You do not have to be called Einstein to know that time is very much relative.

Imaging sitting in an evening class, after a convulsive day at work, believing that 60 minutes must have passed; discreetly you look at your watch, only to discover that all of 12 minutes have elapsed.  Ages before you get home for a drink…

Or maybe you have fallen into a passion and your lover is calling round at 7 o’clock that evening, unaware of the revelation that awaits; the day seems like an aeon to you.

Or maybe, you are having an encounter with an old friend and you wish, without success, that the outing would never end.

Maybe you are pounding through a fantastically funny story and, just before the punchline, the waiter arrives to ask out loud if everyone is happy with the torte. Have to start again…

In theory, there are 1,440 minutes in every day available to everyone. But is that really how we live? Some minutes get compressed; some expanded. No?

Now, do you ever read scholarly reports and papers from think-tanks urging us all to work less? Invariably, the song tells of how fruitful it would be if we could spend more time hanging with our families, building cooking / gardening skills, perhaps writing poetry or novels, but certainly chilling and un-stressing. Marx himself said something along these lines. And anyways, so many jobs these days are meaningless, pointlessly chore-filled, adding nothing, as Reggie came to agree, to the sum of human happiness.

In fact, so much of life is mercifully built on two related things : structure and absence. How often does one come home and say to one’s delightful partner : “Well, darling, how was your day?”. The very phrase implies spaces, as the Prophet once called them, in the togetherness. And healthy spaces at that.

The reality is that, to achieve the balm of variety, human beings are meant to be in more than one place on any given day. Does anyone remember the old John Denver song (Is it “Goodbye Again”?) with the lyric (from memory):

“And if your hours are empty now,

Who am I to blame?

You think if I were always here

Our love would be the same?”.

Around the same time, Don McLean was reminding us that he does not let the evening get him down now that you’re around”. Maybe love is indeed not time’s fool but it still needs texture, the kind of texture that absences, both programmed and accidental, are there to provide. Parting is, after all, a sweet sorrow.

Perhaps, reading this, you are or have been a manager….. Have you ever given a reasonably arduous task to a junior colleague and allowed that person to complete the task whenever? When did you think the task would actually be completed? Or at home perhaps your delightful partner invites you to fill the dishwasher after supper and you hear yourself say : “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it later”.  How well will that go down?

Come to think of it. Why do children, by state dictat, spend so many years leaving home in the morning to go to school  –  and spending much of the day there? And why do schoolchildren love free periods even though time shoots past during? What parent, moreover, has never said to a home-coming child : “How did you get on at school today?”. Is your child aged 15 the same person breakfasting at 7 in the morning as she is, by the way, sipping a diet cola at 6 in the evening? No.

Each week needs undulation. If we could all lie in bed till 11 every day would Saturdays or Sundays or Bank Holidays or religious festivals still be the same?  No.

Let’s keep it real. Of course, there are too many in our midst who suffer from extreme time-poverty, indeed poverty of just about every form. One thinks of two-job single moms who would dearly love 10 minutes on their own for a quiet cup of cut-price coffee. One thinks of hard-pressed home-delivery workers so ruthlessly exploited that they do not have two digestive biscuits to rub together or time to eat them. It is right that agitations take place on their behalf and that the demand for improvement in labor conditions is insistently maintained. Paternity Leave also is a provision not enacted in too many places. Time is definitely not on the side of too many people.

But imagine if the official working week were to fall to, say, 2 days only. What would be the overall consequence? Greater family togetherness? Less obesity, less alcoholism? Ever more creative leisure? More and better poetry? More nutritious meals? Happier kids? Friendlier neighbors? Weaker consumerism? Tidier homes?  Less loneliness? Fewer divorces?

One wonders…

And what about growing older, the personal accumulation of so many weeks and years? Despite the weekend-supplement claims, in few obvious senses is it fun (though the alternative is too grim to contemplate). If you get to 65 in the UK (perhaps a struggle in itself) you might well have a further 20 years to live. That is the, er, good news. Again in the UK, some 12,000 people die of prostate cancer each year and (we take the figures from Cancer Research UK) prostate cancer mortality is strongly related to age (with the highest mortality rates are to be found amongst older men). For all the most regular health conditions, one’s requirement for treatment tends to increase with age. (See NHS data passim). Alzheimer’s Disease is, by the way, most common in people over 65 years of age.

One doubts, meanwhile, whether it is acceptable to declare that health upsets are nothing but proof of a mid-life crisis  –   if one has never actually met a swimwear model (and is, frankly, unlikely to do so) and if one would need at least four super-strong helpers even to get astride a motorbike.

Best to confront them tell-tale signs of ageing. To wit:

  • You find yourself swearing more frequently at inanimate objects.
  • You get nostalgic about your childhood even though it was rancid.
  • You realise that, despite your wisdom of the decades, nobody is remotely interested in any of your opinions.
  • To no-one in particular and often in an empty room, you shout the general-knowledge answers during daytime TV quiz shows.
  • With time on your hands, you do not know whether to rejoice or be sad.






One Comment

  • Dear Jim

    I have read your post twice, which was easy to do because you are a talented writer and I love your writing.

    This post feels rather negative about ageing. I don’t swear at inanimate objects, am never nostalgic about my childhood (which was, as you write, rancid), do understand that no one cares about my opinions, except in a professional sense (thank heavens for that!), never shout at the TV and I luxuriate at the time on my hands. But I spend my time wisely.

    After all the years of my sometimes turbulent life (I am now seventy) I am happy to be me, to give to others and to take great pleasure in some of the time I have left. Of course as a widow I have experienced four years of sadness. The older you get the more loved ones you lose.

    But I rejoice in the experience of living.

    Best wishes


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