I’ve been an early bird since the age of 15, influenced by my father, Charlie Barrow, a constable in the Greater Manchester Police who worked shifts which were:
Early Shift: 7 AM to 3 PM
Late Shift: 3 PM to 11 PM
Night Shift: 11 PM to 7 AM
So two-thirds of the time I would see him before I left for school, either up and about for his “earlies” or coming in from “nights”.
In 1968 I took a summer holiday job at Express Dairies on Lloyd Road in Levenshulme, Manchester (long since closed and demolished).
The job was to ride shotgun for one of the truck drivers who delivered crates of milk to local cafes and corner shops in the Gorton, Ashton-under-Lyne area of East Manchester.
I would be at work for 06:00, leaving immediately to deliver on our rounds until about 10:00, when I would be treated to a full English breakfast at one of our customer’s establishments, before returning to the dairy for a final back-breaking session of loading the milk crates for the next morning’s run (4-6 crates at a time carried by a hand-held fork-lift) before we parked the lorry for the night and finished at 14:00.
The money was good, the work was great for keeping fit, the food was amazing and having my afternoons and evenings free for the summer was a huge bonus.
This was where I developed a lifetime love for early morning starts, irrespective of the seasonal weather. The pristine start of the new day, before the noise of humanity and the burden of responsibility rise menacingly to interrupt the calm.
In 1970, when I took my first “proper job” for £360 a year at The Friends Provident & Century Group in city centre Manchester (Century House, St Peter’s Square, another landmark now replaced), the early habit continued with pre-rush hour bus journeys into town that allowed me to get in and start work or study.
It would be another 10 years before I would buy my first pair of running shoes and tentatively take to the streets as part of that dawn routine.
Here I am almost 50 years after the milkman’s apprentice set his alarm for 05:00, doing exactly the same mid-week (except for days like today, where a 04:00 alarm call gets me to my train or flight on time).
Back in the early (sic) 80’s I read Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, in which he suggested that a period of “peace and solitude” at the beginning of each day would set the scene for the elusive effectiveness for which we all strive.
When I took a job at Hambro Life Assurance in 1980, I would drive from East Lancashire to city centre Manchester (a + one-hour journey in pre-motorway days) to be sat at my desk by 07:30 each day, ready for 2 hours dictation (the previous day’s meeting follow up) and then leave the city at 09:30, against the flow of traffic, to begin my customer calls around the North West.
Earlies, for me, have become the habit of a lifetime, whether at work or rest, whether as a business owner, parent or partner.
Sometimes that peace and solitude is in a hotel room preparing the day ahead, sometimes pounding the river walks and promenades of Britain and Ireland’s cities, sometimes an airport departure lounge well before the flight, sometimes sat in my jammies at home on a weekend morning, with a cup of tea and a good book.
I love my earlies – what Dan Sullivan would call a successful habit.