First Light



For those of you who like to languish in bed in the mornings, I have news for you – it’s getting light by 4am and broad daylight by 4.30. Two hours later, as I take the train from Broadstairs into London Victoria, the shadows are pulling back from the flat countryside linking the Isle of Thanet to the rest of England. As recently as Roman times Thanet was an island, separated from the mainland by a navigable waterway. The Wantsum Channel, as it was known, spared ships the journey around the cliffs at North Foreland, in to the Thames Estuary, and onwards to Londinium.


I do not especially enjoy getting up at 4.30am, or 5.30am for that matter, but when the weather is as good as it has been for the last fortnight, it’s less of a chore. Our home in Broadstairs faces due east. Thanks to an elevated position, looking over a random roofscape towards the sea, the house is bathed in light the moment the sun rises above the horizon. Over the years a Santa Cruz ironwood tree (Lyonothamnus floribundus aspleniifolius) has begun to diffuse the light coming through our bedroom window. This is a blessing in high summer, especially at the weekends when a lie-in is usually in order. But the real joy comes when I come downstairs and open the front door each morning. First comes a sudden rush of cool air, always much chillier than I was anticipating, followed by the scent of damp leaves and moss. Slanting over the low, flat roof of a neighbouring building – once a printworks, now a gym – comes a dazzling, barely-yellow light which illuminates only those plants closest to the front door. For the last month or so a lanky specimen of Pelargonium papilionaceum, the butterfly geranium, has been producing countless tiny pink flowers. They remind me more of moths than butterflies with their fiercely backswept petals and fiery orange stamens. Tiny hairs on the pelargonium’s leaves and stems glisten when the warm light catches them.


Despite being firmly in the middle of a busy seaside town, at this time of day one can hear a pin drop. Occasionally the silence is broken by the wailing of seagulls or the cawing of our resident magpies, but on still days the peace is enveloping. I want to stand on the doorstep and be embalmed by the sweet, moist air, unsullied by car fumes or the headier scents of evening. At first light I can be completely at one with the garden, see it newborn again, before the hardships of the day have an opportunity to detract from its loveliness. TFG.