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Sunday, 8 February 2009


During the reign of Edward VII, the clocks in Sandringham were set half an hour fast as the king was so exasperated by his wife, Queen Alexandra's lack of punctuality. There are many clocks in this house and they all say different times, which is quite amusing. I wear a watch that stopped two years ago, but I like the look of it and it was too expensive to fix, My car clock is only right for 6 months of the year because I don't know how to move it when the hour goes forwards or backwards...and yet somehow I tend not to be late for things.

Time is such a strangely binding concept, isn't it? Before the advent of clocks and the idea that is was the same time in London as it is in Leeds or Edinburgh or Aberdeen, people were a bit more attuned to their own rhythms. The coming of the railways and the need to know when the train might come changed all of that (bizarre when you think how many times you've been standing on a train platform in the 21st century, wondering whether the timetable bears any resemblance to the time shown on the clock!). It was quite useful, I suppose, being able to make arrangements and so on, but, on the other hand (of the clock) it was nothing more than regimentation. Now, it's decadent to lie in bed after a certain hour, or dissipated to be up after a certain hour. Somehow it entered our psyche that time ruled us. Now we have to get up when the clock rings, chimes, blurts out, or the radio comes on or whatever other means we use on a Monday morning and we are slaves to time.

On a much bigger scale, time is used to enslave us into categories of age. Again, it's even more ridiculous. I know young men of 98, and I know old men of 25. I have seen girls of 80, and old women of 40. To take it even further, there are 'moments' (a time concept) when we step out of time altogether. Sometimes, looking at the sea, with nothing else in sight but the endless ocean, it could be any age, any era, the same steady tides, the same steady motion of the waves.

Tonight, yet again, it is snowing and there is a softness and silence about everything. Closing one's eyes to the buildings that clutter (or enhance?) the city, and seeing only the snow falling steadily, it could be any age - the ice age, eternity...the things we understood before we regimented everything with clocks, before the words 'late' or 'early' had been invented....And, since it's snowing, here's a lovely poem by Edward Thomas, which has nothing to do with time but is very beautiful:

In the gloom of whiteness,
In the great silence of snow,
A child was sighing
And bitterly saying: "Oh,
They have killed a white bird up there on her nest,
The down is fluttering from her breast!"
And still it fell through that dusky brightness
On the child crying for the bird of the snow.

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