Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Wasted lives

This was harder than expected. How many clocks do we own? The montage shows eight but I can count nineteen apart from my mechanical Longines which still works but is retired. Some are well hidden - on the two TVs, the desktop and the laptop. Not forgetting the car and the water heater/central heating timer.

When I egged Mrs BB into this audit we also forgot the coffee maker because it’s the silliest and I never bother to set it. And is there one on the printer/scanner/copier? – oh, I can’t be bothered to find out. Only three are real: our wristwatches and the carriage clock which belonged to Mrs BB’s mother (a gift from us) which we inherited.

All these devices relentlessly measuring time, some usefully, others pointlessly. There’s a metaphor here, something to do with not using time profitably. Because we don’t garden, don’t do the cleaning, frequently buy things online and are having the house painted we are seen as great time wasters, especially by those in North America. In the afternoon Mrs BB may be on the couch reading a book. Writing a novel might qualify as work but how about when I break off, stumped, and play solitaire? As gerontocrats we’ve got so little time left. Yet both of us can look at a weed or a spider’s web and not feel a trace of guilt.

THE SHRINKING NOVEL I haven’t completely edited Chapter Eleven (ie, halfway through the MS) yet 5000 words have disappeared. Will I end up with a novella? - defined as a short novel or a substantial short story. Malcom Bradbury cites Heart of Darkness, Metamorphosis, and Death in Venice as “striking modern examples”. I’ll accept the comparison.

More time wasting: a front cover mock-up which will never be used.


Hattie said...

The mantra here is, "Keep busy and don't think."

Julia said...

From grandfather clocks with their broad faces and constant, ticked, reminder that they are keeping our time, to nearly invisible numbers on our mobile phones there seems to be a great shrinkage in time pieces. Any thoughts on why?

Barrett Bonden said...

Hattie: Seems I'm not fated to live in Hawaii, then.

Julia: So it wasn't nineteen clocks chez Bonden, it was twenty-one. I'd forgotten the mobiles. Cheapness ensures we have a time source wherever we look and wherever we are. A hundred years ago a grandfather's or a mantelpiece clock were substantial investments and it made sense that they were big enough to be viewed from some distance away. Pro bono publico.

Julia said...

I wonder if I'm getting too philosophical to think that maybe a century ago time was more one's own creation and thus something to show off more grandiosely. For instance, a grandfather clock told your household's time, without necessarily matching your neighbors. You kept your own time and held it up for all to see (for the public good indeed!), even down to showing off the clock's internal mechanism which kept it accurate. As time became more standardized and (at least with my mobile) set decidedly on a more global standard, its local mechanism and authority lost importance and as we lost authorship we also lost interest in showing it off.

Plutarch said...

A bracket clock which I inherited has a date on it, 1870. It also has a lock and key on the dial. Why, I asked a clock expert, should you have to lock time up in this way? Because, he said, Victorian employers, were concerned that housemaids and other servants, employed over a certain number of hours, might move the hands forward and so get off work early. Time is money, and it seems, can be stolen.

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: Certainly this might explain why clocks were mounted on church towers - this would be God's time. I remember the first watch I was given, a secondhand pocket watch during the war. Despite the fact that it never kept good time I was transformed by the gift, imagining myself at age eight or nine to have suddenly become adult. I think you're right that personal time began to lose its sense of authority when watches became cheaper. However the snobby aspects of showing off a clock's guts has merely been transferred to cars. The rear engine of one of the present Ferraris is visible through a transparent cover and much of the detail has been specially coloured to add to the chic.

Plutarch: We're always invited to applaud the Victorians' inventiveness and ingenuity but I suspect these qualities were always at their height when self-interest was involved.

Rouchswalwe said...

I've spent days searching for my old lesson plan on clocks and time. But I can't locate it. My Japanese students were fascinated by the number of idiomatic expressions we have in English, e.g., save time, lose time, time on my hands, etc. The one that caused the most consternation was "it's time." Two solid lessons were used to explore that expression. Finally, I had to tell them, "it's time to stop."

Barrett Bonden said...

RW (zS): Ah, the pleasure of explaining idiomatic phrases to furriners. The shorter they are, the more complex the explanation. Reflect on the impenetrability and implicit contradiction of "Now then."

Lucy said...

Your way of life indeed sounds like the dream of gerontocrats!

I heard somewhere that it wasn't until the coming of the railways that there was any standardised time, each town and village had its own time according to its public clocks but each was different, and it didn't matter. Trains, however, had to run to a more precise and universal schedule.

Someone once said that the time it took to change all the clocks in their house every autumn quite used up the extra hour gained.

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Not yet, I hope. I don't have the right accent for addressing angels.

My commenters seems to have said everything that needs to be said about the subject and I am left with one of my more recent party tricks - Hymns O&M:

Time like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away.
They fly forgotten as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

A slightly better-than-average lyric.