It's 5am and I'm practically swivel-eyed with tiredness and too much coffee. I just got home from work, and from a profitable half-hour hanging around looking shifty at a petrol station – the BP in the shadow of Hammersmith Flyover, to be precise.
This is it for a while, almost to the end of January, as we go on holiday on Monday. A cottage in Cornwall. Goodbye late nights. And goodbye civilization! (Apart from our phones, a laptop with mobile internet access, a desktop PC and printer, and probably most of the home networking kit too – gotta be prepared for all eventualities.)
So why the petrol station? Because the sitcom script I'm working on is set during the night shift of a 24-hour garage. A place where people are white of face and baggy-eyed from lack of sunlight and sleep. The place where the 24 hour party people go when the party finally finishes and they're straggling home.
And so I've taken to stopping at random petrol stations on my way back from work (there are several to choose from on the 20-mile journey), buying myself a coffee and some hot food, and sitting back to drink in the atmosphere.
Tonight I was rewarded by being able to listen in on two Asian men in their 20s as they discussed whether or not buying units in a parade of shops near where I lived was a good investment (“I mean, look at them – they're all dumps”, “Yeah, but there's money in 7-11s, Costcutters, all that stuff”), and whether you had to live abroad to count as an offshore investor for tax purposes.
When they left (having bought three or four chocolate bars each), a couple of over-made-up, underdressed slappers tottered in on spiky heels, one with dyed black hair and the other a peroxide blonde. They fussed for ages over the hot food display, asking the poor man behind it for all sorts of things that he plainly didn't have on sale.
When I finally left, two waste disposal contractors in flourescent vests were waiting for meat pasties to heat up while their lorry sat abandoned outside with its engine ticking over, daring thieves to pinch it and its cargo of garbage.
A busy night shift – and lots of raw material for me…