It's still dark outside when my Nokia phone begins dutifully performing the programmed task of dragging me out of dreamland with its intensely annoying alarm.
At first, I am not entirely sure what the hell is happening. 7:30 AM is not something my body is used to. The alarm gets louder with every passing second, forcing me to eventually lean out of bed and give the little bleeping bastard some attention.
There you go, that's fixed the problem. I can now retreat back into the land of nod, back to the sun-kissed beach of beautiful bikini-clad women all clamoring for my attention. And if that wasn't what I was dreaming of before, that's what I shall dream about now.
Three minutes pass, the bikini beach babes have hardly made an appearance before my girlfriend's voice starts telling me it's time to get up. Not just once though, she tells me this over and over and over again. The same sentence repeated with digital precision.
"Good morning DTM (a nickname), time to get up. Good morning DTM, time to get up."
The reason for her repetitive accuracy is that her voice is indeed digital. Recorded into the bedside clock she bought me as a Christmas gift. And because I have no idea how to silence her repeating message, I let her carry on, safe in the knowledge that she will only persist for exactly one minute.
Peace again. I can now return to my morning thong-wearing beauties on that sun-drenched beach. The sea is the color of an angel's eyes, palm trees grow at impossible angles by the shore, the only sounds are the hypnotic rhythm of waves and... A distant beeping that seems to be getting louder and louder? What?
Beep beep, beep beep, beep beep. My watch reminds me that not only am I not on a beach in paradise, but I am also going to be late if I don't get up and enter into the real world very soon. Seconds later the Nokia wakes from its snooze. Beep, beep, beep, beep... My stereo downstairs switches on and starts blaring the chirpy tones of some morning DJ who has been awake way too long already, then my phone starts ringing.
"This is your wake up call, it's 7:35 AM."
Paradise is far away now.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't get up at such a bloody awful hour. But today is the beginning of a two-week contract working on-site at a computer games company in Liverpool. I want to get there for 9 AM, to make a good impression.
After breakfast, I walk five minutes down the road to the train station. I'm awake now. The line to buy a ticket is fairly short. It's made up of suit-wearing office types who all chant in monotone duplication the same words to an already bored-looking ticket clerk.
"Return to Liverpool please." "Two pounds five," he replies with equal enthusiasm.
The platform is packed, no one is talking, and the train is late. I take up my position and assume the commuter pose, no doubt blending in with the myriad of anonymous faces on the CCTV camera spying on us from overhead.
Some people stand on the edge of the platform looking down the track as if willing the train to arrive sooner. Others stand with trance-like stares, vacantly looking into nowhere. Their bodies are on the way to work, but their minds haven't quite caught up yet. The more alert among them are reading the morning paper, a book, magazine, or toying with their mobile phones.
The train pulls in. Faces from inside the carriages peer out at us, like visitors looking at animals caged in a zoo. People begin to jostle their way into the train that is already filled beyond its seating capacity. I had brought a magazine and a book along with me for the short journey, but I can barely fit where I stand, let alone have room enough to read a book! Everyone avoids eye contact and barely a word is spoken.
The train's heating is way too high. The air inside is thick and almost hard to breathe. We stop at Rock Ferry station, Green Lane, Birkenhead Central then Hamilton Square. Three people fight their way out of the carriage, while another half a dozen fight their way in. We don't stop for long before the doors close and the train makes its way into the tunnel under the River Mersey.
8:48 AM. James Street station. This is the first Liverpool stop, and a huge amount of people, including me, get off the train. I'm carried along by the tide of suits and briefcases, up the stairs to the elevators that will take us to daylight. A ticket inspector takes our tickets as we bustle into the elevator.
"Stand clear, doors closing," says the recorded voice in an accent that is reminiscent of a stuffy Englishman who would probably smoke a pipe, play golf, and be called Colonel something-or-other. The doors close and like robots, we stand there staring at the back of the person in front as the elevator begins to climb. Seconds later the doors reopen, daylight floods in just as the elevator load of dark blues and greys spew out into the city for another day of pen-pushing, paper shuffling and keyboard tapping fun.
This isn't my routine. I'm on loan to the nine-to-five life. A guest of the commuting hour. This daily ritual for so many makes for an interesting break in my rather out of the ordinary life cycle. I feel like an actor researching a life he doesn't know. Trying to observe as much as possible. To feel the heartbeat of others, to taste their lives, if only for a short while.
As I walk out of James Street station and on to The Strand, Liverpool's three famous waterfront buildings tower above me across the busy road along with the George's Dock building that hides the ventilation tower for the Birkenhead road tunnel that makes its way under the Mersey. They look spectacularly drenched in the morning sunlight and set against the almost unreal backdrop of a February blue sky. It's as if I am seeing them for the first time again, they have never looked so impressive before. It seems Liverpool's gates are open to me and I feel welcomed, like a returning son who somehow forgot that this place is called home.
I walk across the road and make my way to the Port of Liverpool building where I will be working. 'First-day' excitement is all over me. I can't help but smile. The magnificence of the Buildings around me allows me to bath in their historical stature, happy to be lost for a moment in the masses who have walked these steps years before I.
The marbled entrance of the building echoes the footsteps of people scurrying past me. This place is a truly awe-inspiring monument to a bygone era. The roof is dome-shaped and many floors above me, the marble floor is a compass giving true North and South and on the walls that circle me there is an inscription;
"They that go down to the sea in ships and do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep."
The elevator arrives like a time capsule to whisk me back to the here and now. Ah yes, today, the job, the reason for this journey in the first place.
My first day goes as one might expect. People tentatively check out the new guy by asking polite questions. My head is being filled with instructions that I feel sure I will forget just as soon as I am told them. There is no familiarity, everything is new... for the new guy. And just as soon as the day started, it seems to be over. Five Thirty is here and people are putting on their coats, switching off their computers, and leaving the open-plan office.
The sun is setting as I walk out of the building to make my way back home to my slightly sleepy Liverpool suburb. From across the road, the White Star Shipping Line building is the color of fire. It's mostly empty nowadays, and probably will remain so for the foreseeable future. Hard to imagine that ships like the Titanic were once registered there.
Commuters follow their elongated shadows back to James Street station like clockwork toys all wound up and ready to go. Some chance their luck crossing the road before the green man says it is safe to do so. A motorist honks his horn. Cars blast away from where they have been held by red lights. The race to get home is well and truly underway.
On the train, people are more awake than they were this morning. A couple of young guys are talking about 'footy' and how Everton "looked pretty good in the first half". I have a seat on this train, so I decide to do the commuter thing and read my book. And so now, from the outside looking in, I am just like anyone else. Another book reading, eye contact avoiding commuter making his way home to a hot dinner.
It's dark outside, so it's now possible to look at someone's reflection in the window, rather than at the people themselves. Maybe someone from across the carriage is looking at me, trying to figure out the nine-to-five life that I must surely live.
Who knows, maybe they'll write an article about it.