Time to Spare?
Date: April 4th 2005
Subject: Time to Spare? Changing Perceptions of Time
Place: Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand
A waste of time?
“I’m not going in there,” says Kirstie disapprovingly, “it’s a waste of time.”
“Very funny. How about you boys? Do you want to come?” I ask.
They grin at me as they hang or swing from the monkey bars.
I try to stir up a little enthusiasm, “Look, it’s the biggest collection of clocks in the Southern hemisphere. We might see Hickory Dickory Dock, the climbing mouse and her friends.”
Kirstie remains unimpressed but the boys suddenly drop to the ground.
“I’ve already got a watch Dad,” says Matthew heading for the swings.
Cameron follows, like trailer follows truck.Kirstie chases after them both looking somewhat relieved to be able to stay and supervise them. “You’ve got half an hour, see you back here at one thirty.” she calls as I head off alone to visit Whangarei’s National Clock Museum.
Losing track of time
It’s surprisingly easy to lose track of time in the midst of thousands of clocks; grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, workplace clocks, ship’s clocks, shadow clocks, gingerbread clocks, French clocks, anniversary clocks, mantel clocks, ormalu clocks, ornamental clocks, decorative clocks. Clocks from every age and of every construction, marking time with hands, dials, shadows, sand, water, ballbearings and the glow of electronic digits.
In this hall of clocks I struggle to find two that tell the same story; thousands of precision instruments unable to agree upon the time. Hundreds of pendulums swing gently back and forth; ticks and tocks fill the air like a thousand chattering teeth. Soft bells add a random accompaniment with silvery tings, deep chimes and sweet melodies that count endless quarter’s, half’s and hour’s. And dozens of cuckoos randomly pop in and out to mark the hours with cheerful woody whistles. There’s no dusty sound of silence in this museum; just the sound of time passing.
I get lost for a while watching time pass, marvelling at the precision of clockwork chronometry, trying to decide upon a favourite timepiece, listening to the orchestra of timepieces marking time.
Different perceptions of time
It’s easy to lose track of time on a bike too. There’s no real need for clocks or watches. It doesn’t seem to matter what day it is. It’s easy to forget what month it is. The slow creep of changing seasons and cycles of the moon mark the passing months. The setting sun marks the passing day sometimes without us knowing which day it was. Hours pass as pedals turn, the scratch of pencil on map, the count of the altimeter or changing digits on milometer marking progress. It’s time to go when you’re ready, time to eat when you’re hungry, time to stop when you’re tired, time for bed when it’s dark.
But in this timelessness there’s also a growing sense of urgency and excitement. With Kirstie’s belly expanding slightly every day and just over four weeks before we’re scheduled to fly out of New Zealand, the race is on to see if we can make it to our finishing line at Cape Reinga. We’re well positioned with less than 300km to go, but the terrain is tough and daily progress can be as little as 20km. Factor in rest days, some time to celebrate, getting back to Auckland, getting a scan for Kirstie, packing up the bikes and saying goodbye, and things look as if they could get a little tight. Although Kirstie is still comfortable on the bike, I think we both wonder with each passing day when the belly will get too big or the tiredness of pregnancy will prove too much. Only time and Kirstie will tell.
I’m late, I’m late…
The sudden familiar chime of Westminster reminds me suddenly of home and of Kirstie and the boys waiting outside.
“What time is it?” I ask another visitor. He consults his watch.
“Nearly two o’clock” he says. I’m late.
Outside, the boys are running around chasing an older boy who’s shinning up poles, climbing onto the roof of a picnic shelter like a monkey. Kirstie is in the shelter, chatting to his mother.
“Sorry I’m late,” I say as I approach.
“Oh.. doesn’t matter,” she says, “I wasn’t watching the time. I’ve been chatting to this lady from South Africa. She sailed here with her husband and two kids via the Caribbean. They didn’t know anything about sailing when they started and learnt as they went……”