I’m terrified of the thought of time passing (or whatever is meant by that phrase) whether I ‘do’ anything or not. In a way I may believe, deep down, that doing nothing acts as a brake on ‘time’ – it doesn’t of course. It merely adds the torment of having done nothing, when the time comes when it really doesn’t matter if you’ve done anything or not.” – Philip Larkin
You glance at the clock – as always it’s just a couple of minutes before the alarm is due to go off. You tell yourself you’ll have another couple of minutes sleep and you’ll be fine. Three hits of the snooze button later and your wife turns and tells you to get up. As you put that first warm foot out into the clod morning you remember it’s Monday. And it starts the countdown clock until you finish work on the Friday. You can hear the faint ticking in your head that will grow louder each day until the echo drives you round the bend in Poe-like frenzy you can hear the hideous second-hand beating in your pulse.
The shower, the breakfast – or what you have time for since you spent an extra half hour in bed – and then out to find the car covered in frost. That hard frost that laughs at the De-icer spray you are liberally throwing across the windscreen. The scraper isn’t doing much better as you have now made a strange icy paste on your windscreen that will now sit there for most of the journey. The inside of the window is also frozen up – why didn’t we get the climate version of this car as well I ask in my First World problem voice. Five minutes and several sprays of blue slushy mix you’re off still wiping the inside of the car’s windows to try to see out. You can’t decide if it’s your sleepy eyes or the glass that is misted over, but you drive on regardless.
The traffic is awful, the free car parking spaces full and you are left with the £14 a day option at the nearby shopping centre. Walking into work you head straight for a cup of tea both to warm you up and also to compensate for the lack of breakfast. The ten minute wait for the lift makes you look late when you were in the building in plenty time; I’m not taking the lift – it’s seven floors up and it’s Monday. There are rules you know. And then the second clock of the day faces you as you enter the office. The big corporate timepiece bought as a job lot from Misery Clocks R Us. It’s the industrial look that depresses me most – I’d rather a novelty one just to make the inevitable clock watching about to happen for the next eight and a half hours slightly cheerier.
And that’s it – you’re on that treadmill. The “job” clock and calendar are in play. You know the one that everyone reminds each other about as you meet each other. That look or throw away comment of “Monday Again,” morphs into “Well it’s Wednesday we’re halfway there,” to “Nearly Friday” to “Only a couple of hours until the weekend.” Why do wish our lives away like this? And for what? If it’s not days it’s weeks as the most grumpy member of your team has already counted the weeks or working days until the next holiday…four if your counting…week three weeks and four days…or 19 working days for most. And we are as bad because we join in. I don’t know if it’s just us teachers or if everyone does it. Wishing away all the time we could be doing productive important things. Or at least pretending to.
When I was a kid I thought being a grown up would be brilliant. All that freedom, able to drive and go where I want and when I want. It’s only once you’ve wished your childhood away you realise that you were never more free and unaware of time as you were when you were a child. Days lasted forever, weekends an eternity and holidays were infinite. Now we even count the days until we’re back at work even though we’re off just to make ourselves miserable again. Time was irrelevant when you were in school, it just happened – the clock was for the grown ups or when we learned to tell the time. It didn’t bother us. Then you become an adult and everything is measured by the clock and calendar.
When you going to work or college or uni? When you getting a job? When you buying a house? When you getting married? When you having kids? Then you wake up to the alarm for the third time and realise that you’re 35 and you lived more in the first half of your life than you have in your second. That all those possibilities you dreamed about as a child are still locked away in that time because now you have to work and pay the bills and be responsible. Then the dreams are of retirement and the freedom you’ll get back. Yes retirement when for the first time in your life you realise that you actually want time to go slowly, but by then it’s too late. The second-hand is slowing to a stop and the dreams of the seven-year old are lost in the seventy-seven year old’s memory.
No one reaches the end and wishes they’d worked more. Yet each day we enter that office with the clock looking down at us and we accept it as the way life should be. Tomorrow, throw that clock away or find yourself something to do that means you forget about that clock – that’s what the seven-year old you would do.