Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

Early clocks typically only had a single, hour, hand.  This was more than adequate for indicating the time as these 17th century timekeepers would typically lose or gain at least  quarter of an hour in a day.  These days we have clocks and watches which measure time in nano-seconds. The last question you should ask when buying a new wrist watch is "How accurate is it?". The pitying answer you are likely to get is "It is accurate !"

Often early French village clocks had the unique quality of striking twice on the hour.  The second striking coming two or three minutes after the first. Imagine, no digital clocks, no light but oil lamps and you have to start work at 7am. It's pitch dark and the sound of the village clock striking wakes you. BUT did it strike four or seven - you might have missed the first couple. So, you lie there hoping against hope that it is only four so you can have another hour in bed.

We often wonder about time. Someone like our ancestor Thomas in 1700 could have expected to live for fifty or sixty years but probably packed more into his years than we do. As an example of packing things into life, J M W Turner was born in 1775 he left behind 21,000 paintings and drawings. If he painted for 60 years of his life that works out 350 works of art per year, almost one a day.

Here we go, another digression. Arthur was once was given the job of clearing a private library built up, probably, in the second half of the nineteenth century. There were literally thousands of books which had been owned by one fairly wealthy man. They covered a wide range of non fiction subjects. As he took the books down from the shelves he discovered that a great number of them had cuttings from The Times Literary Supplement between the pages at some point in the book. One could only conjecture that as he read The Times with his breakfast, he recognised a reference to one of his books. Not only that but he was able to go to the point in the book to which the cutting referred. He must have read almost all the books in his library,

There is no scientific information but there are signals for us all to see. Think of the speed of change in your lifetime. In 1970 35% of households owned a telephone. In 2017 that number was 89%. This refers only to land line lines. The term 'smartphone' was first used in 1995 just over twenty years later 85% of the population owned a smartphone. A few years ago Arthur made short training videos for samaritans. They were no more than about fifteen minutes long and were designed to promote discussion on a variety of topics which concerned Samaritan volunteers. Films and television programmes, including TV adverts, are composed of a series of short 'clips' or shots. In Arthur's day these were usually a minimum of about five-seconds. With careful editing of these clips a film could be produced which flowed seamlessly from beginning to end. It is interesting to look at modern TV programmes which are normally filmed, edited and recorded in the time honoured way.

With one big difference, each clip is much shorter. TV adverts are a classic example, each shot is extremely short down to fractions of a second. Channel 4's programme 'Bake Off' has a scheduled 75 minute slot on TV listings, however, 'Bake Off' actually lasts 58 mins with the other 17 minutes consisting of commercial adverts and Channel 4's own future programme advertising. Programme makers and advertisers alike need to compress as much information as they can into every minute, that's why we see more and more speeded up clips. In simple terms this means that ten-seconds of information is compressed into as little as three-seconds. It all seems to be a part of this speeding up process. The train journey from London to Manchester takes two hours eight minutes. When the new HS2 scheme is completed the time would be down to one hour eight minutes. The cost per mile of the new rail track is expected to reach £403m with the first phase between London and Birmingham costing a total of almost £48bn. All that money to speed things up!

Now let's step out of our comfort zone. Not 'What Time is it?' but 'What is Time?' The measure of time is the number of times something has happened from one event to another. We normally use the interval between the rising of the sun and its next rising.  That is one day. The measure of time is purely man-made. We really don’t know what time is. For our simple minds let's stick with the Earth's revolutions - sunrise and sunset. We can see that sets the time, we can split the days into hours, hours into seconds. We can measure days in weeks and weeks in years. It's a comforting thought that time is constant - a second is a second, a year is a year. And yet! We all have experiences where time seems to stand still. As we get older time seems to flash by. That's probably just a subjective thing. BUT suppose the expanding Universe means the Earth is spinning at a slower or faster rate? Wouldn't that mean that a day is shorter or longer and an hour is less than we thought? Yes, we know, it makes our head ache as well! Could that is be why so many things are exponential? We have all seen graphs shaped like hockey sticks - almost level then shooting skywards towards the end. This one is for the population of the Earth. Notice that there was less than a billion up until about 1750.

Maybe we are hurtling faster and faster towards . . . . .. As Private Fraser in Dad's Army would say "We're doomed, doomed!"

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