Morning Story: Waking up to realities


I used to wonder why they called it the daily "constitutional".

It's a quaint colloquialism. Something so casual and leisurely lumped with such a formal tag.

After all, it's just a walk.

But I'm beginning to come around.

Given I simply don't have the luxury of the recommended 7-8 hours daily sleep, I've been rising at 5am. Which puts my sleep count at about 5-6 hours. There's no other way to remedy the time-poor scenario a fulltime job and whare full of kids affords.

Minus the running and raw egg shake, I've adopted a Rocky Balboa start to the day.

Dressed like Stallone in a grey hoodie, track-pants and sneakers I hit the pavement as soon as the stern tones of Radio New Zealand's 5am news fades into song.

When I say hit, I don't mean running, I mean walking.

As opposed to the former, walking fully engages the senses. You hear so much more than just your heart pounding in your ears, the suck and whistle of hurried breath and plastic soles slapping the pavement.

Speaking of colloquialisms, I've not heard a dawn break, a rooster crow nor a sparrow fart on my constitutionals.

But there's plenty of other sounds on the morning soundtrack. Truth be told the sleepy hours are anything but sedentary.

Domestics, for example, aren't rare pre-dawn. Junkmailers push sack barrows in the darkness. Surprisingly many households are awake.

By far and away the earliest risers are the small units - the elderly either can't or don't need their lids shut for as long as the rest of us.

The faint roar of distant traffic on Pakowhai Rd sounds oddly enough like a coast at high tide.

And rubbish day is of course rush hour. All manner of flannelette pyjamas, silk boxers and fluffy gowns grace the streets in kerbside cameos where the weary build castles of empty booze bottles.

The mesmerising "tch-tch-tch" of water sprinklers brings back fond childhood memories of sleepless summers. I trace the sprinkler to a local lawn bowls club. Ironic that this most static of sports requires the most hydration.

Despite the province's near drought conditions, residents too use the cover of darkness to soak hose their lawns the colour of Taranaki dairy paddocks.


In Cornwall Park an itinerant startles me as he emerges from a night sleeping under a hydrangea hedge. He rubs his arms trying to warm cold bones.

How contrarily the human cards fall. His day uncharted, his night's lodgings unknown. I rise at 5am due to a busy itinerary. He rises at 5am because he doesn't have one.

It's too dark to see his face, but he shuffles from the bushes and stays about five metres in front of me as we amble along Tomoana Rd. Our shadows touch then separate as we walk below each streetlight.

It reminds me of the sublime poem from Wellington writer Jenny Bornholdt, who wrote of such night-time shadowplay in her poem - "Instructions for how to get ahead of yourself while the light still shines":

As you come to each light

you will notice a figure

racing up behind.

Don't be scared

this is you creeping up on yourself.

As you pass under the light

you will sail past yourself into the night.

I guess that's my point. The morning stroll offers both reality and romance; there's poetry and perspective on offer.

As I turn into York St, the faceless, homeless chap pushes slowly towards town. We were but passing ships in the morning.

I watch him disappear into the ether with equal doses of pity and envy. He has the entire day to work on his constitution.

Mark Story is deputy editor of Hawke's Bay Today.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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