Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Difference of Time

Yesterday, my Tudor self was woken by dawn and birdsong, and walked down a country lane to work. The first job, of course, is lighting a fire - not unpleasant, and a good way to ease gently into the tasks of the day.

Tomorrow, my twenty-first century self will be woken by the alarm clock. It will be too early, of course - alarm clocks always are - but if I don't leave on time I'll hit the traffic, and then I'll be late. Being late is the cardinal sin. My day is divided into meagre fifteen minute portions, and if I'm even five minutes behind it's a problem. I spend my day chasing my tail and trying to catch up.

One of the commonest questions visitors ask is "How long does it take?" It's a hard one to answer. After all, what measure of time is meaningful to my Tudor self? She's probably never seen a clock and, even if she had, it wouldn't function to modern standards of accuracy. One measure of time comes from the church, whose bells ring out twice-daily for the new Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. I can talk about "the length of time it takes to say a Pater Noster" or "as long as an Ave" or "until a candle has burnt half down", but it's all pretty arbitary. In practice, the day is divided simply into before dinner and after dinner; before prayer and after prayer; before dawn and after dawn.

So the honest answer to "How long does it take?" is "It takes as long as it takes." "It is ready when it is ready." That - it seems to me - is a way of viewing time that modern society has lost.

I try and bring some of that awareness into my life outside Kentwell. I don't wear a wristwatch - most reenactors don't, because the tan-mark is an obvious anachronism when we're in role - and I find there are enough clocks around that it's rarely a problem. I try and cultivate forgetfulness of time, because I do my best work when I'm fully absorbed in it, and I can't be so if I'm keeping half an eye on the second hand. I try and be aware of the rhythms of the day, and bend myself to them, rather than allowing the day to be framed by the demands of the clock.

Right now, it is just before dusk and, in the distance, the church bells are ringing.


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