Time’s arrow

How do you break up the hours, minutes and days? Probably the same way as everyone else, even in these trying times.

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

Ford Prefect, The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Last month, when this period in our history that our hybrid human-robot descendants will refer to as The Great Awakening began, I wrote that it’s important to keep a routine to break up your days.

Then I started to think how artificial most of our routines are.

Some, obviously, are based on natural cycles. The turn of the Earth as it revolves around the sun for example, although even that is an imprecise measure requiring human intervention. But let’s assume we’re talking calendar years instead of sidereal or tropical ones.

We define four seasons but it’s more complicated than that. Mid-summer is never the warmest part of the summer and mid-winter is never the coldest part of the winter – they usually follow six weeks later, because you need to take into account the time it takes to heat up and cool down the land. But four seasons it is.

Each season has three months, but those months have variable lengths. A circle has 360 degrees but a year has more than 360 days. In theory you could have seven months of 30 days and five months of 31 days, but you could also have ten months and an undefined intercalated month starting in the middle of February, as the Romans did.

Side note: I could probably write something about how TASC/Leeds Trinity University introduced intercalated years starting at February half-term for B.Ed. students enrolled from 1986 but it’s one of those things where you just had to be there.

The most man-made, artificial way of breaking up time is through weeks. The Greeks had weeks that were seven or eight days long, the Roman had weeks that were eight or nine days long, depending on the month. We have seven-day weeks because the Bible tells us that “on the seventh day He rested.”

Note that it doesn’t tell us what he did on the eighth day. He might have had friends round for barbecued unicorn for all we know, and taken the ninth day off to recover from the hangover and upset tummy caused by undercooked unicorn horn; but the Bible also says that the seventh day is a holy day, and is thus the best way to get people to go to church and top up the coffers, so that’s that. Not that I’m a cynic, you understand.

If we had nine day weeks, and four weeks to a month you’d have ten months, with five or six days left over depending on if it was a leap year or not. Sky would probably fill such days with Premier League football.

Punctuation

But I’m digressing. The point of this… this was to show how the punctuation marks of our lives have changed over the last six weeks (or four weeks, depending on how you count your weeks (stop it now)). We need those inflection points – Easter, Christmas, public holidays – to break down the year into manageable chunks; otherwise our year starts to resemble a poem by e.e.cummings.

Most people work Monday to Friday, their days punctuated by lunch breaks. Weekends marked by visits to the out-of-town shopping centre, the football or church/mosque/synagogue. None of which happens now.

My own year is currently punctuated by the need to visit London four times a year for CIPR Council or iprovision trustee meetings (usually within a fortnight or each other). My week was broken up by Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports News. My day is broken up by a 5km exercise bike ride and a bit of knee physio some time in the morning, when I eventually get up. Not working, that was about it.

Now, as others have noted, the weeks would merge into one were it not for the Thursday 8pm Clap For Carers.

Moral. It’s good to have a routine. It’s even better to break out from it once in a while – when we’re next allowed to, of course.

In other news

The swans are still nesting, no cygnets yet. Male swan has been attacking anything on the water, which was bad news for three small ducklings. In fact, the ducks have all-but disappeared since the swans moved in. So much for biodiversity.

The balcony plants are doing well (see photo at the top) but I might have killed off some of the wildflowers when I tried to transplant them. Great idea in theory, less so in practice.

I’ve realised how little TV I watch or care about. I’m still catching up the stuff I recorded at Christmas. I got through the first 15 minutes of Dracula and then deleted the lot. Conclusion: save money by cancelling Virgin Media subscription, and stick with download via apps (and plug the iPad into the TV). Radio and other music still providing the bulk of my entertainment, but I’m honestly surprised at how many quiet evenings I’m currently having…

How are you?