time

The Last of the Wrist Watches

The search on the WP app isn’t at all good but I’m pretty sure I’ve written something about how unnecessary a wrist watch is these days. Well, now the inevitable has happened and the battery powering my wrist watch has died. It’s frozen on six minutes past seven.

It’s a funny thing but when your wrist watch dies is the day you find out how often you look at it. Four times during that day; the little numskull inside my head department put in a request in for knowing the hour. The arm rises, the hand thrusts out, and simultaneously, I glance down, the eyes making contact and… it’s 7.06.

After the fourth time, moments before the end of the day, I took the useless thing off and put it away in a drawer. Throughout the next day, I looked at my bare wrist four times.

What I’m sure I wrote about previously was the two years before my 21st birthday, I never had a watch, and I did okay despite not having constant access to the correct time. I believe even humans with their dumb indoors mentality and general reluctance to commune with nature’s clues, can at least guess the hour within about 30 minutes accuracy either way. I often test myself for amusement and it works. Try it yourself!

So the upshot of this is an unintentional resolution: no more wrist watches for me.


image by James Coleman via Unsplash.com

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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)

History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.


During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.


I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!


It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.

Bridge In Time

Why was there not a bridge over the river Styx? A bridge could imply an ease of passage both ways, which wouldn’t be a bad thing: Death and an afterlife in Hades seems so absolute. As for Charon, the ferryman, did he not become too weary of the job as he himself approached his end of days? I can imagine him one day setting off and not coming back, his fare paying passengers, their mouths full of drachma, having to roam the shore, with all the penniless souls, for eternity.

There are many rivers to cross, as the old song says, and the metaphor of a bridge aids the idea of linear time. As opposed to an idea of circular time, giving a sense of continuous renewal. Each is a reasonable assumption were it not for modern science leading us to the ideas of entropy and time’s arrow. Yet, are we not more than physical things? Then there comes quantum theory which includes the idea of particles being in more than one place at any time. Maybe we got time wrong; maybe we’re in the top half of the universe’s hour glass and it’s all we can possibly see and understand.

I was in Sydney at the end of 1984, a year we celebrated Christmas on the beach with barbecue steaks and prawns, and on New Year’s eve, drank chilled beers on the grass overlooking the fireworks in the harbour. It was mid-Summer and it seemed odd. I wondered how the Aboriginal people celebrated the year’s passing. I’m left wondering. They have the tradition of Dreamtime, a timeless existence encompassing all their ancestors lives back to the originals. Though it seems paradoxical to have originals in a timeless place, I feel I know what it means. The innate human desire to return.

Reality and dreams, that’s what it’s all about as we cross another bridge, hoping there are many more ahead. Regrets and aspirations, death and rebirth. I heard old Charon has been given a toll booth now, on the bridge. He collects the coins from passing souls and has a nice electric heater to keep him warm (the gods have promised air-conditioning in the refit for the Summer months). Now he’s not going anywhere that he might not be coming back from, and everyone’s happy.

(382 words)


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #67 – “Bridge In Time

This is the last of Reena’s enjoyable challenges for this year. Hopefully, more to follow in January 2019.

image: painting of “Psyche Crossing The Styx” by John Armstrong (Victoria Art Gallery, Bath)

Patience

Patience is a virtue

We go back to the 5th Century when Prudentius is composing his epic poem, Psychomachia, the Battle of Spirits. The adversary of Patience in his allegory is Anger. Anger is the aggressor, attacking the presumably passive Patience but to no avail. Patience resists and endures. Frustrated, Anger calls it a day, slopes away and takes his own life. It’s a tale to ponder if ever you’re stuck in traffic or find yourself behind a nuisance ditherer.

Patience is of interest to the hypothetical time traveller: it is closely associated with the human perception of time passing. Impatience stretches time while patience condenses it. Harnessing these virtue-vices could be of use to anyone thinking of developing a basic time machine, the advantage being no mechanical parts are utilised.


I was introduced to the Grinchen Pear some decades ago, its tree a species now sadly extinct. In the ancient civilisation of Molvernea, the Grinchen tree was both its national emblem and a symbol of Patience. Orchards of Grinchen were planted in a matrix of Seven trees by Six, each being no more than Three feet apart. The trees themselves grew slow and straight, and bore no fruit until mature, a progress which reputedly took an indeterminate number of Summers.

Though this is not what set the Grinchen apart. Its peculiarity was that at its maturity, it produced only a single fruit. Whether it went on to produce a fruit the following year, or may even have increased its yield, no living person knows as, for millennia, the royal decree was that the tree, following fruiting, must be cut down.

The wood of the first flowering Grinchen tree made the finest Oved, a lute-like instrument with an incredibly sweet harmonic. But it was the Pear which was most desirable, the exquisite first born of the tree and never sweeter than the very moment it fell naturally from the bough. It was said that the person who tasted the flesh of it soonest after its fall would never see a minutiae of misfortune and live a life of supreme grace.

And so it was, when a boy of Molvernea came of age, he was sent to the an orchard with a carved Grinchen dish to sit and wait, a test of his moral character and virtue. No distraction must cause him to fail else he remain as a child for a further year, a year which may have seemed to him much longer than most.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week 57 – Patience.

How long is now

My first thought is that poster ought to have a question mark. My second thought is maybe not; perhaps How Long is a name. Perhaps Now is also a name and the claim is that this How Long, an individual or group, is an alias of this other person or group known as Now. So, How Long is Now.

That clears up a lot of confusion, or maybe just discloses a secret, who knows?


My third thought is there definitely should be a question mark.


My fourth thought returns again to the subject of dogs. Does a dog, or another intelligent animal, possess a sense of Now, and if yes, is their Now the same as ours?

I know our dogs have a sense of Now by the way they pester us whenever they think it’s the moment for their food or time for a walk. It’s as if they have an innate sense of the passing of time, an inner biological clock – assuming they can’t actually tell the time from the clock on the wall. Has anyone tested this?

But like most clocks, theirs is slightly flawed. It leads real time by around half an hour. Now, Now, Now!, they implore. Too early, too early, too early!, we stress. Of course, their clocks might not be faulty at all, it might just be emotional overload as excitement builds as the Now approaches.


Okay, let’s not delay tackling How Long a “Now” is. The human idea of Now is, I think, a timeless quantity. It is immeasurable. Yet it lasts for ever. Well, at least as long as there is a sentient being in the Universe, and only up to the point when the Universe ceases to be.

It’s like this ineffable thing, a pinpoint of being moving along the timeline, for ever. It is both no time at all and all time, at the same time.

It’s made all the more odd by knowing that our senses to our environment are lagging behind real time, the senses informing the brain and the brain’s synapses firing to make sense of anything, all take time. Thus, the Now we think we experience was really the Then; we spend our time in futile pursuit of the Now, always nanoseconds behind it but never able to be up with it.

But, strangely, in our imagination, we can be ahead of it. Like the dog wanting her meal or his habitual stroll around the park. Now is before Now, and after Now, and forever, but never actually Now.

Okay, I’m going to post this now, but I maybe be some time.


Inspired by Reena’s Exploration Challenge – week #52.

image supplied by Reena via Maria Popova (click on it for the bigger picture)

I have just invented the hitherto impossible backwards in time machine

As I approach the final day of work, I’ve noticed a phenomenon where extra weeks seem to be slotting in between now and that day, seemingly from nowhere (or should that be nowhen?) For example, I was looking at the project planner the other day and hadn’t realised August has five weeks, not four, so I’m a week further out in my estimation. What a drag.

It dawned on me how this phenomenon is likely a universal one. I remember now when we were kids, the approach of a birthday, or Christmas morning, seemed to slow the nearer we got to it. It obviously has to do with the intensity of looking forward to a desired event.

So if I can gather in a room enough people approaching the end of a mundane career, we would experience time gradually slowing down. Then, adding more and more such people, we could stop time completely.

It doesn’t take a quantum leap in imagination to see that the addition of just one more similar person would effectively reverse time’s arrow. Those fortunate enough to be in the room closest to the window will see the seasons slowly change from Summer to Spring, and soon enough little children will be wrapping their presents up to give to Santa, turkeys will be resurrected from ovens the world over, and leaves will begin attaching themselves to trees.

So let us forget the impracticality of going to Mars. Let us save our planet by going backwards. If you’re up for it and have an itch for a future date, get in touch. Our time room awaits us.

Refreshments will be provided.


Exactly what is time? – The Arrow of Time

Psychology Today – The way we experience time is no illusion

Give me a straight line any day

Last night, I watched Last Bus To Woodstock, the seventh episode of Inspector Morse. To give you the gen, this is a British police telly drama, set in Oxford, and which ran for 33 episodes, over eight seasons for 13 years; each film-length episode runs for almost 2 hours, so that’s a lot of time investment. I have also caught up with the much newer UK police series, Unforgotten, on the “catch up” app and now I’m on the current season showing every Friday. The thing about all these police-crime solving telly dramas is they are very cyclic in nature. With each episode, and with each series/season, the story begins just like the last one.

We should be happy with that and I think we are. Lots of things in nature go about in cycles: day and night, the moon, the Earth around the Sun, the comets around the Solar System, the Solar System around the Universe and the Universe, for all we know, goes regularly around a flying turtle called Derek. We cannot get away from cyclic events so we may as well accept this fact and enjoy it.

But with me there is a rub. The thing I never liked about work was the dailiness of it. You get up, you go into work, you work, you go home, you go to bed, you get up, you go into work….. whaaaa!

Not only this but the work itself, and I’m sure I can’t be alone, is excruciatingly cyclic. You get one project out the door and what next? In comes another, much the same as the last, and the process is the same, on and on, until they give you a small party and a clock. Yeah, and that clock.

So it occurred to me this morning that I must be some kind of Linearist. A natural straight-liner. Entropic, Time’s Arrow, ever forward. I hadn’t the foggiest whether Linearism was a real thing, and I’m still unsure and if it is a thing, whether it applies to what I’m talking about.

I can’t think it’s never been thought of. Unless we’ve been going around in circles and missed it.

Not a blogging holiday

The downside of working full time, starting to learn another language and getting the house to look its best prior to putting it on the market, is I have little quality time for blogging. It has, unfortunately, become priority #4.

I feel I have to have quality time, and lots of it, to do this any justice. I’m not writerly enough to just knock them out, as my drafts folder will testify to: full to bursting with half-finished and barely formed and inept second-thoughts. Though I’ve never timed myself, I reckon each post averages about an hour’s work.

This reminds me of an anecdotal story told by the singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen, when he met up with Bob Dylan. I can’t remember which of their songs they were discussing but as it is Cohen and Dylan, it hardly matters which. I think it might have been Hallelujah and I and I, respectively. Each admired the other’s song and Dylan asked Cohen how long he’d spent writing it. Cohen said “Two years” (though witness accounts say it was likely closer to five!) And what about I and I ? Dylan claimed it was done in fifteen minutes.

I don’t know who’s the better writer of the two and how much it really matters in the end, to the audience. Cohen said of himself he was a slow writer.

And he also said, at another time,

“The fact that my songs take a long time to write is no guarantee of their excellence.”

(53 minutes)


Portrait by Platon Antoniou.

Precious time

What am I doing, going back to work?!

On Monday, I start a new contract I accepted, now with a tinge of regret. I’m convinced the work gene is not part of my DNA. By “work” I mean employment, job, “9 to 5”. I can work in the sense of doing stuff, just not routinely for other people.

Also, I don’t think I’m much of a specialist. Thanks, partly to the economist and philosopher, Adam Smith’s Division of Labour, the modern industrialised world runs on a specialist economy: we are obliged to choose a field of expertise early on and within its narrow confines pursue something resembling a career. With enthusiasm and ambition. While this is arguably great for the economy, for the individual I feel it is disastrous: polymaths are rare and the interesting and usefulness of jacks-of-all-trades has all but diminished. Isn’t it telling that, in motivational speak, we hear phrases like “pushing the boundaries” and “thinking outside the box”? Isn’t it ridiculously ironic?

I console myself that it is a short contract and I am doing my sums to get a better handle on my finances, to see whether I need to work, and if I do, how little I can get away with. Money is essential but time is more precious.


Adam Smith (1723 – 1790)

Division of labour