Saturday, 30 January 2010

The time of day.

In a previous life, time was a commodity to feel pressed for or be fretful about. If something mundane was apportioned to any part of my weekend I'd get grumpy about it, even though it might be beneficial to me or my family. It was as though this time was sacrosanct, because the nine-to-five routine sucked so much of it up in the pointless endeavour of work.

A partner who works from home wouldn't necessarily understand this, and so we may have gotten tetchy with each other. Her about wanting to get out of the house she'd been stuck in all week and me about not wanting to spend six hours shopping on a Saturday when I could have been at home, writing or studying or simply spending time that didn't have any demands or constraints on me. So that's how I found myself resentful of the time not spent of my choosing. I figured I spent enough of that during the week, in the non-inspiring, non-rewarding job that paid the bills, kept Xbox Live alive and bought steak for Sunday.

So what is this 'time of day' and what have I learned about it?

I've taken to walking the mile or two to the village instead of using the car. This has provided me with an insight into a couple of things. One: lung capacity seems inversely proportional to the size of the hill it needs to provide air for, but especially the huge one that emerges onto the high street. At the summit, I bend double on the wheezy pretext of tying a shoelace, while the old lady with the pug, who overtook me half-way, now begins the downward trek with a cheery wave; that self-same lozenge xylophoning against her dentures as she rattles by.

This is the second insight. These faceless, nameless folk are a testament to the time of day. In the past, I've always whizzed by them on the way to some pressing and unavoidable task. They were the extras of my life's drama, as trivial to me as those comparable fodder of film and screen. Bystanders. Scenery.

Anyhow, the second insight is that they are actually a rare breed. An example, if you like, of how life should probably be. This cabal of everyday folk are happy to give each other and me 'the time of day'. At the bus-stop, or from behind the garden wall with secateurs in hand. All it takes, I've found, is a tip of the cap and a 'good morning'. Then a pert comment about greenfly or the number 36 and blam - we're having a real, honest-to-goodness, joined-up conversation. Fascinating, I observe, feeling more like the earthbound, loud-shirted Spock of contemporary time-travel than ever before.

For whatever reason, time is their friend. It's on their hands. It's all over them. And, as I get used to and become less stilted about idle chit-chat, this is me joining them. It's a palpable journey and it extends to the staff of shops and supermarkets as well. Now with my sea-legs firmly in place, I'm engaging in conversation over the post office counter with a nice lady of indeterminate age. I can't tell if we're gently flirting or not, but she blushes when I compliment her ready-reckoning skills. 'You've got the mind of an abacus', I croon clumsily. But she likes it.

Later on I have to take the car for a new battery. Standing in the forecourt, while Martin the mechanic tries to decipher the idiograms on the battery of my mid-90s Japanese MPV import, I see a lady in a similar position. Eavesdropping on her conversation with the grease monkey, I lobby her with a few words of sympathy and self-deprecating ones about my own predicament. I should have took Green Flag's advice a month ago when I'd flattened it by leaving the lights on. Now it's biting me on the bum. She blushes and giggles a bit, before giving me some time of day back. She's a nurse on call. The car's a pain but it gets her from A to B. Careful the car doesn't hear you, I say. They get temperamental when you talk about them in earshot, same as your patients, I imagine.

Crikey, I'm on fire. What pheromones am I giving off? Am I delusional or what? Is this what the time of day does to you? Are they really all on their way to a massive swinger's party in the Free Trade Hall, recruiting as they go? I don't exactly know the answers to any of those questions but, damn, I sure like the idea.

Then I realise. They have become my new colleagues. They are what I missed about working in an office full of people. The shared trivia of a workaday existence. Communicating what sucks about the interconnectedness of random events that led you to turn in with odd socks and a chilblain that morning. And it goes both ways. I've become their colleague too. Maybe that's what they miss, with all that time of day on their hands. There's another side to every fence, I suppose.

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