I’m trying something new this week: I thought I would write for a while on a topic – any word I felt inspired by – and then use the sparks of my consciousness stream to generate a short story. This is a technique I’ve picked up from improv: Word to Story to Improvising.
This week, I’m trying out ‘time’ – as you will have noticed in yesterday’s story.
I am fascinated by the passing of time. I find myself captivated by timepieces, mesmerised by the slow, inevitability of watching time. I even loved the song ‘Time is Running Out’ (Muse) back in the mid-2000s.
Strange, because a clock is predictable. An hourglass, a countdown clock, a pocket watch – we know what’s happening. We know what’s coming next. And yet I find myself staring like a small child.
There was a time when I collected hourglasses. As a child, I used to collect old bottles of pop, cut them up and prick holes in the lids to make water timers, then try to work out where 30 seconds left was, and 60 seconds. I used to watch The Crystal Maze (as many of us of that generation did) and get very excited by all the different ways clocks were used – the Aztec water timers, the Future digital clocks, the big clock-faces in the Ocean zone, and the sand timers in the Medieval zone.
I love board games, and I especially love the ones where there’s a time component. Some people hate the stress of them, but I find they really get my heart pumping. I’ve got a few in this vein: Escape the Curse of the Temple is the most obvious example, but I also used to own ‘Atmosfear’, which was a sort of horror themed game that came with a VHS and a narrator that would appear and give you strange instructions as a clock inexorably ticked down on screen. Win or lose, they’re a huge thrill. I love escape rooms for the same reason. (Inexorable is also a fantastic word.) Quite a few games come with little sand timers to try to get you to limit your time (Articulate, Decrypto) but except for where it’s necessary, I find these don’t add anything and they aren’t pretty enough to interest me.
A well-known song can act like a timepiece. I know I can shower in three movements of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major. Musicians train to the metronome, so hard until they can do it themselves. Ask any musician worth their salt what ‘andante’ or ‘allegro’ is to them and they’ll be able to demonstrate the tempo and give examples of music that fit the speeds. Nothing screams tempo control to me like the piano – the combination of so many musical techniques in one: reading two staves, controlling the strikes, the duration of the sostenuto and how the other notes blend into each other. And most of all, you can really feel the ebb and flow of time when the pianist plays rubato skilfully, like when you don’t realise it until it’s happened for half a second already. And that half second is now worth a second, now two. Then we’re off, and the supply-demand relationship of time is changed again.
A beautiful timepiece is something to treasure. I once owned a pocket watch which cost about £50 in 2007. It was a half-hunter with a skeleton reveal, and genuine wind-up clockwork action. I loved watching the spring coil as I wound it. It was gold – I don’t own much gold, but for some reason the silver version didn’t seem right. Time is golden, the particles like sand. I took such good care of that watch – but I must have put it somewhere very carefully out of the way so as not to lose it, so much so that I don’t know where it is. Isn’t that always the way?
We have so many sayings about time: a stitch in it saves nine. It heals all wounds. It flies when you’re having fun. It’s an illusion. You can delay, but it will not.
An old teacher of mine used to say, “there is time”. I was learning stage combat, where weapons are flying quick and fast and we often forget to feel each moment. There is time, even in the smallest values of it. Mindfulness in each moment. Time is like light – it experienced duality – is it a wave or a particle? A substance or a concept? A dimension, or a measurement?