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Corona Diaries: ninety minutes of timelessness

April 3, 2020

I was once asked to do a promotional piece for a glossy magazine about a watch fair in Switzerland. I found it surprisingly hard to write. Having to conjure up the necessary excitement about jewel-encrusted baubles that do anything from telling you how much longer you have to live when you’re exploring the bottom of the Mariana Trench to tracking your bowel movements in Bali didn’t fill me with enthusiasm.

I’m a Swatch person – the cheaper the better, black plastic strap, no maintenance, tells the time. On my undemanding wrist they usually last between three and five years, and then give up the ghost, begging to join their siblings in a landfill. I don’t grant their wish. I leave them languishing in a drawer somewhere, waiting to be fixed, until I put them out of their misery in the next clutter-purge.

I buy Swatches because they work fine until they don’t work fine. But a couple of years ago I accidentally bought an automatic – the sort with no battery that winds itself when you wiggle your arm or conduct a symphony orchestra. You can wind it up with a button, but I’ve forgotten whether you have to do it clockwise or anti-clockwise. So I try both.

It’s crap. It’s totally useless. It loses time, it gains time, both according to no discernible logic. Normally I would scrabble through mounds of paperwork to find the guarantee and send it back to Swatch. But not now. Not in the time of plague.

This morning my watch told me I’d woken at six. So I got up, went downstairs, and found that actually the time was seven. And it didn’t matter. These days I set more store on when the birds start singing. If I was still in the Middle East, it would be the first morning prayer call, just before dawn. And anyway, what do I have to get up for? The clock in the kitchen provides an adequate approximation of the time, and that’s good enough for me.

No golf at seven. No conference call at nine. No deadlines, appointments, cows to be milked, trains to be caught, babies demanding feeding, dogs patiently waiting for breakfast. Nothing between now and the next time my head hits the pillow. Liberation from time, from structure, from daily rhythm. Plenty to do, but an endless stretch of time in which to do it.

For some people that might induce a queasy feeling, rather like the sense of disturbance you feel when you’ve been out on a rolling sea in a small boat and you step back on land. But I don’t find the temporary suspension of time remotely disturbing. On the contrary, it’s a kind of freedom, even if it’s unnatural.

I say it’s unnatural because nobody, except possibly the very young, the very old and the very sick, lives without reference to time. Not even the birds, who wake when the sun comes up, or the squirrels in my garden, who know when it’s time to start scratching around for lost acorns.

But we have food, so I eat when I’m hungry, even though I bow to the tradition that you eat dinner at approximately the same time every day. Stuff to be done can be done today, tomorrow, the next day. I’m not even aware of what the days are called.

I’m exaggerating of course. But first thing in the morning, alone with a coffee, I like to spend a little time dreaming that I’m living in a timeless place.

And then I switch on the laptop and the spell is broken. I’m sucked, as if through a wormhole, into a few square inches of a different world. Deadlines for virus tests, anxious faces, angry people, prophets of doom and messages of hope as well as despair.

My wife wakes up, I bring her tea, and the real day begins. Not so different from the imaginary one, yet still punctuated by the urgency of others.

But for ninety minutes or so every day, this pandemic brings me the precious gift of a brief sliver of life without the constraints of time.

A small mercy, but worth celebrating.

From → Politics, Social, UK

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