Tim Dowling: it’s 5.12am and I can hear an intruder with a chainsaw


Iam woken by a mosquito lazily hovering about my ear, the bedroom bathed in a pewter half-light. I brush the side of my head and the noise stops, but I can feel the spot on my neck where I have already been bitten.

I recall that my phone alarm is set for 6.45. Even before I remember why, I am negotiating with myself: if the time is 6.35 or later, I will get up; if it’s not yet 6.30, I will reset the alarm for 7am to give myself enough time to fall back asleep. Or maybe 7.10 makes more sense, depending on why I set the alarm in the first place. I hear the unsteady whine of the mosquito tracing a scribbled path back to my ear.

I reach out and drag my phone across the nightstand: it’s 3.54. This does not strike me as unalloyed good news. I get out of bed and go to the open window. Down below, I can just make out the shapes of four foxes cavorting in an adjacent back garden: running along the walls, jumping over newly planted hedges and sniffing at the edges of some just-laid turf. Go on, I think: pull it all up.

I return to bed, close my eyes and try to dispel the idea that 6.50 is hurtling towards me. I am next woken at 5.12 by what sounds exactly like an intruder sharpening a chainsaw on the other side of the bathroom door, but turns out to be the dog prising the cover off the shower drain to get at the stagnant puddle below. By the time I summon the determination to investigate, the dog has its head down the drain and its hind legs in the air.

“That’s disgusting,” I say. “Come with me.”

I take the dog down to the kitchen and fill up its water bowl. It laps furiously while I scratch the spot on my hand where the mosquito managed to bite me a second time.

“For the record,” I say, “there was already plenty of water in that bowl.”

The dog laps. I scratch. The cat fires itself through the flap and turns slow circles around my ankles.

“You were free to come down here at any time,” I say.

“Miaow!” the cat says.

“Quiet,” I say.

“Miaow!” it says.

“Today hasn’t started,” I say. “It’s still last night, so shut up.”

“Miaow!” the cat says.

“Nocturnal is a choice,” I say. “Your choice.” The cat jumps on to the worktop and stands alongsidethe sink.

“I mean, if you tried sleeping less in the day, you might feel more…”

“Miaow!” the cat says.

“Fine,” I say, turning on the tap so it trickles the way the cat likes it.

I go back upstairs, leaving the dog and the cat to their new shared interest.

“What are you doing?” my wife says. “It’s 5.30.”

“Getting dressed,” I say.

“Why?” she says.

“I’m a businessman,” I say. “I’ve got business.”

“What business?” she says.

“I might also have some water, which is really fashionable right now.”

“Are you sleepwalking?”

“No,” I say. “I’m working.”

On my way downstairs, I pass the dog on its way back up to bed. The cat has vanished. I turn off the tap, make coffee and sit in the quiet of the kitchen for a few minutes, while the day slowly ripens around me.

By 6am, I am in my office attending to my remembered business, a deadline that I missed yesterday evening, but which might still be met before the intended recipient can wake up and email me to complain. This is basically my idea of discipline: rising at the crack of dawn to get a head start on the previous day’s work.

And so it comes to pass: by 9am I am finished with my work and have the whole day still before me. I swivel around in my chair to see the cat lying in a square of sunlight, fast asleep. A few minutes later, so am I.