up the performer within and by the time I get to the studio - no less than half an hour before I'm due on air - I'm ready. I'm wide awake, raring to go, aware that my upbeat persona, should it be such, is key to making sure that knackered people forcing themselves from their pits from 6am onwards feel cheery and happy as they begin their daily routines.
Sometimes, usually midway through a week of these hours, you hit the wall. Driving back home after coming off air at 10am can occasionally build the wall before you but if it does turn up, it's usually in the afternoon. 3pm for me in early mode is the equivalent of 8pm for a conventional career person, and at 8pm a lot of people are snoozing in front of the telly after a hard day's graft and with a bellyful of dinner. That's 3pm to me. Sometimes the wall is unavoidable, but on most occasions to have to clamber over it, as even an hour's kip can make you feel totally wretched afterwards.
Last week I was in bed by 9pm and up by 3.06am, each weekday. This was my routine when I worked full time on breakfasts and you do get used to it. You get used to the sound of the birds waking up and of milk floats humming along. In my case, a light would go on in the house opposite as regularly as clockwork while I was abluting as the bloke who lives there is on 24-hour medication and has to wake himself up before cockcrow to take a tablet. You notice stuff like that. You notice every over-sensitive security light down your street - the ones that ignite when a car has the temerity to drive past, or a cat starts a fight in the garden next door. As I leave my house at 3.35am, three lights down the street come on.
I love my sleep and I'll enjoy my good lie-in this week, but there is something special, if not necessarily attractive to those not in the know, about being out and about at that hour, beginning your day when most of the nation is comatose. It's the tranquillity of it, the knowledge that you are doing your job in order to help them get in the correct frame of mind to do theirs. Being able to leave work before midday earns you jealous looks from colleagues and envious catty comments from friends. People ask me, when I do breakfast shifts, how on earth I cope with the early starts. My answer is rather straightforward and surprises them - it's the easiest thing in the world. The nature of my job, the excitement that goes with it, the glamour that it exudes to the rest of the world (not that it truly exists, but you let them believe it) makes a 3.06am final warning from my alarm clock the most bearable of things. When I think of the jobs I could be doing following such an anti-social alarm, I'm grateful...