The alarm clock rings. It’s 6am and as I lie in bed and look at the ceiling I feel disappointed that neither of my cats came to join me last night. Over the past 12 months since I officially adopted them I’ve gotten used to waking up with them on my head, my throat, my groin: anywhere that’s warm including snuggled next to me in bed. When they chose to stay away I feel oddly robbed.
I swing my feet out of bed and catch Tiny (my small white Siamese) a glancing blow on the head. She runs off and I mutter an apology. As I pull back the curtain and take a drink from the glass left on the windowsill Furry (my big black ball of fur) sits up from his position at the bottom of the bed and demands in no uncertain terms that it is way past time that I fed him.
I look at the sky beyond the back fence and try to decide whether to cycle to work today or not. Since the beginning of March I’ve been building up my distances again: cancelling my bus pass and cycling first one, then two and now three days a week. This week has been hard-going. After the glorious sunshine of last week a cold, strong wind has settled in and the skies have been growing ever more ominous with the promise of rain.
After a moment’s thought (and yet another reminder from Furry) I decide that into each life a little rain must fall and get up, hoping that at the very least it will only rain on the way home. Rain on the way into work means wet clothes sitting wet in your locker all day, waiting to be put back on, whereas rain in the evening means an evening on the radiators. We have showers at work, which is very handy – but I live in fear of following my usual home routine of falling into autopilot and just wondering around butt-naked as I organise myself: or forgetting to lock the shower room door and finding myself in a compromising position with a Security Guard.
Back at home Furry follows me about as I organise my thoughts and myself, coming to heel like a well trained puppy. I take him downstairs and we have the daily conversation where I tell him “but there’s already food in your bowl” and he replies “ooh, yum: food!”
As I potter back upstairs and begin collecting my cycling gear I pause to wonder if God (if he/she actually exists) looks at humans in the same way that humans look at their pets. Are we, like Furry, forever crying to him/her saying “save us from hunger; save us from disease; save us from poverty” and is God telling us, in ways that we cannot comprehend, “I’ve given you all the tools you need: save your bloody selves”
It’s far too early in the morning for such thoughts, so I pack my saddlebags and pour some cornflakes into a bowl. Furry takes his familiar place on my lap as I eat and together we sit and contemplate the state of the world for a few minutes. I gently remind him that cat biscuits don’t just buy themselves and he slopes off into comfortable position on the sofa as I push my bike out into the street and check the doors.
The route is second nature by now: end of the road turn right, first left, follow the subway under the main road and then up and over the train bridge. On the right a circus tent is being erected ready for the Easter holidays: they’ve been coming here for as long as I can remember – but they stopped bringing the animals in the ‘80s. Caravans litter the grass; trailers and trucks with faded names of other shows painted over and replaced time after time.
The day stretches out before me with all the promise of road kill: I can feel the shackles of the endless excel spreadsheet that has become my life reaching out to claim me again and suddenly an idea begins to form in my head.
As I reach the half-way point I remember that if I turn right instead of left I can easily reach the canal. It means adding an extra four miles to the journey, but I’m in no rush to get to work.
I pause at the side of the road: think about my options. As Tolkien once said – every road is like a stream, with a tributary at every door: and when you take the choice to step out onto that road you have to be careful not to be swept away.
What the hell: I turn right and push up the hill and into the new estate, where I cross the bridge marked “residents only” and turn onto the towpath. It’s still early and there are no groups of 2-3 men fishing, no drunks (though one man passes me with a can of Special Brew in hand) and no vicious gangs of swans lying in wait to peck me to death. Despite the fact that we’re only one street away from a major road everything is quiet.
The sun reflects on the water, showing the ripples as the wind pushes the clouds across the sky. Everything is changing down here: the old, abandoned factories are slowly being replaced with town houses and “luxury apartments”. A few houses back out onto the water, their gardens stopping abruptly at the water’s edge.
Twisting and turning, following the towpath, I cycle on: feeling free for the first time today. In a world where such beauty can exist so close to such decay everything seems possible. I feel like I could keep going forever, just following my nose and seeing where I end up: but all too soon the landscape becomes familiar and I turn back towards the road, heading back towards my office.
I arrive at work half an hour later than usual, but pleased with my little act of rebellion. The spreadsheet is still waiting, but just for the moment I don’t care.
Sometimes the weight of having to earn a living, especially when the money is spent before you can enjoy it, can pull you down. Sometimes the fact that you want to retrain but come home feeling like shit and too tired to think can make you feel that all hope is gone. Somedays you feel that the excel spreadsheet has come to define your life: that all you have to look forward to is a lifetime of pointless statistics and a tombstone saying “Hungry Pixies: He Didn’t Piss Too Many People Off”
But it’s those stolen moments that keep us all going: the few hours, minutes or even seconds where we discreetly raise two fingers to the world and proclaim ourselves still human.
Treasure those moments: don’t let anyone or anything take them away. Life is what happens whilst you’re busy making other plans.