The early bird catcheth the worm

John Ray’s “Collection of English Proverbs” 1670 first records the phrase and it was clearly well known already by that time.

After a 14-hour working day that concluded at 20:15 last night with a telephone interview for a client’s potential new marketing manager and TCO, I barely had enough time to grab a quick meal, quaff a glass of Skillogalee and marvel at GOT before light’s out and an 04:15 alarm call.

It’s now 06:00 and I’m in the aptly named Escape Lounge at Manchester’s Terminal 3, heading back for the second time in 5 days to Northern Ireland for client meetings in Belfast and Derry before a return flight that (hopefully) lands at 22:45 – then a 06:35 train to Birmingham tomorrow morning – and so it goes on.

Chatting to my taxi driver this morning (I already know his life story) we both commented that, in the world of the self-employed, we must never complain about being busy and always make that extra effort to get up early.

He catches the dawn commuters and, due to the relative lack of traffic, is able to bag quite a few fares before his colleagues pitch up and clog the roads.

“No matter how tired I am – I have trained myself to get out of bed and get in the shower to wake myself up.”

That could have been me speaking – but it was him.

Back in 1968, in my penultimate year at secondary school, I decided to get some summer spending money by taking a job as a driver’s assistant at Express Dairy in Levenshulme, Manchester (long since bulldozed away to make space for first-time buyers housing).

My days began at 04:00 with an alarm call (sometimes bumping into my Dad on his way in from a night-shift with Greater Manchester Police), a bike ride to the dairy and then delivery of crates of milk from the back of an HGV to schools and transport cafes around the South Manchester area.

My memory plays tricks on me, in that I associate this period with long, balmy summer mornings, fresh air and plenty of aerobic lifting of gold and silver tops.

By 09:30 our rounds would be finished and my driver would treat me to a daily English breakfast at a time when calories were burned and BMI maintained without thinking.

Back to the Dairy by 10:30 for 90 minutes of loading full crates on to the bag of the wagon, before parking her overnight, ready to repeat the performance the next day.

Finished by noon, my summer afternoons and evenings were mine to do with as a I pleased, with cash in my pocket and not a care in the world.

I’ve no doubt that my life was complicated by interfering parents, summer homework and the confusing arrival of hormones and girls but in my mind’s eye, these were days of happiness.

Through this, I developed the ability to (and an appetite for) get up early and complete the lion’s share of my work before lunchtime – a successful habit that remains embedded almost a half-century later.

There is something about the clarity of an empty mind, the freshness and smell of the morning air and the sanctity of empty streets (sometimes along which I run) that seems to me like a blank canvas on which I can construct my art.

So, this morning, across the water to paint another picture.

I’ve been catching worms all of my life and love it that way.

Life is such a privilege.


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.