“When the light fails on winter evenings,
and the river behind the house is silent but for its cold flowing …”

I wish I knew exactly where that came from, because apart from anything else a pretty calculated “verse speaking” of it won me Victor Ludorum for the highest individual score in the Harrogate Music Festival when I was about 14 – but it runs through my head regularly at this fourfivesixoclock time of day between November and March.

It sometimes also brings to mind Herbert Kretzmer’s altogether shallower lament as Fantine lays dying in Les Mis and sings to daughter Cosette:

You’ve played the day away
And soon it will be night.

The poetry and the poorer lyric somehow combine in me at this time of the late winter afternoon to remind me how little I’ve done with the day apart from to tinker on the computer, speak to friends on the phone and fail to keep two not particularly urgent appointments I could have done today.

Deferral. Procrastination. Inert. It’s how I just am, some days. I haven’t opened the post for a week, either. Some of it’s squatting on a ledge at the edge of my eyeline in a Tesco carrier bag, but I won’t let it win. It can stay a mystery.

I don’t know if I love or am a little scared by this time of day. When abroad in unfamiliar places I become inexplicably sad at the point at which the light withers from the winter landscape, and almost uneasy when it’s not replaced with street lighting or the glow of a town skyline. One of the reasons I bought the flat here in the Docklands was because at night it felt “surrounded by light” with the boats on the river, the hooded and haloed mercury vapour lamps in the park, the amber sodium flood lights, appropriately enough, on the Barrier and of course Manhattan-on-Thames out the kitchen window.

It’s funny how light, or its absence, affects my indelible impression of place. India is forever conjured for me by the image of a single unshaded fluorescent tube swaying from a tree above a roadside stall. For me it illuminates an entire sub-continent with its brave and inaccurate belief in its own efficacy. Proust may have had the madeleines, I resonate to a fluorescent-lit dead dog resting beside a crazed highway …