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Ian Bowie
'Perhaps what needs doing doesn’t actually need doing ‘right now’ or ‘immediately’ but simply ‘soon’ or ‘in the near future'.

There are 52 weeks in any one year, seven days equal one week with each day being made up of 24 hours. One hour is 60 minutes long and one minute has a total of 60 seconds. Time, from the day we are born, right up until the day we eventually die, rules our lives.

Those of us who work are mostly contracted to a 3712-hour working week. Each day is 8 hours long and we are allowed half an hour for lunch. We must arrive at work at the time set by our employer. In order to do so we have to leave the house at a certain time. It may take us twenty minutes to drive to work and a further ten minutes to walk from where we park the car to the office. If taking a bus, we need to know how long it will take us to walk to the bus stop, when the bus will arrive, how long the journey will take to the stop nearest our work and finally how long the walk is from the stop to the office.  

When we eventually arrive at work some of us are required to ‘clock in’ and ‘clock out’ thus recording our exact time of arrival and departure. Each persons time sheet will be checked to make sure they have at least been present for the minimum number of hours stipulated in the contract of employment. Punitive measures may be imposed against those who are consistently late or do not work the required total expected. In some companies, smokers are penalised for their habit by having to ‘work in’ the time they spend having a cigarette. If we need to take ‘time off’ to attend to personal matters then often that time will either be deducted in monetary terms from our salary or from the total amount of holiday time we are entitled to.  

English is literally full of phrases related to or referring to time. ‘The clock is ticking’ ‘Time is running out’ ‘Time is money’ ‘Your time’s up’ are just a very few. We are obsessed by time, we live our lives by the clock or perhaps it is the clock that actually lives our lives for us. We are always in a rush to get to that next meeting or to catch a bus, train or plane. Stressed if we think we might be late, angry if there is even the slightest delay. Our whole society is so time dependant that if just one cog in the giant wheel that keeps the clock ticking is out of sync with the rest the whole structure could come tumbling down.  

We have created time dependent systems. Everything we do is in some way related to time. But if time is so important and if our society would collapse without it being strictly controlled how does the rest of the world manage? We see time as being linear, everything has a start and finish time. Yet many cultures in the world see time as being infinitely elastic with past, present and future blurring into one big whole. An Arab will not start to get stressed because he notices he is five minutes late for a meeting. Indeed, he may be a day late and it would still seem of little consequence. If you have ever worked with the Spanish you may have noticed very little either starts or finishes for when it was originally scheduled. And just try and get a Frenchman to wolf down his lunch in half an hour, ‘impossible mon ami.’  

All of us are living on ‘borrowed time’; exactly how much we have left is impossible to know until it is too late. It is up to us to make the most of what time we have left, to decide if we want to spend it having apoplectic fits whenever someone is late or getting totally stressed for the sake of a few minutes. Language is a powerful tool and we can use it to give ourselves a greater degree of flexibility where time is concerned. Instead of using the prepositions ‘on’ or ‘at’ to depict when something will happen we can use ‘around’ or ‘about’. Perhaps what needs doing doesn’t actually need doing ‘right now’ or ‘immediately’ but simply ‘soon’ or ‘in the near future.’ It may take time for this idea to sink in but that’s fine, take as much as you need, I’m in no hurry.

Ian Bowie works and lives in Finland and is currently taking the long winter's days there to write a thriller

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