Earlier this week, I used our new slow cooker for the first time. Behold:
I was prepared for all kinds of emotional turbulence. Crunchy potatoes. Pink meatballs. Endless dithering over the feasibility of reheating two-day-old stew. Just how speedy could a slow cooker be?
What I actually got, as happens a lot when in the house alone, writing, was a jarring reminder of time and its relentless bloody march.
Slow cookers are slow, you see. In their very sluggishness, they lend themselves – rather like beards – to a sharpened awareness of time passing. Of the many sensations sparked by applying my appliance for the first time, none was more startling than the consummate melancholy of returning to the vat two, four, six, eight hours after first flicking the switch.
It wasn’t that the stew was unsatisfactory. It was just the consciousness of hours disappearing. Hours during which I accomplished… Well, plenty, as it happened, but not enough – as if anything could ever be enough – to diminish the quiet sadness of time. For sorrow is as much part of time as the minutes and seconds we use to count it. Unspecific, inconsequential, poetic. It is just there. All around us, all the time.
Oh dear. I’m sorry. It must be the continuing influence of Einstein’s Dreams. I didn’t mean to get all fin de siècle. Next thing you know, I’ll be comparing myself to the Marschallin.
Actually, to hell with it. I make no apologies. The Marschallin had her beloved Octavian to remind her that she’s getting older; I’ve got my Morphy Richards. That’s just the way life is.
I’m currently reading Alan Lightman’s wonderful Einstein’s Dreams. (It was a Kindle Daily Deal just over a month ago, and the best 99p I’ve ever spent.)
For most of its course, the book is a series of miniature thought experiments (the eponymous ‘dreams’), which literalise some of Einstein’s most outlandish thinking on time. The dreamscapes present worlds where counter-intuitive temporal orthodoxies are embraced and followed through to logical conclusions: time passing slower when moving faster; cause and effect being reversed; time freezing altogether.
The book has really got under my skin – not only tempting me to create my own topsy-turvy-time-worlds, but to reflect on those weird properties of time that are actually apparent to us.
Unquestionably the most noticeable, at this point in my life, is the sensation of time passing faster as I get older. I appreciate this is just a perception – explained by a bit of relativistic logic – but what is any grasp of time, if not subjective? The sensation is real, and pressing. It’s apparent when I seethe second hand tick round on my watch; it’s apparent when I watch a football match, and it’s apparent – more apparent than ever – when I try to grow a beard.
Beards grow faster as you get older. This, I realise, is quite possibly true biologically, but it is definitely true empirically. Few things are more intimate than letting hair take over your face; few habits more intractable than constantly monitoring it. All of which means never have I felt more keenly the acceleration of time than now, as I once more allow facial hair to overwhelm me – no faster in calendar terms, yet so much faster in real terms. The beard connects me to the strangeness of time, and I am its servant.
This is no dreamscape. This is real. This is now.
Welcome to Beardtime.