Mention in the national press of the small village in Somerset in which I grew up has been a very rare occurrence, there being little of note ever having happened there. One mention came in a newspaper colour supplement.
In a feature on rural life, the journalist had talked to a local farmer who got up at 3.30 am to do the morning milking so that he could finish his work by mid-afternoon. It seemed an odd thing for anyone to do: why did he not keep similar hours to other people? There were plenty of early risers, people who would be up at five, getting up at 3.30 seemed like doing something for the sake of it.
Perhaps it was growing up in such a community that encouraged the habit of rising early, perhaps it was the folk wisdom of the time. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” seemed to be among my grandmother’s favourite maxims. The thought never occurred to me that the people who rose early were generally those who had no choice but to do so. Getting up in the hours of darkness, and heading out into cold air, did not seem to be a popular choice among those who could afford not to do so.
Yet even if the earlier hours of the day were the sort of time when the only traffic encountered was delivery vans and dairy farmers, they seemed times when it was good to be out on the road. The quietness and the solitude would not be found in the later hours.
Watching the daylight gradually return on February mornings has been a delight. As the winter solstice recedes into the past and the vernal equinox draws nearer, there is an acceleration in the lengthening of the days, a couple of minutes each morning. With cloudless skies, the dawn emerges early behind Cleeve Hill, to the north of Cheltenham.
On mornings as the light appears before seven o’clock, the M5 motorway seems less impersonal and anonymous, the countryside around begins to take on shape. Swinging through the school gates at seven, the 1930s building is beginning to come alive, lights coming on, doors being unlocked. In the silence of the corridors, there is a tranquility; there is time to sit in the silence before eight hundred voices fill the air.
Waking early may be necessary, but it comes with its own rewards.