Wednesday, 6 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: After Dark

Day 6

For a blog called Shores of Night, and a series of blogs called 30 Blogs of Night it occurs to me I don't talk about the night very much, even though its a hugely important time of the day.

The human relationship with nighttime is strange, and fraught with paradoxes. We both love it and hate it, women are counselled to walk carefully if they go out at night, while nobody turns a hair if men venture forth, despite the statistics that suggest men are more likely to be attacked by strangers. The night holds secrets, and we are both attracted and repelled by those.

My friends Emma Douglas (she of Fuelled by Tea) and Ian Marchant are both night owls, they do their best work at night and stay up until the small wee hours. In Emma's case that usually includes drinking a boatload of tea, admittedly but I will always associate her with the night after coming down to find her still hunched over her laptop at two in the morning, drawing and chatting to friends, despite their urgings to go to bed. Ian has written a book about how he feels about the night, and the adventures he had in it, in Something of the Night, a brilliantly funny, and often poignant book.  It is also the reason that I haven't called this blog 'Something of the Night' - the jammy bugger got there first.

Odd as it sounds I don't know if I'm a night owl, or lark, or whatever, I suspect a lot of these terms have only arisen as the world of work has become increasingly focused on getting us into relatively uniform patterns, just as the idea that you should have eight hours of uninterrupted sleep did. It used to be considered quite normal to go to bed and wake up for a few hours about midnight. These days that's called a sleep disorder.

My feelings about the night have changed as I've grown older. When I was a child I was terrified of it, experiences tempered by the fact I was scared of the dark, and thought I saw a woman in a basket fly past my window one night.The shadows on my walls seemed to writhe and move when I looked at them. One night I thought a voice spoke to me through the curtains. I don't recall what it said but I was terrified, and ran off to my parents' room.

Night was where the monsters dwelt, and I learned the rituals every child does, even if they differ from house to house, bed to bed. Close the doors, keep your limbs inside the bed, cover your neck. If you don't a monster will steal out and snatch you, or reach out from under the bed and drag you under. In retrospect the no man's land under my bed was so cluttered with toys that a monster would have struggled to move with the ninja like quiet I imagined, but when I was a child I didn't think like that. Everything was connected to that fear which coalesced around other fears. My lamp stayed on all night, a sentinel lantern to keep the bad things away; my Animal marionette was a guardian, one that I suppose must have acted like Bes from Egyptian mythology in my imagination, leering and smacking his drumsticks together to keep the monsters away. He hung on my wall for years, a comforting presence and talisman.

It wasn't until I hit my early teens that my habits changed. I don't remember the precise age but I know I stopped being so afraid. Throughout my teens and into my university years I slept with the curtains open, stopped wearing pyjamas and started to stare back into the dark. In some ways that meant starting to read about things that had scared me, throughout childhood the fairy tale witch had terrified me, as a teenager I took it on myself to educate myself about Paganism and found it made more sense to me than Christianity. I read about hypnosis and other subjects, eager to explore what I saw as the 'night side' of the human experience, though I couldn't have articulated it in those words. I wore a lot of black too, though I wasn't yet a Goth. My reading material became very Michael Moorcock focused, with Elric his drug taking albino prince with the cursed blade Stormbringer becoming something of a linchpin for my imagination. In retrospect I realise I read those stories at the right time, Elric is a teenager's character, his morals may be slippery but he has that adolescence certainty that nothing is truly important and his tendency to reject material wealth and his nation feel very 'teenager' to me. Reading the stories in later life I find him quite grating, even want to give him a slap.

I fell in love with the night, fell in love with the dark. It ceased to be scary because I could see its beauty for the first time. When I was a student I often took the way home from campus to my rented house at two in the morning, reveling in the dark and quiet that pervaded Ormskirk at that time, when even the other students had been sensible enough to find their way a bed... possibly not their own. It's still something I quite like to do, to head out into the night and walk. There is a peace you just don't find at any other time, and it feels like you're seeing a different world, one you share with cats, and other animals as they go about their secretive business.  Even in a city, where the orange glow of the street lights blunt the full effect, the sky seems to open up, becoming a vast plain above you, in a way that it doesn't during the day. One night I shall have to find a quiet, dark spot and go star gazing, it's something my friend Emma has been talking about for a while, but we've never got round to it.

These days I am more cautious about going out, more aware of who else might be there. We live near a park and sometimes its nice to walk through there at night, but there's always a slight nagging voice that there are probably blokes with dogs out there (and we live near to an area where those dogs are 'muscle dogs', the sort you have to gain 'respect' from your peers and convince the world you're a hard man). But the night still has its lure and sometimes it just feels right to escape the house and go out.