An ode to 3 am


The last blog post about babies (Hello World) prompted a bit of a discussion about the weird world that is 3 am.

And it struck me that we can chart our lives by what 3 am means to us.

When we are babies, 3 am means that we have made cold blancmange in our nappies and we have an irresistible craving for milk.

This is a crisis so acute that we need to escalate the threat level to Defcon 3 and making sure that everyone within a twenty yard radius knows about it.

On the positive side, it also involves the lovely feeling of talcum powder on our genitalia, burping a lot and throwing up over Mummy or Daddy’s shoulder. No night would be complete without making a parent’s clothes look as if they belong to Long John Silver on the parrot’s day off.

After babyhood comes a precious lull when 3 am probably doesn’t mean a great deal. Unless it is to wake the house to tell them about the monsters under the bed.

Teenage years bring a dangerous cocktails of hormones and the absolute surety that you know everything there is to know about anything.  Then 3 am becomes a time of furtive fumblings – either  as the fumbler or fumblee.  Depending on how successful your night has been, it might also involve talcum powder on your genitalia or being sick over your best friend’s shoulder.

It also means telling your parents ever more fanciful stories about why you weren’t home at midnight as you promised. And, no, that white powder on my trousers is not cocaine.

The allure of 3 am tends to recede as work and responsibility take over. That is, unless your work happens to be what is euphemistically known as the removals business. That is when the only time you are in a four bedroomed house is because you are helping yourselves to their belongings. And the only time you wear a suit is when a man in a white wig is calling you “the accused”.

Nature takes its course eventually and you find yourself becoming a parent – quite possibly as a direct consequence of those aforementioned fumblings. And now the cycle repeats itself, only with you as the recipient of your darling offspring’s nightly offerings.

The advent of modern technology has changed the 3 am conversation between parent and teenager. Now the parental question is no longer “and what time do you call this?”.

It is now: “and what were you doing that was so engrossing that you turned your phone off?”

It is only at this point that you realise the awful truth. You can see right through those feeble excuses that your teenage children tell you, largely because you remember what you were doing when you were that age.

And if you can see through your kids’ explanations, you know darned well that your parents didn’t believe your stories either. And so on through history to the very dawn of human civilization.

The years pass like kidney stones. And now 3 am leaves your life for decades. You might brush past it from time to time. That ridiculously late flight back from a package holiday. The British weather deciding to blow a tree down in the storm that wasn’t a hurricane. But you and 3 am are not constant companions any more. Just occasional acquaintances who send each other Christmas cards but haven’t seen each other in a donkey’s age.

Sometimes 3 am is a time of worry. Your mind is churning over some problem from the day. You find yourself staring at the alarm clock to see if it’s time to get up yet, or if you need to work out some trick to send yourself back to sleep.

“Are you awake?”


“Me too.”

And then a bizarre thing happens. You have spent a large part of your early adult life seeing 3 am as part of an attempt to have sex. And here you are, at 3 am, in a bed, partially clothed with someone who you not only could have sex with, but who the vicar had said that you should be having sex with.

But you don’t. You turn over, try to stop worrying about the mortgage and go back to sleep.

Eventually you become old. Your ears and nasal hair keep on growing, but everything else succumbs to gravity and entropy. And that’s when 3 am is a trip to the loo for a bladder that can’t quite make it all the way to morning.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Apart from the fallow years when 3 am means nothing more than a deep indentation on the pillow, it seems that we spend this magical time doing one of two things – we are either losing control of our bodily functions, or we are dealing with the aftermath of someone else losing control of same.

So here is my handy cut and keep guide. If you find yourself awake at 3 am …

… if you have wet yourself and want milk, you are a baby

… if you have wet yourself and want sex, you are a teenager

… if you are wondering whether you can make it to the morning without wetting yourself, you are old

… if you have milky vomit on your shoulder you are a young parent

… if you have put vomit on someone else’s shoulder you are either a baby or a teenager.

… if you are looking at your watch and then worrying, you are the parent of a teenager

… if you are worrying and then looking at your watch, you are middle aged.

… if you find yourself in a house nicer than your own and you are not having sex, you are a burglar.


3 thoughts on “An ode to 3 am

  1. Will, I am appalled. You post this in a community of avid readers and writers and forget: 3am is when inspiration strikes, when the writers block unblocks, and when the inability to sleep opens the next exciting chapter in the book you are reading…

    Out+of+cheese+error. Redo+from+start

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this post and this bit is very true:
    “it seems that we spend this magical time doing one of two things – we are either losing control of our bodily functions, or we are dealing with the aftermath of someone else losing control of same.” If I’m up at 3 am, I’m usually dealing with drunks and thinking about that ‘one last job’ before I can go home!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rebecca Douglass

    ROFL! Except I’ve been getting up at 3a.m. as though I were old ever since having those babies. . . Never mind. And sadly, I never have inspirations at that hour. I get my brilliant ideas two hours into a four-hour bike ride (and they generally turn out to be a lot less brilliant when I come down off the endorphin high).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s