Early in the morning is another country: because the world has not yet begun to turn.
Here, when we are on the flight path for Heathrow, it is signalled by a huge, asthmatic jumbo jet which we hypothesise is a freight carrier. How it stays up in the air as it hauls its great metal carcass at a couple of hundred miles an hour, is beyond me.
It wheezes noisily over at about 5:30. And if it’s a work day, I listen and long to be in it, heading for Anywhere Else. And if it’s a holiday or a weekend, I lie and consider the King’s Ransom I possess in terms of time. I am a niggardly miser with my time. I become Fagin counting his temporal treasures.
Even the birds have not begun to sing when the great metal eagle passes over. It grumbles on its way and I wait.
The early morning is before it starts. If one does something then, it is laced with magic. The cares of yesterday have slipped away like water down a weir, and those of the day have not yet arrived.
Not all of us are made for early mornings. According to a study published by the University of Surrey’s Dr Simon Archer in Sleep, the journal of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, there is a gene which dictates whether you love early mornings or late nights.
One can’t, it seems, have both.
The gene is called, prosaically, Period Three. If it’s long, you’re an early morning person. If it’s short, you’re a night owl.
The dawn is used in all manner of ways by the greatest of our storytellers. Take Charles Dickens, consummate picture-painter: for him dawn is so often a watershed.
In a Tale of Two Cities, the man who took care of the Marquis’s business, Monsieur Gabelle, spent a long night watching his master’s château burn and listening to the angry shouts of villagers outside his barred door.
If the door were broken in, he decided he would throw himself off the parapet and squash a few in the street below.
Dickens writes: “A trying suspense, to be passing the whole Summer night on the brink of the black ocean, ready to take with it that plunge into it upon which Monsieur Gabelle had resolved!
“But, the friendly dawn appearing at last, and the rush-candles of the dawn guttering out, the people happily dispersed, and Monsieur Gabelle came down, bringing his life with him for that while.”
Oliver Twists’s Nancy is vehemently promised a new future by the gentleman who is so desperate for the little boy’s safety.
He tells her: “Before the dawn of morning, before this river wakes to the first glimpse of daylight, you shall be placed as entirely beyond the reach of your former associates, and leave as utter an absence of all trace behind you, as if you were to disappear from the earth this moment.”
Dawn as watershed is an age-old device: it is used in a story which is about two thousand years old.
So: the charismatic leader and teacher everyone loved has had a terrible turn of fortune. He is dead, and the golden few who were close to him are scattered and terrified.
The manner of his going was inhuman and gruesome. No-one wants the same to happen to them. The men and women he knew are in fight-or-flight mode: they are thinking no further than how to save their own skins after the heartbreaking debacle of their leader’s execution.
It had happened on Friday. Throughout Saturday, they lay low.
The dawn had cleared Mary’s mind a little, the story goes. Her friend’s body lay in a rock tomb donated by a well-wisher, blocked in and unanointed, neglected.
If I go early, she thought, the world will not yet have begun to turn.
The soldiers will not be out of bed, the tomb will be free of security. I could take a pot of ointment. I could be close to him this last time.
She set out in the fresh early cool of the morning, terrified of meeting someone who would recognise her; but cloaked by this early hour.
But when she got there, the tomb had been robbed. The stone was rolled away, and there were bandages on the floor: but there was no sign of the body.
The gardener wandered up, and asked why she was crying and she said: Please, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him.”
And then he said:”Mary.”
One word, one familiar tone of voice, and the world regained its colour. Because, the story goes, it was her friend: and he appeared well.
Of all the strange stories in all the rafts of literature on our blue planet, this one has our philosophers in knots. It is powerful story which uses dawn as the watershed in the history of a people.
The secular world still nods to that early morning moment: there was Before Christ, and then there was afterwards.
Every day, the world turns anew: and though we can watch the revolving globe on Google Earth, the wonder of the new day never ceases to offer new possibilities.
It is a natural watershed.