A handful of the short term jobs that I have never gone to the trouble of mentioning on my CV have involved night shifts. During one of my less enjoyable years at university, I worked from 22h00 – 06h00 in a petrol station in Sheffield. Then, shortly after graduation, an agency found for me by the Job Centre placed me with a specialist firm that oversaw the opening of new supermarkets. I worked an entire week of night shifts placing Waitrose merchandise on the shelves of a newly refurbished supermarket acquired from the defunct Safeway. This was done so that regular employees could go in on their first day as a Waitrose ‘partner’ and know how the place should look. You may not agree with me on this one, but I don’t believe that any job I have ever had has provided such simple job satisfaction as is found when employed to go through a supermarket aisle lining price tags to products, and turning packages so that bar codes are not visible until the item is taken from the shelf.
Nocturnal employment seems cathartic to me, although the Waitrose job was less so since the bright lights of the supermarket burned twenty-four hours a day. That felt more like being in a huge television set (Supermarket Sweep perhaps). I am not crippled by insomnia, but I do not sleep as peacefully as I would like. As many as six or seven hours can easily be achieved, but once I am awake, it is very difficult to return to sleep, regardless of what time it is.
I have, in recent weeks, blamed Lumpy (one of two cats that cohabits with us) for waking me in the early hours by climbing onto my pillow and then my head – usually around five or six in the morning. I’ve come to realise, however, that she only climbs onto me when she knows that I’m awake and therefore liable to give her a cuddle, scratch or stroke.
This morning, on the first morning of 2009, I was awake before the last reveller had returned home. I was quite content with a modest (a.k.a. “credit crunch”) New Year’s Eve at home, especially since it brought home made pizza, supermarket own-brand “bierre de France” and a modern classic film (“the sky’s beginning to bruise, night must fall and we shall be forced to camp.”) With a reluctancy that is getting ever weaker, I was upright to hear the pips of the six o’clock news and to start the chemistry required by a new bread making machine. The instruction manual that accompanies this device advices me that with the time delay feature, I can wake up to fresh bread. There hardly seems any point, since I will most likely be up early enough to set the machine going myself.
I have, since moving to Glasgow, revisited my nocturnal self. With a daily routine that is establishing itself, so too is an internal rhythm over which I have no control. The strangest thoughts creep into my mind when I wake in the dark early hours, and they can be quite enough to destroy any hope of returning to sleep. If there is a new year’s resolution to be made (and I detest them usually) it is that I will not fight my unforgiving awakeness in the early hours. Making bread, writing letters or reading books will substitute for tossing and turning. I hope.
As previously bemoaned on this blog, the nights are getting longer in Glasgow. Just how much longer can be demonstrated by the excellent sunrise / sunset map feature of Jonathan Stott’s website, which is also plugged into his own personal weather station in the south-eastern corner of England. By combining the relevant sunrise and sunset data with OS map information, Stott can tell you the time the sun will rise and set across the UK on any date you choose. In less than two weeks time, we reach the winter solstice, when we’ll have less than seven hours of daylight.
Come 21 June, things will be much better…
… or rather, it will be for those deep sleepers who aren’t woken by an early dawn. While I would certainly appreciate thicker curtains around the house right now to cut down on drafts, some lightproof ones may be necessary come the summer.
How does £36 sound to you for a bed in London? The capital is an expensive place to spend the night, but last week I found a comfortable single bed with clean linen, soft pillows, a good reading light and a sink with plentiful hot and cold water. There are some downsides to this cosy bed, though. Namely that the room this single bed is in is quite small, with only a narrow standing space beside the bed.
And that when you wake up in the morning, your bed will have moved by as much as 800 miles from London.
£36 is the cost of a standard berth reservation on board the ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper between London and Glasgow. For £51 you can have a first class reservation, which guarantees the same size of cabin but without having to share it. You’ll need a ticket for travel in addition to those upgrades, although all inclusive “bargain berths” are available online from £19 when booked in advance.
It can still come as a surprise to some British people to discover that our little country still supports full service sleeper trains. There are five routes still in operation: London to Penzance (the Night Riviera); London to Edinburgh and Glasgow (the ScotRail Lowland Sleeper) and London to Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort Wiliam (the ScotRail Highland Sleeper), all operating six nights a week. There are about sixty additional intermediate stations, although the services between London and Scotland’s two biggest cities are relatively uninterrupted. If you find yourself booked in the last compartment of the last carriage (as I did a southbound journey last week) you may feel a jolt as different train portions are shunted together at Carstairs or Edinburgh. But aside from that, the sleepers offer a smooth and extremely comfortable way to cover the miles. I find the gentle lateral rocking of the train particularly comforting, and bonded rails mean there is much less of the disturbing clickety-clack than you might think.
This photograph just about shows you everything you need to know. The sleeper carriages are specially constructed variants on the basic design of the Intercity 125 carriage, normally with twelve compartments. They’re smooth riding, solidly built and well heated and ventilated, although opening windows aren’t included in the cabin. The cabin is simple and compact, with two bunks (limited British railway clearances mean that we don’t have enough height for European-style couchettes or, for that matter, the double deck sleeper trains you’ll find in Germany and Switzerland) in standard class or a single lower bunk in first class. There’s a small sink under the lid by the window, and space for suitcases and bags under the lower bed or above the window. The panel between the door and the beds has switches for the main light and the reading lights, and a call bell for the attendant. Behind the door (on the left of this picture) is another door allowing two compartments to be conjoined for a family.
My train left Glasgow Central just after half past eleven on Thursday night and arrived in London almost an hour early at six the next morning, although if you would like to slumber a little longer, passengers aren’t disturbed until nearer seven when the attendant brings a hot drink and snack breakfast box. I snubbed the offer of the breakfast box, preferring instead a cab over to Smithfield Market for a greasy breakfast and mug of builder’s tea.
At the end of the day’s business in London, I adjourned with trusted friends and colleagues to a pub off Oxford Street. We discussed work and studies over pints of independently brewed Yorkshire lager and I watched the bright afternoon sunlight fall on the rooftops of Margaret Street. At about half past six though, one of our small circle had to leave. He was watching the clock for his journey home, which would consist of a tube over to Liverpool Street station, followed by a train to Stansted Airport. Then check-in, security, a long walk to the Stansted satellite terminal, boarding, taxi, take-off and then a short flight to Newcastle Airport. Then two buses to get home.
I, however, stayed for another pint. Then I took a bus over to Clerkenwell for another couple of pints and dinner. It wasn’t until nearer ten that I began my journey home. A bus to Euston and then… I slept my way home. I know how I want to travel between Scotland and London from now onwards.