The Longest Journey in the World

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It begins in the early morning as I am lulled from a gentle sleep by the twitterings of birds, followed quickly by a few surreal beeping sounds and then radios' Morning Report reveille, which couldn't be any more offensive to the senses if it really were played on a bugle and drums.

The road to work stretches ahead, as uninviting as ever. The landscape is familiar but no less daunting for that. From bed to wardrobe, there to fumble disorientedly for the dressing gown, feet shuffling across bare floorboards, eyes still adjusting to the curtained light, mind still struggling to comprehend the land of the waking and its peculiar demands after such a pleasant interlude in Nod.

Once out of the bedroom and in the hallway, things do become a little clearer. Hallways are good like that, with their obvious linear qualities, a beginning and an end, a destination, and the limited potential that they afford for straying from the path. Still I manage the odd misstep, the glance off a wall, the minor trip over the edge of a rug. Who put all those things here? At some point in my journey I am joined by a fellow traveller, smaller than me and with surprising reserves of energy for such an hour. Do I know this person? Of course, it's the human alarm clock, the reason I can no longer sleep in, which used to be one of my hobbies but is now only a husk of a memory.

How odd, I often think, to be able to go from sleep to wakefulness in the time it takes to open an eye, as often as not to resume a thought or a conversation or some childish fixation from the previous evening as if having paused only for breath, not 10 hours in the arms of Morpheus. And as if I haven't enough to worry about - shaving, dressing, remembering which order to do it in - I have to make a school lunch. The initial part of our journey is almost complete. A fork in the road, a metaphor. Right to the bathroom or left to the kitchen? Or the road less travelled - straight ahead into the end wall?

Tea. Must have tea. But oh the light in here! Morning sun - who put that there? - streams in through bare windows, forcing me to close one eye and squint with the other.
'Why are you winking at me?'

asks my travelling companion. My throat doesn't work yet, so I don't answer. Put jug on, put bread in toaster, curse dishes left unwashed from last night. This is what they mean when they say travel is hard work. I retrace my steps from the kitchen and head for the bathroom.

Like most travel stories, this one glosses over the odd detail - when, for instance, did you last read about Paul Theroux's or Eric Newby's or Bruce Chatwin's comfort stops? - but I will say that I'm grateful for the First-World plumbing standards on this particular trip. As for that shaving mirror ... who is that guy?

The next leg passes in a blur of gulping, munching, nagging, dressing, nagging, brushing, nagging and eventually the transition to motorised transport, via a short walk down a garden path. Learning to drive again. The fresh assault to the senses - noise, chaos, intersections. I am a stranger in a strange land, where people park too near to street corners so that drivers must pull too far out into oncoming traffic to see when the way is clear, where lunatics run red lights and this lawlessness goes unpunished, where a person dressed as a Chinese gooseberry dances outside a new supermarket to entice custom. Perhaps the most treacherous section of the journey comes as too many suburban assault vehicles converge on too few drop-off zones outside the school gates.

From the dangerous to the surreal. Within the school grounds I find myself in Lilliput, a confusing, miniature world of whirling, ball-hurling, teeming, screaming small people. I appear to have lost my travelling companion - he was here a minute ago! - but later I see him, adopted into the native population, seemingly happy and already practising the local customs. We exchange a brief farewell and I promise to return for him later when I have crossed the final frontier and made it to the office. For now, I must make the final part of the journey alone.


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