On trips abroad my mother-in-law would wear two watches. Wherever she was, she needed to know at a glance exactly what the time was at home. I would tease her – surely she could work it out for herself! And why did it matter anyway? But she never changed. Then, one morning last week, I found myself needing the self-same device.
I had arrived in Canada late the previous evening after a delayed, eight-hour flight from London. After only a few hours sleep I woke up – that’s an exaggeration, I drifted into half consciousness – and the combination of jet lag and sleep deprivation was having its toll. Normally when I wake I am immediately fully-functional. On that morning I was tired, fazed and befuddled, and the normal clues as to what was going on simply confused me. My wristwatch told me that in Toronto it was 6.00am. My alarm clock, which I had left unchanged, said that in London it was now 11.00 – mid-morning.
My internal clock had no idea of the time and was no help. I quickly put the alarm clock in a prominent position. For a mother-in-law reason it was particularly important for me to know exactly what time it was at home. More of this later.
I happen to be fascinated by the concept of space and time. As part of this I like know at any moment what the time is and usually can, if asked, guess it to within five minutes either way. In addition I am mesmerised by time zones, and while I understand their scientific basis, in their reality I find them difficult to grasp. There was something surreal about being phoned one Tuesday evening to learn that an uncle in New Zealand had just died in the early hours of tomorrow morning, i.e. on Wednesday. Similarly, it still mystifies me that one can watch live footage of New Year’s Day revelry in some eastern Pacific island, while sipping afternoon tea in London on New Year’s Eve. But faced with all this I am happy to stay put; I don’t normally have any desire to be magically transported through time from London to see, for example, the New Year’s Day fireworks on Sydney Harbour Bridge. Until my arrival in Canada that is, and then my pangs were all very different.
That early Toronto morning I phoned across the world to tell my wife of my safe arrival. In the conversation, my tiredness prevailed, in truth it would have been better had I been asleep. My mind did not want to get started. I repeatedly turned its ignition key but the old grey matter hardly budged. But I had no choice, and after all, the discomfort was of my own doing. I had decided to fly to Canada to be with one of my sons for a week and so it was inevitable that I would leave behind the comfort of my own time zone.
In our conversation I asked Rohan how she was and learned that she and the weather were fine, and that she had slept well, had already popped out to the shops and was now sitting reading the paper over her mid-morning coffee. I asked her the time – it was 11.30 in the morning. My mind, in all its haziness, heard the time and told me pleadingly ‘I wish I could be at 11.30 too’.
Yes, I would have loved to be with Rohan, but at that moment it was me simply being at 11.30 for which I craved, and I have never done that before, and still don’t know exactly what I wanted. Here was a new experience in time, and it is not something I can actually get my mind round. Oh, and by the way, the trip to Canada was absolutely wonderful.