A Personal History of Time in Four Objects

Early on, I had a bedside alarm clock: a round, wind-up thing with hands of luminous pale green painted on by poor factory workers, and who might have succumbed to disease and died before their time for their efforts. It seems a high cost to allow strangers to see the time without needing to turn on a light.

Someone then gave me a travel alarm clock. I had yet to travel and had no prior thoughts of doing so being, as I was, not quite ten years old. It seemed an odd contraption: the square body of a wind-up clock attached to the lid of a hinged box by another hinge, so that the three hinged parts could fold in and enclose the clock part. Opened out, it formed a triangle with the base of the box being the base of the clock. The alarm, I remember, wasn’t that loud. Perhaps it’s quieter where people with travel clocks go.

I bought myself a radio alarm clock. Some mornings it would wake me with the sounds of the show before the Breakfast Show; other times I’d be woken by static. The tuning was unreliable and the threat of it malfunctioning on important days kept me awake at night. Then the cat took it upon himself to chew the aerial off. It was just a length of wire hanging down and it must have aroused the cat’s curiosity and so he bit it off gradually by degrees. He never touched the mains cable which also hung down with it. Curiosity didn’t kill that cat, not that time anyway.

The personal tablet is the Swiss Army Knife of the age: if you need something doing, someone has probably devised an app to do it. For it, the alarm clock is a cinch. You can be woken by any number of pleasant or hideous ringtones, or you can choose your favourite song, but be mindful that this can become like Bill Murray’s morning in Groundhog Day; it’s probably better to select “random” from a given playlist. Or you can have the radio. You can have the radio broadcast out of Toronto, Timor or Timbuktu. Be aware that it’s likely not to be first thing in the morning there.

inspired by the brilliant History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor (BBC)

When we eat

I am a breakfast man. It gives me great pleasure, when holidaying, to find a good spread put on for our morning meal. The best of these must have been the chain hotel we stayed in in Stockholm a few years ago. It was a buffet breakfast, eat as much as you like, and I was like a kid given a free pass in a sweet shop.

Though not formally so, I made it a five course meal: Fresh fruit salad;, Muesli and yoghurt; bacon, egg, mushrooms and tomatoes; Toast and marmalade; Sweet Pastries to go. And, of course, orange juice and fresh coffee refills. I also like the regional variations you sometimes find: lavabread, black puddings, smoked fish, cheeses, hams and charcuterie.

It’s a pity our conventional timetable, in England and much of the West, doesn’t allow the leisure of a good breakfast every day of the week. Instead, our main meal is shunted to the far end of the day, along with most of our leisure time. I am told the Industrial Revolution is to blame for this convention, and how it caused everyone to toe this line against the previous millennia of human evolution. And all subsequent technological advancements, business strategies and politics went along with the trend, alienating ourselves from our nature.

I saw today on a BBC news site, there’s a thing called Chrono-nutrition which is basically studying what time it’s best to eat. What do you know, they reckon it might be the morning – breakfast! Our evening meal, whether restaurant dining or family sit together, is looking a bit bad. It appears our circadian clocks don’t want to know late in the day.

It’s all very well but how on earth are we supposed to turn this drifting oil tanker around? Should we even try? Don’t get me wrong, I said I love a grand breakfast, but I also love a good dinner too. And I won’t pass up a decent lunch come to that. There’s something these nutritional articles and studies never seem to take into account when telling us what is good or bad for us: pleasure. We are human beings, not merely biological machines.

BBC News: Are we eating at the wrong time?