Thursday, 22 March 2012


I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately – too much in fact.  For whatever reason, I’ve had no real work to do so far this year, and  have not had a single trip (our Barcelona weekend excepted) so far this year.  It’s doing neither my bank balance nor my Air Miles balance any good at all, frankly……not that I can use that as a tool with my company to get me back on the road again.  It’s all very odd.
Anyway, the break has given me great times with Ania and the kids, and actually be a proper part of the family for a change.  Doing the school run, whether by car or metro, cooking dinner for everybody, shopping, taking them swimming – it’s all been a joy.  I think they’ve enjoyed it too.
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It’s also given me the chance to reflect a little on Time.  How odd it is.  It’s very easy to come up with all the facts and figures to define it – sixty seconds in one minute, sixty of them in an hour, 24 of them in one day and so on and so forth.   But those are just numbers – ways of quantifying something that, really, cannot properly be explained or understood.  None of them deal with perceptions of time.
Some years ago, I tried reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.  Now it may well be a classic science book, a seminal work in explaining how the universe works, and a simplification of Einstein’s Special Theory, and it certainly brought to the wider public a genius locked in a sadly withered and paralyzed body, but I couldn’t finish it.  It was well written, lucid enough – but I just couldn’t grasp the concepts he was trying to explain.  To be honest, Bill Bryson did a better job in his award winning introduction to science A Short History of Nearly Everything – without doubt one of my favourite books.
As a long time science fiction fan, I found (and still find) that disappointing.  Time and all its oddities is of course a staple of the genre, and I’ve read and enjoyed many examples.  At one end of the scale, there was a short story by Larry Niven, who wrote about dropping out of hyperspace a light year out from a star to see something that happened there a year previously, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world (or universe if you prefer).    At the other end is Robert Heinlein’s epic Time Enough for Love, an extraordinary, big book not only about the oldest human being in history (over 2000 years old at both the start and end of the book), charting his lives through many different eras and locations (both on Earth and beyond) but also features a closing section where Lazarus Long, the hero, travels back to America in 1915, where he meets his five year old self, shags his own mother, then volunteers to fight in World War 1 where he is fatally wounded on the Western Front only to be rescued by a selection of sons, daughters, wives and husbands in a spaceship in the middle of the battle, taking the reader back to the opening chapter where he wakes to find himself in hospital…..   Even Stephen King has finally got around to writing a bona fide time-travel book (although many of his others have echoes of different time perceptions) called 11.23.63, wherein our hero travels back to Dallas on that date to try and change history by stopping the Kennedy assassination……  Not read it yet, but my mother-in-law bought it for me at the weekend as an early birthday present.  Can’t wait to read it: one of my favourite writers, and the subject matter sounds fascinating to me.
So I’m familiar with all the objections to time travel per se (like travelling back in time and accidentally killing your own grandfather in his early childhood…..) and I can’t see it ever happening.  But the cinema does a good job of it sometimes – the Matrix trilogy, Arnie’s Terminator series, and my favourite Back to the Future trilogy (particularly the first one) are all enjoyable hokum. 
But none of them come close explaining what Time actually is or how the hell it works.  All I do know is that the older I get, the weirder it is….
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 Om Sunday I celebrate by 59th birthday.  Fifty nine is an age that, in my youth, I could not imagine.  Fifty nine was old.  I have pictures of my dad, taken probably in his early to mid-forties, and he looks, to my eyes at least, so much older – older than I believe I look now.  OK, I know fashions were different then, and before his 30th birthday dad had spent time in both Egypt and Burma during the Second World War, and that must have had an effect on him…..but still.  How is it that I, twenty years older than he was in the pictures, can look ten years younger than him?   
When I was kid, I used to watch a tv program called All Our Yesterdays.  My parents loved it, and I camshowed newsreel footage of the build up to, and action from, World War 2 – mostly in grainy black and white, but occasionally in faded colour.  Even then, it seemed to me almost ancient history – young men, aged no more than eighteen or nineteen but looking years older, sitting on the grass next to their Spitfires at Biggin Hill; soldiers slogging through the surf to survive during the Dunkirk evacuation, under ferocious fire; then later allied tanks blazing through Europe after D-Day, and horrific scenes from the death camp liberations and the fall of Berlin.  Ancient history – but so close then.  The series finished soon after it reached 1945 and the end of WW2…..I guess they ran out of stuff to show.
To put that into context, look back to this week in 1987.  It was a quiet week – AZT was licenced as a drug to fight AIDS by the US Government, and the Walt Disney company signed contracts with the French government to build Eurodisney.  Winston Silcott was sentenced to life for machete-ing a London copper to death at the Tottenham riots eighteen months before.  No-one really famous was born, but Dean Martin died.  Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister, and Ronnie Reagan was still President of the USA but both only had a couple of years in power left to them.   A week or so earlier, Mike Tyson had won the WBA heavyweight title and U2 released The Joshua Tree.  The first Lethal Weapon movie had just been released, and Top Gun came out on video.
My point is that the stuff I watched on All Our Yesterdays seemed like ancient history, and yet the events of 1987 – twenty five years ago now – seem not like history at all (although of course it is), but real memories.  I suppose it’s because I lived through them.  I’m sure the newsreels seemed just as fresh to my parents, especially the bits from North Africa and Burma to my dad.
All of that seems so fresh to me – and yet things that happened only a few weeks ago are but dim memories or forgotten already.  Now is that down to Time or approaching senility?  Damned if I know! 
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I still feel pretty fit and nowhere near fifty nine, despite the increasing aches and pains – a new joint seems to stiffen up every week, and what’s left of my hair (on my head or elsewhere) seems greyer by the day.   My eyesight isn’t what it was, nor my hearing, and exercise (when I get around to it) harder to do and less effective.   I’m growing old, I know – but trying to put it off and if possible do it disgracefully.  I refuse to wear the slippers and cardigans I can remember my dad wearing, or that were immortalized by Terry Scott in various God-awful tv comedies, and I neither possess nor want grey flannel trousers or pyjamas.  Give me jeans and trainers, baseball caps and hoodies any day for casual wear, and boxers (at most) for sleep.   My musical tastes are firmly rooted in the seventies to the nineties, and I still embarrass people by spontaneously nodding away (and sometimes singing along) to my iPod on trains and planes – and I don’t care…..I love my music.  And it’s extraordinary to think that the Stones (or at least the core of Keef, Mick and Charlie) and have been together for fifty years (50 years….!) – even Ronnie Wood has been in the band for nearly forty years now (since 1975, for God’s sake).   So if they can jig about in their sixties then so can I.
I miss my football and, to a lesser extent, cricket now though.  I still watch football at every opportunity, live or mostly on tv, but I’ve lost track of cricket a bit nowadays.  Not so much as rugby though – I watched the Ireland game last weekend and didn’t recognize a single name from either team.  I found myself thinking back to Bill Beaumont and Paul Ackford and, later, the Underwoods and Will Carling and Mickey Skinner, and Gavin Hastings and JPR – all those guys.   Never a huge fan of the sport, I’m nevertheless convinced it was better and more entertaining then, when everyone was an amateur with a day job.   I can’t remember ever seeing guys lifted up at line-outs, a practice that seems to me to make every one a foregone conclusion now rather than the test of strength and athleticism it always used to be.  And kickers – little plastic stands for the ball, for goodness sake – whatever happened to the couple of kicks into the turf that always used to work perfectly well?   And as for the kickers, what’s all this bollocks taking about a minute and a half over a simple 20 yarder – stepping back, gazing intently at the posts, another pace or two back, another stare, then a pace or two to one side, another bloody gazing session….. What a palaver!  I can’t remember Hastings taking that long over a halfway-liner at a wet and windy Murrayfield and the bloke rarely missed.  Ahhhh……the Good Old Days!
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I’ve drifted off topic a bit – these reminiscences are all very well, but are they to do with Time, perceptions of it, or something else entirely?   Not sure.  But it’s definitely passing.  I see my kids now, all five of them, and have so many memories.  Good ones and bad, over a period of years.  It’s the same with my childhood – sometimes I can remember whole conversations I had with my classmates, back into primary school.  Comments made by teachers.  And clearer than conversations I had with people on site six months ago.  Why is that, I wonder? 
Time seems to pass quicker now I’m older, too.  I can’t believe it’s a quarter of the way through this year already - Christmas morning seems like yesterday, the time spent in the sunshine of the Gulf and Cyprus and Chile the day before – and yet it’s all last year.  Even Trini, in 2010, seems so fresh in my mind.  It will be Christmas again before I know it, and another year shot by.  It didn’t used to be like that, I’m sure.   School terms seemed to drag interminably, and holidays seemed longer too.  Now the only time Time seems to drag is when my insomnia bites – which is most nights – or on a long-haul flight when I’m struggling (unsuccessfully) to catch a couple of hours’ doze.  On those occasions – boy, does it go slowly…….
And that is the paradox I don’t understand, and I guess probably never will.  Nor will anyone else.