The author of this description of the nothingness of a nightwatchman’s existence—‘a negative-image of day-time work’—is now a teacher and journalist. Thirty-three years old t.c.n. recently graduated to these professions after many years of travelling, studying and passing from one job to another.

Property is protected in a thousand ways. The oldest, simplest kind of protection was by a man armed with a club. In spite of the State and the police and ideologies, this sort of elementary defence still survives against the most elementary enemy of property, the thief. But until recently, in a vestigial form only: the faithful servant of the firm, ageing or handicapped, drowsing the night away beside his fire. Solitude, estrangement from daylight living, and a kind of half-organized vacancy were the essence of his task. Nowadays, this figure is being thrust aside along with so many other archaisms, by the growth in the scale of property and a corresponding growth in the scale of criminal operations. Loss by theft or fire would be a small item in the books of the great corporations. But the insurance companies meeting the loss force business to protect itself more efficiently. This new protection is complex. A rationalized surveillance invades the night, organizing nothingness into a quasi-military discipline of uniforms and signals, making sleep at noon a permanent way of life for thousands. The most marginal of tasks is swollen into a growth-trade, a hive of men guarding the sleep of capital. Producing nothing, this labour exists to make nothing happen, its aim is emptiness. Its abstract and solitary structure, like a negative-image of day-time work, reverses the diurnal beat of life and betrays the meaning of labour, creating a new, pure, objectless estrangement lasting from every twilight until long after dawn.

I might as well talk about the first night. Like so many counters dropping through a vacuum, the others were all the same. Of course their effect on me was not the same: it was boring by the second night, and turned into a slow torture that lasted all the time I was awake, until I would either have gone mad or—worse—got used to the job’s madness. Thinking back to the first night, I can see why, as a traveller across an immense desert, all of whose parts resembled each other, might present the meaning of his journey by speaking of the first miles.

The first, strangest thing was the silence.

When I arrived at the warehouse—a huge rectangle of greying bricks and barred windows in the north of the city—the other four men were already there, changing into their uniforms in a locker room. In the morning, people going towards work or meeting at a work-place often talk with animation, even if they feel depressed. Sometimes they are glad to get away from home, and work brings people they are happy to return to; and, in any case, routine exchanges and stories about yesterday evening stave off the full pressure of work and render the first acts easier. But here no-one said anything, or rare words dropped into a pool of silence already surrounding us. It was like being under water.