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The watchful and the timeless

I have remarked at least one too many times that due to my perpetual news scavenging and diet of blogs, I spend about three hours of my day in New York—a place to which I've yet never been.

Now I might add that two hours of my day are French.

Recently, in fact on the occasion of my twenty-seventh birthday, I came into possession of a watch. It is a modest watch, in accordance with my precise specifications, but has one unrequested and conspicuous feature. An analog watch (this term of distinction only became necessary with the advent of digital watches, and is inferior I think to "cog watch"—a bit of revisionism I don't expect to catch on)... a cog watch, it has a day and a date function. I don't consider that remarkable of course, merely useful. But the implementation is intriguing.

At midnight, the date dutifully rolls over with a little click-thud, which sounds so good I've decided it's worth staying up for. Two hours later the day churns over. But not exactly to the new day. No, to the French abbreviation of it. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I get the three letters SAB. Very late that evening, I get DOM — in bright red instead of black, a differentiation I interpret as "take the whole day off and eat heartily."

At 4am, the French hours conclude and my SAB becomes a SAT, my DOM becomes a red SUN, my LUN becomes a MON, my MAR becomes a TUE, my MIER becomes a WED, my JUEV becomes a THU, my VIER becomes a FRI. This interlude of Gallic time was initially disconcerting, but now that I've learnt its logic, I'm digging it.

I have been famous, in a very limited sense of that word, for looking at my watch. I have been famous in this sense for a number of things, including smoking cigarettes (which I have been told I not only did constantly but also was very good at), wearing shirt collars, living on a strict regimen of cheese and bacon rolls (known in some select quarters as Joe-Cuisine, I'm afraid), and never finishing my sentences. Everyone is famous in this sense of the word for different things, and I would be interested to hear the ways in which your particular circles find you famous. But like all fame, it entraps. You should be careful not to confuse the ways people recognise you with your identity; I learnt that to my detriment.

But I have been famous, and have been told I'm famous, for looking at my watch. Sometimes every couple of minutes—a trait I once liked to think reflected a lack of faith in this whole reality business, as if at any moment the hours could suddenly leap ahead and be lost to me, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill, bent to my will or conspiring against me. I now think it is more likely that the habit arose from the fact that I catch public transport a lot.

Like cigarettes certainly, and possibly like shirt collars and dubious fare, it is a rude habit. When my last watch broke two years ago, my friends were presumably relieved to find me paying attention more consistently. I survived by using my mobile phone to tell the time, but the inconvenience of this method did diminish my interest in chronology. Now I am struggling to remember to look at my watch when I want to know the time, so used am I to alternative methods: the green ticket munchers on the trams, the clocks on building tops, the height of the sun.

The most interesting thing I have to contribute to this disjointed post is the observation that, in an epoch where the most useful measurement of time is a contest between the millisecond and the nanosecond (as we sports-junkies have noticed in the last two weeks), where our goals and desires are split into the categories of time-critical and non-time-critical, where the observation of date and duration has assumed the force of law, where perhaps Cronos has been restored his throne, I am the only one among my contemporaries I know to bear a timepiece. The next nearest watch-bearing individual I know is ten years my senior.

Are they merely obstinate, these watchless? Or are they revolutionaries? What future for time?

Joseph | 1 Sep 2004

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