The fictitiousness of time by Sandra Horn

For the first time ever, this year, we forgot to change the clocks. Now, most of them self-adjust anyway, but our watches and the big old striker on the wall don’t. I think we forgot because, in these days of lockdown, it didn’t matter. Time drifts. I rather like it.
I have occasional rants about watches and clocks, especially now that they are electronic and can measure this ‘time’ in umpteenths of a second. A runner breaking a record by nought-point something of a second makes me shout expletives at the television – anyway, where do they measure it? It strikes me that a big bust, nose or foot could make all the difference in reality. Where was I? Oh yes, while admiring the brilliant range of mental and physical skills and the extraordinary imagination that led to the conception and implementation of gadgets to measure time – and the traditional ones are often miracles of delicate and beautiful engineering - they are also responsible for shaping our lives powerfully, irresistibly and fictitiously. 

They have made us believe that time progresses only in one direction, and by regularly-spaced ticks and tocks. Pure rubbish, but believed in with the fervour and dedication some people give to karma or some other bizarre creed. Pause here, while I’m at it, for an interjection of a poem I like very much, which touches, lightly, on the theme of beliefs:

The Avatar by Kerrie Hardy

Listen, this is the trinity, he said, tramping the wet road
in the thin well-being of a winter morning:
God the curlew, God the eider,
God the cheese-on-toast.
To his right, a huddle of small blue mountains
squatted together, discussing the recent storm.
To his left, the sea washed.

I thought it was whimsical, what he said,
I condemned it as fey.
Then I saw that he meant it: that, unlike me,
he had no quarrel
with himself, could see his own glory
was young enough for faith still in flesh and in being.
He was not attracted by awe

or a high cold cleanness
but imagined a god as intimate
as the trickles of blood and juice that course about inside him,
a god he could eat or warm his hands on,
a low god for winter:
belly-weighted, with the unmistakeable call
of the bog curlew or the sea-going eider.

That was really a digression, but to get back to the theme: we think we cannot function without recourse to clock time. It is handy, of course, to agree when, say 5 o’clock is if we are meeting someone in person or by phone or online, and if there’s something on the television, radio, cinema etc. that we don’t want to miss. Otherwise it’s largely irrelevant, as we are discovering now nearly all our commitments have been cancelled. Now we can see that time slows down, speeds up, doubles back on itself, slides sideways for a while, dances around, and it doesn’t matter. Our distant ancestors, when asking how long it would take to get somewhere, would likely be told ‘three days and two nights’, or ‘walk with the sun at your left shoulder until you come to the bluff shaped like a heel, and you will be there by sunset,’ and that was near enough.  I’d love to do that! ‘I’ll meet you at the crossroads when the sun is directly over the tower on the town hall,’ ‘Come when the quarter moon is sitting on the tops of the trees on the Common.’ And yes, I know that cloudy weather would kybosh it, but then you could all just stay home and it probably wouldn’t matter.

Here's another poem I like very much, with some relevance here:

The Banished Gods by Derek Mahon

Paros, far-shining star of the dark-blue earth,
Reverts to the sea its mother.
The tiny particles
Rose quartz and amethyst,
Panic into the warm brine together.

Near the headwaters of the longest river
There is a forest clearing,
A dank, misty place
Where light stands in columns
And birds sing with a noise like paper tearing.

Far from land, far from the trade routes,
In an unbroken dream-time
Of penguin and whale
The seas sigh to themselves
Reliving the days before the days of sail.

Down a dark lane at the back of beyond
A farm dog lies by a dead fire
Dreaming of nothing
While a window goes slowly grey
Brightening a laid table and hung clothing.

Where the wires end the moor seethes in silence,
Scattered with scree, primroses,
Feathers and faeces;
It shelters the hawk and hears
In dreams the forlorn cries of lost species.

It is here that the banished gods are hiding,
Here they sit out the centuries
In stone, water
And the hearts of trees,
Lost in a reverie of their own natures –

Of zero-growth economics and seasonal change
In a world without cars, computers
Or nuclear skies,
Where thought is a fondling of stones
And wisdom a five-minute silence at moonrise.

Although ‘five-minute’ seems incongruous!

Just in case you’re wondering if I’m going stir-crazy, no. At least, I don’t think so. I think I’m just adjusting to the happy fact that clock time is, for now, largely redundant. We get up in the morning at roughly the same that time we always have, from habit. Ditto eating, but bedtime drifts later. Who cares? I do glance at my watch from time to time (habit again) and I’m always surprised at what it says, and find myself wondering, momentarily, what it means. Of course, when ‘this’ (Corvid19) is over, I’ll revert. We’ll all be back to being harassed again by this modern avatar of time.


Jan Needle said…
What about this modern avatar of spelling, though? I take it Corvid19 was deliberate, and I'll spend a happy (but unquantified) amount of time trying to reach a viable view of what you meant by it. I liked the poems, too. But as to time itself, it's a good un. When I did my slimmed down version of Ole Bram's Dracula for Caz Royds at Walker Books (Hi Caz; how's the lockdown treatin yer?) I spent many happy hours pondering on the 'facts' of the story. A key part of it is nightfall, see, which brings about some fairly vital changes to a certain person. But if said person is floating about the ocean, or in a different bit of Europe, farther east, when exactly does it become dangerous for someone else (usually a sexy young female, natch) to be careless at sundown in, say, Scarborough? Were I an academic I might conclude that Mr Stoker hadn't thought the whole thing through, but maybe he just didn't really believe it could actually happen, so didn't give a flying fig. The cheques were real enough though, and still flood in to his estate. What time do the banks close in Transylvania?
Enid Richemont said…
Love the two poems, Sandra, but they are deeply sad as well as beautiful - mourning for what we have lost, or maybe lies dormant. Along with many introverts, I'm finding the lockdown less difficult than some, and my previous editor who lives alone, in a cottage in mid-Wales, has barely noticed the difference. The silence in London, though, feels uncanny.
Sandra Horn said…
Ha ha! You're very kind to think my mistake was deliberate, Jan! More like a Freudian slip - although I have a soft spot for corvids in general.
We writers are lucky in a way, Enid - introverts by and large, so less likely to be climbing the walls if we are not constantly stimulated.
Bill Kirton said…
Loved it, Sandra, including those poems (I wish I could write poetry). For most things,time is an afterthought; it 'adds no value' as the movers and shakers might say and it's mostly retrospective: birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, wars. How much 'useful' or 'meaningful' information is really contained in the digits 1939-45? Thanks for provoking reflections yet again.
Hmm, I wonder how many people would survive lockdown without computers? But time, I agree... there are fast time days and slow time days, and everything in-between.

Also, I love those clocks with a different approach to time, like the ones with "one-ish" "two-ish" etc. on the clock face. And there's a clock with an old fashioned clock face that goes backwards in a cafe near me... catches me out every time!
Umberto Tosi said…
Love the poems. Thank you for stopping the clocks to allow such contemplation, song and space for the imagination. If anything good comes of our universal pause, it will be room for such reflection, finally as the static fades and the pretenses fall away.

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