Category: time

The matter of time

Down a twisty, cobbled road in a sunny, piecemeal village, the smallest, oldest building is a quaint cottage that is both a workshop and a home. In the front room, an array of clocks and watches tick away, marking seconds and gathering time. Somehow, mysteriously so, these clocks - all of them, from the towering grandfather to the smallest wrist watch - keep time together. In unison. Not a single tick or tock is out of place, as if each clock is too embarrassed to fail the group.

A small door remains closed at the back of the room. One presumes in this one-storey house the door must lead to a bedroom and kitchen, though it would be hard to find someone could tell you for sure what’s on the other side.

Three men stand in the centre of  the room, their eyes and voices focused on a man in a green armchair.

“Ridiculous,” says the man at the front, whose pretty hat and shiny shoes mark both his importance and affluence, “Absolutely, completely, preposterous.”
“I assure you, Lord Dietrich, that no amount of adverbs will persuade me to your cause. It cannot be fixed,” says the man in the armchair, his voice calm in contrast. He is a handsome man, neither young nor old, with light hair and a strong jaw, and pale skin that sets him apart from the rest of the village.
“Absurd,” Lord Dietrich spits. Then, into his voice creeps a hint of desperation, “You haven’t even looked at it yet, Horatius.”
“I can see it fine from here,” Horatius’ voice softens, “There’s nothing to be done.”
“What will it cost?” Lord Dietrich demands.
“There is no amount that you can offer me to fix your clock,” Horatius rises to his feet, and puts a hand of the shoulder of the shorter man. Lord Dietrich shrugs him off.
“Name your price, Horatius. I assure you, I can pay it,” he says, heatedly.
“It is not a matter of money,” Horatius says, quietly, “And the price was paid long ago, my lord.”
“What do you mean?” Lord Dietrich demands, “What are you playing at? You are a fixer of clocks, are you not?!”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Then fix it.”
“I can’t, Lord Dietrich. You are out of time,” Horatius’ voice is not unkind, “If you would please leave my shop, sirs.”

The two men who are standing behind Lord Dietrich are wearing his crest and livery. Between them they are holding a large, mahogany clock. It’s face is beautiful, built by a fine craftsman, with each quarter designed to reflect a season. As the day ticks by, so the hands pass from winter, to spring, and summer at noon. And, as the dusk falls, finally into winter. The clock is ticking still, but it’s time is running out.

Lord Dietrich is desperate, his brows furrow. He grabs Horatius’ arm as he walks by.

“Anything,” he whispers, “Just tell me what you want. Anything at all.” Horatius places a hand atop Lord Dietrich’s, and gently removes the man’s grip.
“There is nothing,” he says, kindly, “I am sorry.”

Now, the front door opens, and all four men turn to see a small boy standing in the doorway. The boy is immediately taken aback by the presence of four tall men, and the marked tension in the room. He shrinks back, ducking his head.

“If you will excuse me, Lord Dietrich, it seems that I have a customer,” Horatius’ tone is a final dismissal. Even Lord Dietrich, accustomed to hearing no orders save his own, recognizes this. He snaps at his servants, and they bluster out the door. The boy moves out of the way, quickly, to avoid being pushed or crushed.

“Come in, child,” Horatius’ smile is warm and inviting. His cat, ginger and fat, leaves its spot of sun by the window to wind itself around the boys’ feet, nudging him inside with its head. The boy reaches down to pet the cat, and steps inside. The door closes behind.

The boy stares in amazement at the walls and shelves of clocks and watches, and the incredibility of all ticking in the same time.

Horatius has settled back into his armchair.

“Have a seat,” he gestures a second armchair in front of him.
“Master Horatius,” the boy begins in a rush, taking three stammering steps towards Horatius.
“Please, sit, Evander,” Horatius insists. The boy is too young to question why this stranger would know his name, he simply accepts, as children often do, that all adults know his name in order to better scold or instruct him. Evander obeys, and sits in the second armchair. He stares at Horatius. He has never seen anyone like Horatius before, pale as if he swallowed the moon.

“What do you have there?” Horatius asks, kindly. Evander remembers, and looks down at his hands grasped around an old, tarnished pocket watch.
“It’s my grandda’s,” he says, holding it out, “Can you fix it, Master Horatius? It’s almost out of time.” Horatius gently takes the watch from the boy’s hands, and turns it over in his own.
“Tell me about your grandda, Evander,” he says, quietly. The ginger cat comes to lie beside the boy, purring.
“He smells like pipe smoke and hugs very tight,” Evander says, in a rush, “He is old and his bones are creaky and he falls asleep beside the fire most nights. He tells the most wonderful stories.”

As Evander speaks, Horatius sees the man his grandda is. Warm, strong, and loving. A simple man who lives each day to love, and does his best to help where he can.

“Can you fix it, Master Horatius?” Evander says, worry and sadness creeping into his voice.
“Yes,” Horatius says, and is silent for a moment, looking down at the watch. The sound of ticking seems to grow louder around them, filling the silence. After a minute, Horatius passes the watch back to Evander. It is shiny, now, almost as new. It ticks in time with the rest of the room. Evander’s face lights up.
“It will keep time for a while still. For more stories, and more hugs,” Horatius smiles, “But, Evander, you must know - someday the time will run out, and I won’t be able to fix it. Someday, this watch will pass to you, and so will the stories and strong hugs.”

Evander nods, solemnly.

“But not today,” Horatius says.
“Thank you, Master Horatius,” Evander replies, excitedly, “I’ll go and tell grandda!” He jumps to his feet, and rushes out the door.

As Evander exits the shop, the tick tocking from inside is silenced, and he can truly here the ticking of his grandfather’s pocket watch. He smiles. Behind him, an old sign blows in the gentle breeze: Horatius Portius, Timekeeper.

A matter of time

On Monday I heard Jeanette Winterson speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She talked about how we all exist in three different times at once, that we are used to walking around made up of the past, the present and the future. And that this is what art does, it allows us to touch our inner selves, the ones that live in all of these times at once. The ones beyond the calendars and clocks. Clocks and calendars are human constructs with which to regulate the world, when really our lives are not linear. We can relive the past and change it, in our minds. We can affect the present while we think about the future and, essentially, affect that as well.

And it’s interesting, to think of one’s self as non-linear. There’s something comforting in knowing that one hour leads to a next, that Wednesday follows Tuesday and March follows February.

But there’s a reason why Jeanette Winterson’s books speak to me, and I think she touched on it with this. While consciously I have trouble being non-linear, my inner self recognizes something about how the past, present and future are not fixed but simultaneous, are non-linear. Because, when it comes down to it, each moment we live is affected by our past experiences and our hopes or worries of the future just as much as it is affected by our present situation.

It gave me a lot to think about. And a lot of insight into Jeanette Winterson’s unique writing style.

it’s time

I can hear ticking clocks running rampant in me
chiming in an apogee waiting for the synergy
of her and me, waiting on the light
and I never say goodnight, never say that I’m always right
~Wait - Something Corporate

It’s weird to think that the seemingly mundane sound of a clock ticking is foreign to me. But the truth is that I don’t even really know how to tell time on a clock face. When I was ten, I got a digital watch for my birthday and I never looked back. No one has a watch anymore, everyone checks the time on their cell phone or iPods. We’re moving away from the steady click of time. The sundial was invented by the Egyptians as early as 1500 BCE. However, time wasn’t standardized until after the invention of the railroad, when more precise times were required. Just over a hundred years since then, we’ve forgotten clocks.

Today, I have time ticking around my neck. The steady rhythm, counting out the moments of the present, sending them reeling into the past. Sending me reeling towards my future. You could see it as a noose, tying me to measurable time. But today, with the sun shining and the air full of spring, I choose to see it as a heartbeat, ticking the words of my future one by one.

Time goes by from year to year
And no one asks why I am standing here
But I have my answer as I look to the sky
This is the time of no reply.
~Time of No Reply - Nick Drake