Winner - March 2020 Alan Patey, Country Member Key Word DAWN

A Dozen Dawns

Woodmansterne, July 1976. ‘That’ summer of drought. Little sleep, sweated all night atop bedclothes. The house is silent. Mum & Dad away. Home alone aged 12. Is that legal? Sounds of the first Tadworth commuter loco in Coulsdon valley below. I run naked up the lawn. Dewy grass now shrivelled straw sticks to my feet. A misty miasma rising from the pool. I plunge into the cool. Over the hedge the sun peeks over Purley. Bits of floating straw and shrunken goolies now amuse. No school, no parents. Bliss.  

St Andrews, October 1983. Cammo Lodge House. Who’s the red-head next to me on the pillow ? I throw off the heavy eiderdown, wade through a pile of discarded girlie things, step over a body in a red nylon sleeping bag, avoid the empty vodka bottle on the stairs, let myself out and wander back to my hall of residence trying to put the previous evening’s jig-saw together. Did I really ?  

London Bridge, January 1987. Should have taken the Northern line to Bank and the office. A hoard of shadows are herding themselves into the City. Grey, grey, all is grey. A faint glimmer of light on the HMS Belfast superstructure. That’s all. Grim. It’ll be grim and grey on the way home too. If you think I’m doing this for the next 40 years you’re having a laugh ain’t yer ? 

Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Dead Sea, October 1991. Mosha is calling from the kitchens. ‘Chick chack’ (come quick). I find my flip flops in the ambient light. Some Israeli kids are already up and expecting omelettes. Across the bambooed ravine a desert leopard is wearily eying hyrax for his breakfast and the sun is just rising over the purple Jordanian mountains across the saline waters.  

Cairo, Odeon Palace Hotel, 1995-1997. We only teach in the evenings so can sleep all day. Finish 11pm. Taxis to Midan Talaat Haarb. Magdi brings us a crate of Stella beer on the roof terrace. Mezza. Houmous, Tahina, Babaganouh. The call to prayer at dawn. The ‘Allah Akbar’s’ wash across the city of a thousand mosques, the ancient rattling lift to the dusty street and we retire home to bed in Mohandiseen as the rest of the populace start their day.  

Rangoon, Aurora Auberge, Easter 1998. Someone’s fired up the generator and the ceiling fan creaks into life. O Min and Mu Mu part their mosquito nets and slip into their longies. I find my wallet and pass them their taxi fare. They stoop, bow to me hands clasped and leave silently. I’ve another hour in bed before Madame Sylvie brings me breakfast and packs me off to work in the sodding sodden monsoon.  

South African Karoo, The farm in De Aar, Spring 1999. Early light and much consternation in the yard. Mrs Van De Valt is barking orders at the native farmhands. The young Van De Valts invite my brother and I for breakfast. Mr Van De Valt is BBQing Springbok steaks. From the one I shot the day before with a (very expensive) Finnish rifle from the back of his SUV. I notice the black chaps are not invited but bite my lip. Am in deep Afrikaner territory.  

Ras Al Kheimah, UAE, Anne’s flat, Ramadan 2000. Am based in Jeddah and thoroughly fed up with Ramadan. I obtain an exit visa, fly to Dubai at midnight, pick up a case of beer at Duty Free, hire a car, pootle about Umm Al Quwain (drink driving – no worries the Chief of Police is a mate) and turf up at hers for brekky. We play Scrabble. I win, despite a dispute over whether ‘Jeep’ is generic or a proper noun. NB: There is no such thing as a drink driving offence in Saudi because of course there is no alcohol – yeh, right ! 

Sri Lanka, Mirihana Deportation Camp, summer 2012. The bunk bed palliasses are stuffed with coconut coir. A great breeding ground for bugs and creepy crawlies which only move about at night ready to feed on one’s blood. Thus one sits outside on a stone step with an assortment of Bangla illegals, Nigerian fraudsters etc. until sun-up when the bugs go to sleep & one can retire with a packet of mouldy rice wrapped in newspaper. 

HMP Chelmsford, awaiting sentencing, Spring 2013. A pair of geese regularly fly over at about 4.30, honking away. A squirrel rummages through the exercise yard bins. Wish I had wings or was lithe enough to get over the wall. Cup of Nescafe in a plastic mug and a roll-up. Lie on bed ‘til jingling of keys, unlock and a rude ‘Patey – Education block – shift it’. Charming. 

Otterbourne, Hampshire, summer 2018. Loads of aggro from the English social underclass in the hostel so often decamp at night when the constabulary come to arrest them in the evening for theft, drugs and it all ‘kicks off’. Knowing the Water Bailiff on the Itchen I kip in the fishing shelter on the Twyford side. Usually took a couple of bottles of cider from the village shop. Never saw an otter but dawn invariably arrived with gently paddling swans, perhaps a sudden flash of iridescent Kingfisher and rabbits nibbling on the bank. Nice. Sheep may still safely graze.      

Arbroath, Angus, To Date. If seafood is your kind of thing, and you’re matey with the local fisherfolk, then (in summer), it’s worthwhile wandering down to the harbour 5ish. Sun comes up over the Tentsmuir forest and the St Andrews skyline across the Tay estuary, inbound boats are heralded by screeching seagulls, the Harbourmaster emerging from an all-night lock-in in The Smugglers, awaiting refrigerated lorries bound for the restaurants of  Edinburgh & London. Loaded creels are hoisted up the ladder onto the dockside. ‘Will ye be wanting some scallops, Alan ?’ ‘Aye, I’d be obliged Kenny’… and I’m thrown half a dozen gratis. Beats cornflakes…    

Non of us knows how many more dawns we will see. Or where.

Croydon Writers