Our valiant cleaner phoned the other morning to ask me to open the door to the building for her. “Oh!” I said, “I thought you were coming on Wednesday.” There was a slight pause. “It is Wednesday,” she said.
Losing track of time is supposed to be something that indicates how engaged or happy you are doing whatever it is you are doing but in my case I rather think it’s because I am beginning to lose the plot! It’s all become a bit of a blur, one day very much like another and none of them particularly memorable.
I realise that virtually all my life until March this year, time was something to be checked and measured. I was in good company. After all, as Simon Garfield reminds us in his book Timekeepers, “time is the most precious thing we have.” His book is about “our attempts to measure it, control it, sell it, film it, perform it, immortalise it , and make it meaningful. ” And here I am, wishing it away.
I recently read a couple of books by Alexandra Fuller and she describes growing up on a series of farms in Zambia and other African countries. You can well imagine that time on a farm revolves around seasons (one of the books is called “Leaving before the Rains Come”) and time, for a lot of people at least, revolves around the planting and harvesting of crops – as, indeed, it used to be long ago in much of the world, and still is. It wasn’t necessary to synchronize clocks in the UK, for example, until people started using trains to get to work etc. Greenwich Mean Time was introduced – and all that. School holidays to this day in the UK are timed to coincide with the harvesting of crops. Fuller describes the first thing that she noticed about the United States (to where she emigrated) was the attitude to time. “They believed time belonged to an individual. “Don’t waste my time,“ they said.” She realized that on the farm they didn’t bother trying to “hoard what could not be safeguarded, restrained, and stored.”
I am afraid I cannot change everything about my attitude to time. In March I finally gave up on paid employment – and then lockdown happened. That was a double whammy for me. I was so used to being busy and focussed on completing one task or another that I have found the last few months very trying. The worst part is that I know I could be “busy” reading great tomes that I have neglected until now, doing virtual tours of all the important museums, listening to opera and other concerts online – but a curious ennui overtook me. I am ‘waiting’ – and waiting is not something I am good at, that is for long periods of time. Added to that is the knowledge that waiting, in this case at least, is a futile pursuit anyway. I am far away from getting a vaccine. My bucket list looks increasingly fanciful and I am extremely limited in the places I can visit. Two holidays have been cancelled so far and I have no taste under present circumstances to embark on train or air travel. There is a limit to William Davies’ warning about “a life where there is no time to stand and stare”. I need to make another plan.
And I have: another job – and the bonus is it is a job worth doing.