It wasn’t all that long ago that when the clocks began chiming midnight I began to think about calling it quits for the day and trundling to bed. As with so many other things in life, the routine has imperceptibly though noticeably changed. Now I find nine o’clock is the pressure point. Assuredly part of the reason for the shift is the quite legitimate excuse that I am now up earlier in the morning – often by no later than four o’clock. Occasionally however I succumb to an afternoon nap which means that I am not subsequently inclined to relax the postural muscles quite so early. Thus the evening elongates and I may unflatteringly find myself flipping through television channels at least until the customary late show hosts take a grip on the proceedings. I never fail to be impressed by the amortization of the hours of the day and the commensurate dissolution of intelligent media (and my crude attraction to it).
Years ago I read or heard somewhere that each hour of sleep before midnight is the equivalent of two or more after midnight. It is one of those silly aphorisms which haven’t any possible substantive support in fact or science but which is nonetheless persuasive. I reckon its plausibility arises from the not infrequent coincidence of the witching hour with excessiveness and indulgence, the corollary of which traditionally mitigates against inactivity of the nervous system and suspension of consciousness except in less than a healthful way.
Even if one isn’t treating one’s body as a toxic waste site after midnight, there are commonly demons associated with the temporal transition from one day to the next. If one is alone after midnight one’s resources for imagination are exponentially enlarged, many times in favour of malevolent fiends which characteristically haunt one’s spirit. In truth I cannot attribute to the hour any force; rather I believe it is merely waning strength which cultivates such disturbing rumination, nature’s way of alerting us to approaching exhaustion and telling us to go to bed. Meanwhile we dwell unforgivingly upon our personal and seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Because midnight marks the beginning and ending of each day in civil time throughout the world, it is therefore the dividing point between one day and another. Being awake after midnight is seldom however for the gratifying purpose of heralding the new day. More often than not the occasion is marred by some regret, either that one is unable to sleep in a general sense or that one is prevented from sleeping because of overwhelming preoccupation with some upsetting concern. I am reminded of the lyrics of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Black Coffee” written by Burke, J. Francis / Webster, Paul Francis:
I’m feeling mighty lonesome Haven’t slept a wink I walk the floor and watch the door And in between I drink Black coffee Love’s a hand me down brew I ‘ll never know a Sunday In this weekday room
I’m talking to the shadows One o’clock to four And Lord, how slow the moments go When all I do is pour Black coffee…
Life after midnight can be a dreary undertaking. Nonetheless there those who come alive after midnight. The low budget/freak show/cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for example seldom turns its reels before midnight even to this day and remains the archetypal “midnight movie”. For nearly two decades its faithful fans have lined up in front of theatres in bizarre costumes and makeup. Now and again I encounter a singular personality who insists that he does his best thinking after midnight. I can only imagine that he is anti-social or easily disturbed by the white noise of modern living. And of course one mustn’t overlook the agenda of the common grave robber glamourized in another popular comedic film “Young Frankenstein”.
If you are one who merits the description of clean living, perhaps you view the early hours of the day as the opportunity to get the jump on things. To the more robust members of our community there is considerable advantage to the time after midnight as it affords peace and quiet, lack of conflicting traffic, a degree of anonymity to practice one’s private industry and a time to digest the full flavour of what is being said by the doyens of the British Broadcasting Corporation (who admittedly have their own jump of five hours already). While the tranquillity of the hours after midnight is undeniable this characteristic is nonetheless a fiction; the equanimity is easily jarred by the revival of daily activity.
Whatever it is that keeps you going after midnight, it is inevitable that the dawn shall break the spell and like any other creature of the night you shall be obliged to resume your former vernacular. All the mystery and drama of the midnight hour begins to lose its strength and is inexplicably absorbed into the new day.