The night owl catches the field mouse

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I would like to protest. The world is clearly biased towards morning people. I realised this again with biting clarity as I reached to silence my alarm for the fourth time this morning. I have one requirement when buying a cellphone, and one requirement only: it must have a snooze function.

It is beyond my realm of understanding how any human being, even the super cheery variety, can actually get up as their alarm goes off. I knew someone like this. I used to share a room with her at varsity. I hated her. In fact, I hate all Sealy Posturepedic types, springing out of bed with their overly white teeth and freakishly sparkly eyes.

My morning, on the other hand, goes something like this: I hear the alarm clock going off. Eventually. After it's woken the entire house. I claw my way to passable consciousness, something akin to wading through thick molasses or slow-setting cement. Eyes like a newborn hamster, I flap my arm around ineffectively, sweeping books, lamps, glasses of water, and occasionally, my cat, off the bedside stand. Locating the wretched device, I hit buttons indiscriminately until the harbinger of morning doom is silenced. Almost instantly, I am sucked back into the molasses. But this phone is a legalistic little bugger, diligently reoffending 10 minutes later with an almost self-righteous shrillness. This sadistic negotiation is repeated 10 minutes after that. And then 10 minutes after that. At some point, I reach a level of awareness roughly approximate to that of a conscious human. At this point, I manage to open one eye and croak something that sounds very much like "coffee". Yes, I dream that one day someone will invent a phone that will allow me to mainline caffeine at the touch of a button (any button!). A smartphone that comes standard with a 100 free minutes, WiFi capability and alarm-activated intravenous caffeine drip. I live in hope.

There was a time in my life when I briefly exchanged the rolling green hills of KZN for a job that required a daily commute from Pretoria to Johannesburg (don't try this at home, kids). As the smoggy dawn broke I, too, would join the two-hour, traffic-clogged crawl into the big smoke. Desperate sleep-saving measures were introduced. Every extra second of snooze time counted. Plan of action? Optimise use of driving time. So with breakfast in the one hand (Yogisip) and mascara wand in the other, I would steer with my elbows. Bleary-eyed and barely conscious, I would switch on the radio to keep me awake, gradually turning up the volume as my ears accustomed themselves to the onslaught of the day. According to one breakfast show I was listening to, I was not alone. There were frequent sightings of a woman operating a hairdryer that plugged into her cigarette-lighter, styling her work-ready "do" during her morning crawl. Desperate times.

I once read an article in the Mail & Guardian that discussed this disparity between the so-called "larks" and "owls". Apparently, you can't help being either a morning or an evening person — it's genetically hard-wired. People's circadian rhythms dictate at which time of day their energy will peak. Some people are just never going to be alert before 10 am. In fact, a group calling themselves the B-society, endorsed by the Danish minister for family affairs, has been established in Denmark to fight back against the tyranny of the early risers. They're campaigning against the eight-to-four working culture of their country, no longer content to be the butt of office jokes because of their inability to get out of bed. You think I'm making this up, don't you? Go on, Google it. If it's Google-able, it must be true. In fact, I'm on their official website right now, reading "The 10 commandments of B-society". There are currently 0 B-members online. I'm guessing it's not quite 10 am in Denmark. Many large corporations are just cottoning onto this circadian thing, and are allowing their employees more flexible hours, so that they can optimise their peak alertness times. Hoorah! Down with sleepism!

And what's so special about a sunrise anyway? I was recently on holiday with a friend who forced me to wake up in the dark so that we could sit on the beach with aflask of coffee (small mercies) and "drink in the dawn". I hauled myself out of bed, obediently sat through the day's little opening ceremony, drank up the coffee (but not so much the dawn), and went straight back to bed. After all, what can a sunrise offer me that a sunset can't? All I have to do is play the mental tape of a sunset backwards in my head.

So enough of this discrimination. No more equating late-risers with laziness. Prejudicial language must be rooted out! "The early bird catches the worm" or some such nonsense just won't do. I think that in the interests of non-discriminatory, politically correct parlance, we should add "the night owl catches the field mouse" to our lexicons.

This article was written at midnight.

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  • Linda Filmer studied English at UKZN and journalism at Rhodes University. This article was published on Witness.