Monday, January 10, 2005

The 5am Blackbird

The birds have started their ludicrous Spring songs, although we are far from Spring - still technically in Mid-Winter with months of blasting cold still to suffer through. Except, the weather, as we all (everywhere outside the US that is) acknowledge, is screwed. It's really warm and we are experiencing killer winds across North Europe.

I sleep light. I suffer from insomnia, unless I am careful about my circadian rhythm - i.e. bedtime and rising time, watch my adrenalin levels, eat the right food at the right time, exercise, meditate, avoid excessive alchohol or other intoxicants/stimulants, and generally look after myself. The fact that I do all these things has nothing to do with any health-freakery - it's just so that I can get a good night's sleep.

The regime doesn't always work. My rhythm gets messed up anyway sometimes. I wake up at 2am or 3am and then I don't sleep until 5am, 6am or even 8am. The nice cosy big comfy warm middle bit of the night is then for me just a long boring wait to go back to dreamland. Sometimes it's a borderline thing - small irritations grow Kafka-sized in my exhausted sleep-deprived state. The sound of a radio in some nearby home becomes a brainwashing alien broadcast. Some drunk couple arguing loudly in the street 4 storeys below - "Bitch!" "Wanker!" are actually shouting at me. My girlfriend's congested night breathing masks her real zombie nature and she will shortly tear and eat my flesh. Then the 5am blackbird starts up.

I've been living here far too long and I've seen many blackbirds come and go. I like them. Blackbirds can live up to 20 years, and their complex song develops and changes each season. They are great mimics and incorporate sounds from the environment. I used to listen out for a bird which had picked up on one of the local kid's crazy whistle. This kid grew up and left the area, and the bird was still carrying the phrase in it's song for 3 or 4 years afterwards.

I get a sense of territory from the songs I recognise when I come back here after being away - which is the whole point of the loud, persistent, daily warble.

I miss that blackbird, it was smart and musical. I haven't heard it in 10 years. None of the current crop have the range and quality of that particular song, nor the clever integration of melody.

One January morning years ago I awoke to that peculiar stillness that means snow has blanketed everything, softening the hard surfaces and absorbing noise like a sponge. It was as quiet as London ever gets, pre-dawn, everything white. In the middle of this silence there was one sound which carried, the song of the blackbird, the singer invisible, and archly perched on some vantage point which meant the song was amplified by being bounced and reverberated off the side of a large building opposite. It was spectacular - I got up and plugged the best microphone I possess into my DAT recorder and let myself get very cold by the open window while I grabbed 30 minutes for posterity.

Last night's 5am blackbird song was a pathetic dribble of mutant electronic tweeks and chirps, a cascading symphony performed by a deranged toddler with Attention Deficit Disorder. Just loud enough and near enough to keep me awake from 5am to 6.30am when I had to get up anyway. Bastard bird. I want to bake it in a pie with three-and-twenty others. I want to take it to birdschool and teach it not to imitate car alarms - which is what I realised the little fucker is doing. Tink-tink. Tink-tink-diggle-tweek. Weep-weep-weep-weep-weep-weep. Tink-tink. Tink-tink-diggle-tweek. Weep-weep-weep-weep-weep-weep. Weep-weep-weep-weep-weep-weep. Weep-weep-weep-weep-weep-weep.

I am so tired, and tea won't work; I am hungry but I can't eat; I miss everyone I ever missed; and I feel like weep-weeping.

Thank God I don't do 9-5.

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