Since we’re on the subject of Dr. Who and the timelords anyway . . . why not a short discourse on time itself?
Trudge through any field around these parts, in the snow, carrying a plastic bag full of groceries, and the sheep will let you know that it’s time they were fed. I stood under the bell tower at St. Cuthbert’s, wondering if I could find the inscription on the sundial that Nora Handcock, in her book Allendale: Twentieth Century Memories, records as marking the centre of Britain in 1842. I guess that was before Haltwhistle claimed the honour. I did see the inscription ‘HORA FUGIT’ which I take to mean, literally, that ‘the hour escapes’, though we usually translate the Latin as ‘time flies’ don’t we. However we translate it, ain’t it the truth, and it did so even in the 19th century!
The big clock said it was 1:15 and the sundial read 1pm (the dial is upside down, so that noon is at the very bottom, and the static shadow-caster pointer, also called a gnomon, takes its shadow from the changing position of the sun in the sky — or, to be more accurate, the changing rotation of the earth relative to the static sun), which I thought was pretty near enough to whatever time was really necessary to be aware of, in the bright sunshine on this otherwise snowy day. And so I began to muse on time.
Time feels so much different to older people than it does to younger folks (I understand that now, though before, when I was younger myself, and rushing around on every errand that arose, I did not). For a start, retirement means you don’t actually have to get up at any specific time, except to get to a crucial doctor’s appointment say, or to meet the ferry waiting to whisk you away to warmer holiday lands. So all in all, life feels suddenly more relaxed, chilled, able to be lived at a slower pace, than it used to feel. So does time slow down, then, even while it’s speeding up and only a short portion of your life is left to live? It seems to be moving in both directions at once!
So I took the photo of the church tower, on my mobile phone, which tells me that I snapped away at 13:14. Am I any the wiser for that information, I wonder? Seemingly no further ahead than I would have been in 1842!
I got the groceries home and suddenly realised that I had four, two litre bottles of milk and two, 750ml bottles of wine, to carry up the long track past the tyranny of the massed sheep. I had time to think about the logistics of the journey, and I figured that if I swung the big blue IKEA bag on my back, sticking my arms through the long handles, I might be able to dissuade the hungry ewes from following me, and minimise the burden for myself as well. So I saved time by not having to retrace my steps with the red sledge. What will I do with that saved time now, I wonder? More crucially, however, I did befuddle the sheep!
What, for example, will we do with all the time we save by merely flashing our debit cards in front of the reader instead of spending all that time keying in our 4 digit security code? Add all those time bits saved across the whole population and you’ve probably got years and years of person-hours saved up for someone to use. But who? Who gets to use that saved time? Certainly not me, because after standing in front of the machine aimlessly waving my card around, I’m usually reduced to sticking it in the slot and keying in the code anyway.
In Allendale and the surrounding valleys, when the snow falls, it often feels like the place becomes a timeless wonderland of beauty, as long as you’ve got warmth and provisions at home so that you can stay in and enjoy the hibernation. Which I think I’ll take advantage of, now, having sorted out our disappearing water problem yesterday — and most of the crucial components for survival are now in hand. Time, in other words, for a short snooze!