Time…

18 Mar

From Bermondsey, going straight on at the Rolls Road roundabout by the Tesco’s, and then heading along the back streets, past the Millwall ground, to New Cross, takes me exactly 10 minutes.

Simply turning left onto Old Kent Road for the straightforward pedal to New Cross takes me 8 minutes.

The facts are indisputable.  I have timed it more than once.  However, despite this knowledge, the Old Kent Road seems longer, always.

The reasons for this are manifold:

  • The back streets break down the journey into segments, whereas the Old Kent Road is just one long slog.
  • There are hardly any cars and so, without hundreds of vehicles overtaking me like on the Old Kent Road, I feel like I’m going faster.
  • The dark and the abandoned feel of the back streets at night gives me a feeling of vulnerability and therefore awareness,  which makes me focus on my surroundings and not about how long it is taking, whereas the Old Kent road my mind is is free to wander elsewhere as I cruise down the monotonous bus lane.

However much I tried to tell myself that as 8 is less than 10, choosing the Old Kent Road always seemed to take so much longer that I always took the ‘long’ route.  This threw up several big questions:

Why is measured time not equivalent to conscious time?  What is the purpose of measured time if it does not reflect how long we actually think things take?

Should measured time be subservient to our own concept of time or should we relinquish our own judgement to measured time?

Am I to distrust my judgement, or to distrust time?

Of course, my conclusion was that time, in its logical break down into hours and minutes, is a man-made concept and thus should serve the needs of its creator, man.

The same day, or perhaps the day after, I was reading J.M. Coetzee’s Youth and came across the following passage, in which he talks (in the third person) about his job as a computer programmer:

The threat of the toy by which he earns his living, the threat that makes it more than just a toy, is that it will burn either-or paths in the brains of its users and thus lock them irreversibly into its binary logic.

True.  And time is even more domineering over our lives, as in this case there is not even an either-or, a ‘0’ or a ‘1’.  Time is indisputable.  One journey takes me 8 minutes, one takes me 10.  End of story.  No dispute.  Yes I, as a conscious being, disagree with this judgement!

File:Teaparty.svg

The Mad Hatter, who also had a quarrel with time…

Indeed, Most of us regularly, even constantly substitute their own judgement for the judgement of measured time!

I am not talking here about ‘time management’.  Being 2 hours late is simply rude or careless, however much one could dress that up as an intellectual dispute with time.  No, I am talking about our own judgement of what is a ‘long time’ and what is a ‘short time’.  A whole layers of consciousness has seemingly been hewed away, outsourced to measured time which is at best a crude representation and most often at complete odds to our own experience of time.

In sum, what I am trying to say is that that which seems to be taking a long time is not worth our while, and that which seems a short time is really what we should be doing with our lives.

Whenever we check our watches again and again, when performing a dull monotonous task what else are we doing but appealing to time, willing this false time to mirror our own true sense of time which it cannot possibly do!  However, some seemingly monotonous tasks such as painting, knitting, cooking, cleaning can often seem to fly by in defiance of this same time, and it is only when we see the amount of measured time that has passed that we in any way regard our experience as taking a ‘long time’.  Imagine how contented a mediaeval knitter or perhaps even turnip peeler would be had they never had to look at a clock in their lifetime!

In my view, a day that has passed without me once consulting the time has been an excellent and worthwhile day.

Fat Cats

21 Jan

19/01/12  17:35

Walked up Bishopsgate and there are three people dressed in cat suits handing out samples of biscuits for cats in yellow plastic sachets.  Most people don’t immediately realise it is cat food.  A few isolated individuals are eating it but most realise something is up when they look at the picture of a cat on the front, or note that the biscuits are ‘tuna and chicken flavour’.  They throw them on the floor in disgust.  ‘Is this some sort of sick joke?’  they are thinking, ‘Some form of innovative protest by the Occupy London group?’   By the entrance to Liverpool Street station, the street floor is covered with cat biscuits.  This must be one of the signs…

Cycling down Liverpool Street I am almost run over by a limosine.  The numberplate reads : S K 1 I N T

London Coffee Shops

8 Jan

Sitting in a shitty little café.  London abounds in them, and it is shitty little cafés and Martin Amis novels which are always the first cause for any nostalgia I may have for London when I am abroad.

I think the reason I like London cafés is their honesty.  The food is shit, the floor is sticky, the patron does not wash his hands or his coffee machine and boils and reboils the same milk all day.  Here is a sample conversation which I’m sure will fill social anthropologists with curiosity:

‘I’d like the avocado and bacon toastie please.’ (customer)

‘The avocado is quite hard.  Will that be ok?’ (assistant)

‘Very hard’  says the patron, from over by the coffee machine, as if they are talking about some unavoidable occurrence like the weather.

‘That’s ok.  I don’t mind.’ (customer)

‘No it really is very hard today.’ (assistant)

‘Extremely hard’ (patron)

‘Just the bacon then thanks (thanks?!)’ (customer)

In Paris most of the cafés are crap too, but the difference is that  customers and patrons alike believe this not to be the case and will violently refute any suggestion that what they sell is not actually that good.  It is also a fact that the toilets of the worst Parisien café will be a lot worse than the toilets of the worst London café.  I’ve checked.

In London most customers know for a fact that what they are going to get is not going to be that good.  The patron will apologise, the customer will say ‘I don’t mind’/’That’s fine’/’Obviously I don’t expect to be gastronomically satisfied when I go to one of these places but there is some other more obscure reason why I keep coming here’

I know that if I go to Prêt à Manger the coffee will not be like washing up water and burnt milk, and the almost croissant will not be a stale yellow triangle with a few almonds affixed with sugar syrup to differentiate from the plain one (in fact, the best almond croissant i’m sorry to say is to be found at Tesco’s and at only 80p it is also by far the cheapest.) but I am drawn to these cafés in a way I am not drawn to franchises with a hygiene policy selling food that is actually edible.

However, thinking more deeply, there isn’t really much difference between one shitty café and the next one.  The croissant will always be yellow and stale.  The coffee will always look like washing-up water.  The patron will always be wearing a dirty white apron with his sleeves rolled up.  There will always be a copy of The Sun on one of the tables.  Although the name may be different, the ‘experience’ is the same (as with Martin Amis novels).

I think the point is that these places feel more human, even if it is only because all around me there are so many examples of gross human errors.  If each time I went to these places I was presented with a perfectly formed plump croissant with its sumptuous layer of frangipane filling perhaps I would not have begun to think about the wisdom we can gain from the acknowledgement of human error.  Perhaps I may not have been reminded of the massive gulf between man and God had I received a perfect-every-time smooth and velvety cappuccino with a neat chocolate star dusted on the top.

At the end of the day, I would not have been able to produce anything like this after an hour sitting in Prêt.  End of story.

On my way to work

8 Jan

A shame to start with any post to do with work.  Never mind.

No-one who leaves Old Street station really knows where they are going.  There is only a certain number of choices one can remember, and at Old Street there are far too many.  Dozens of them,  a myriad of exits promising me streets I’ve never heard of and places I’m not sure I need to go to or not.  I pick an exit at random to get to street level. Perhaps there I can use my sight to pick up any familiar details that would tell me whether I am going the right way.  Street names mean nothing to me.

I cross a large number of traffic lights, moving around the roundabout artery by artery, looking in all directions.  Everyone is doing the same thing.  Some people even have bits of paper they keep turning round, scratching their heads and swearing under their breath.  Finally I reach the road I am looking for.  I have forgotten which one, and to my consternation I realise I have done what I always do:  I have walked all the way round the roundabout until I reach the penultimate street to the one I emerged on.  I am unable to turn clockwise.  The same thing happens every time.  There is nothing I can do about it.

As I cross the final set of traffic lights to complete my complicated daily peregrination, a small school boy is almost knocked over by a taxi.  I spend the next minute or so, as I walk down the road, wondering what my reaction would have been if he had indeed been knocked over.  He didn’t even notice.  He continues walking along, listening to his headphones.  He does not know others are thinking about him.  He doesn’t know about his near death experience.

A horde of cyclists filter past me on the road.  A raggle-taggle band of commuters, one would think they would have some solidarity between them but no, they are pushing and shoving and jostling past each other like the cars on the road, like the pedestrians on the street, wanting to be first, wanting to arrive at their office before all their competitors arrive at their offices.

On my lunch break I will write down my morning reflections.  I will be momentarily satisfied with what I have written.  I will consider it to have just the right balance of misanthropy, mundaneness and wit to be ‘modern’.  I will send them off to some literary magazine and probably receive no reply.  I will consider this part of my day to be the most fulfilling even though unlike my job, which takes up around 70% of my time, it gives me no money.  One day, I will stop writing all this down.

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