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!
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.