When I was 15, I woke up at 6 o’clock each morning to deliver newspapers before school. Waking up early came easily to me. I loved that I started the day before everyone else. I had a head start. The roads were blissfully quiet, not a car in sight. Most of the time it was just me and my BMX. In the Winter it was so dark, the birds weren’t even awake. I always felt relieved when the sun came up slowly over the houses. Reassurance that time was passing and the sun would soon warm the bitter cold left by the night.
At school it became my secret weapon. I went to a school where I was expected to complete several hours of homework a night. These extra hours in the morning were invaluable. They were the quiet time I couldn’t get at home. I could memorise facts and quotes from books. I could test myself. I remember cycling up the steepest hill on my paper round, talking to my self in French only to clench my mouth shut when the postman was in earshot. It was a space where almost no one could judge me.
It wasn’t just school that benefitted from those stolen morning hours. I drafted lengthy text messages in my head to teenage boyfriends. I’d craft them until they were ready to be committed to the screen, either admitting my undying love to the boy I had seen at the school disco, who I couldn’t stop thinking about, or a careful letting down to the boy who wasn’t right for me.
The hours before school were my time and I used them to become the best me, both academically and emotionally.
Years later, I found myself in a series of jobs that I felt took me for granted. I was still the early bird. Waking up early is in my blood. I am certainly most productive in the mornings, but instead of keeping these hours for me I found myself on an earlier bus into work, getting a head start on my work for the day. I enjoyed the quiet and often quicker commute, as well as the less hectic pace of the studio, but I didn’t gain any respect for it. I didn’t benefit from my early starts. I still ended up working late and in one job, I regularly spent 12 hours in the office. A job I later got made redundant from despite this dedication.
After the redundancy I became freelance. Of course I still came into London early, all South Londoners know you can’t get caught on a bus at Elephant and Castle in the middle of the school run. But being freelance meant I couldn’t go into work early; I didn’t have a key, or at least I knew I shouldn’t. I was charging a day rate for a certain amount of hours. Every hour extra I would give, I would devalue myself. I felt that if I over-delivered, it would become expected of me, much like it did in my last job.
So the early morning hours were mine again. I would walk around Covent Garden, usually dense with tourists, when there were few people around. Pubs were cleaning the streets outside, washing away the night before and the homeless people were still sleeping in the alcoves of shops. I would hide away in cafés on rainy mornings devouring books and sampling various English Breakfast Teas. I would watch smartly dressed people waiting anxiously to go to important meetings. People fiddling with their phones and scribbling away in notebooks. By reclaiming my lost morning hours I had discovered a new London. A slower London, charmingly quiet and dazed with sleep.
I continue this ritual now, ensuring I don’t undersell myself at work and make the most of the time that is mine. I have read piles of books and have taken up writing again. I am following my teenage-self’s advice and using the time to become the best me.
I often wonder how I came to lose the morning hours I once treasured so much, but I am pleased that I have found them again.