An alarm wails at 6.00 am in the autumnal city.
Residents on the local housing estates come awake slowly. Are their flats on fire? No. A quick assessment of the noise: it is outside the block, a claxon wail, rising and falling – perhaps the local university buildings or telephone exchange.
The alarm is silenced.
We roll over to go back to sleep.
There it goes again.
Windows open. Heads pop out, lights come on. What is this disruption to our beauty sleep, and on a weekend too?
Again it is silenced, and almost immediately begins again. Silenced; begins. For a few minutes a coughing half-succession of stop-starts as the building desperately tries to wail and it’s manager equally desperately tries to prevent it.
The manager gives up.
Lets it wail.
Every resident within half a mile is awake now. Hundreds of sleeps are broken, save for the most tired children and old men. A dilemma – should I get up? Dawn is coming and I’ve had some sleep, but then again it’s a weekend, a precious chance to enjoy more.
Earplugs are produced. If there are any morning alarms set out of good habit, now they are silenced; sleep is precious, let’s not disturb that we already have. Kettles boil in the apartments of the insomniacs who know they shall not see sleep again.
The alarm stops.
Dude! (Say the muffled voices out of the opening windows.) like – pull the plug already!
The security staff in the afflicted building have given up. The alarm shall wail until the electricians come, punctual as always at six o’clock on a Saturday morning.
I open my window. The sky is overcast blue. Somewhere a dawn is happening, lost behind the cloud over. The air is cold after the warmth of a duvet, and damp, clean, a shock to the skin. Lights are still on in the streets, but they are not needed. With the window open, the alarm is tempered by the other sounds of the dawn. Growing traffic; the honk of a lorry at lights; a few birds singing the dawn chorus, sparrows and blackbirds and the occasional cacking crow. The sky is lightening by shades of oily blue.
The alarm wails, and now, after fifteen minutes, here it comes; the final answer to this distraction, the sound we’ve all been waiting for. The pipes groan, water flows, the tanks throughout the building heave with the effort of it as yes! There is goes…
… across inner North London, several hundred toilets begin to flush, the most reliable dawn chorus yet.