It’s a quarter to two.

My sleep pattern can take quite a beating if it has to, providing it averages out to more than six hours a night over a couple of weeks. In fact, I can stay awake for as long as necessary and still get up the next morning, so long as there are four hours between me and regaining my sense of the world. This regain has to happen tomorrow morning at six AM, because that will mean that the domino effect of my morning will finally see me at my desk at 8am ready for another week’s work.

This means that, without a fail, I need to fall asleep by 2am. Minimum.

However, somewhere in E5 there is a car alarm going off.

It’s not anywhere nearby. It’s on the edge of hearing, the quietest it could possibly be to still be entirely obvious. A shrill two tone trill, splitting the universe into two parts, the ones who are sleeping though it, and the ones who cannot sleep because of it.Fifteen minutes ago it was annoying. Now, it’s maddening.

It’s not intrusive, really. If I follow a train of thought, get distracted, consider butterflies or rainstorms or sheep or toasters, get distracted by my newest coding problem then the noise fades out of my forebrain and it stops being a bother, until I realise “hey!, the car alarm isn’t bothering me anymore!”

And there it is.

I put a pillow over my head, and the sound is muffled but present. I stick a finger in my ear. The sound is gone, but I cannot sleep like this.

The inevitable future dawns on me, and I spend a few more moments under the warm duvet, dreaming up increasingly elaborate Rube-Goldberg contraptions involving car alarms and their absent owners, now present.

I am not usually a single issue voter, but right now I could happily vote for the BNP if they had a policy on deporting people who don’t turn off their car alarms. Given that this is Hackney, one of the most richly multicultural places in the country, it’s entirely possible that -tangentially, and in this case – they do.

As I say, maddening.

A dramatic flourish sends my duvet into a far corner, fyr still snug under hers, and I attempt to find my headphones to block out the noise.

I pad around in the darkness.
It appears to be coming from the East. That is, if I go to the south facing kitchen window, I cannot hear it. Our room faces East, though.

The headphones are not where they are supposed to be.

Occasionally, I suffer from tinnitus, imaginary bells on the edge of my hearing in my case sounding like a sine wave in the back of my head. Somehow, the car alarm is worse. I know the tinnitus is temporary, imaginary, and I am experienced though many long years of blocking it out of myconscious mind. The car alarm’s constant and abiding trill begins to cut though my skull like a blunt sawblade.

The headphones are not where they shouldn’t be – but invariably almost always are – either.

It’s 2am.

I consider waking my PC up. Whining on twitter about the noise. Using the “Vote for the BNP” line above, probably. Hacking away at Piracy Inc for a little longer, maybe I can fix the bug with the suicidal ex-captains stabbing themselves in the head. Maybe I shouldn’t.

It’s gone.

For a moment I stand their, stock still in my dressing gown. I just got distracted again, did I filter it out? It should be… there.

It’s not. There is silence all around. I step out onto the balcony, away from the faint hum of the computer fans, and into the deep and well lit background of a London night where there is no noise but the wind in the trees far below me, the distinct flap of the flag hanging from the balcony below ours, and the sounds of a city that never sleeps,

doing its best to try.