Tuesday 11 December 2012

45 Astonishing Minutes

Every day, I walk to my work in Kentish Town. I have always walked to and from the office, because I have lost whatever steel-hearted stoicism I once had, which London public transport demands. Even when I lived in Wood Green I walked to work, and the journey took well over an hour.

As of next week, my office is moving to just down the road from where I live, cutting my walk from 45 minutes each way to a little over 20 minutes.

In essence, I am gaining an extra 45 minutes to every day. This is great news, but not true. Firstly, it implies that the Earth's rotation will slow down by 3 per cent, causing the sort of disruption that will far outweigh any personal convenience to me. My friend Baz describes the tragedy in the following helpful terms:

Well one thing's for sure, if the change was instantaneous then everything not tied down would keep going at the old speed and fly off the surface at quite a pace. At the equator surface stuff is travelling at about 1000mph so it would fly off at about 30mph!! If it was tied down then it would be like an immovable object lets say a train or the ground (!) hitting it at 30mph!! This initial devastation death and destruction would probably cause all services, water, electricity, gas, telephone etc to instantly and irrepairable fail as every tree, building, phone tower, powerstation, Dam etc would fall, burst or collapse!!.... There wouldn't be much left to celebrate the extra 45 minutes a day!!!... 

(I welcome scientists of the 'pub speculation' school of thought to flesh other, more mundane, consequences of this disaster.)

Secondly, the time I spend walking to and from work is not 'wasted' time. I fill it either listening podcasts, music, language tapes (those of Michel Thomas are a current firm favourite). Or, if for any reason I have nothing to plug into my ears, I indulge in one of several imaginary scenarios in my head:

  • reliving past conversations and substituting better things I could have said
  • playing out both sides of an argument I might have with some appropriately inarticulate straw man or other, in which my victory is both inevitable and spectacular
  • speculating in paranoid fashion that everyone I love and trust has been secretly working against me, and plotting my strategy for revenge when this secret is uncovered
  • Lotto win scenario (I do not play the Lotto)

Wasted time? I think not!

Either way, from next week I will be forced to spend 45 minutes less every day walking to work, listening to that stuff and thinking those thoughts, and 45 minutes more doing something else.

Something? But which something? Any something. Anything. Anything is better than nothing.

It's the anythingness of the unspecified something that unnerves. The range of 45-minute activities is overwhelming. But here is a shortlist of things I could quickly accomplish by putting an that extra time aside every day towards a clearly defined goal:

  • master the accordion
  • write an oulipian novel
  • cook all meals using fresh ingredients
  • jog, swim and boxercise my way to a beach-worthy physique
  • meditate my way to not being such an arsehole
  • transform my garden into a paradisus terrestris
  • finally read all those Arsène Lupin novels

Truth be told, with just a little bit of time management, I could have found those 45 minutes years ago. Now I have no excuses. One is as likely as not to be terrified of failing, and I have already written about the fear of the blank page, but the fear of success often runs deeper. 

Why not put aside 45 minutes a day to accomplish astonishing things?

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Dennis Severs' House

On Monday I visited Dennis Severs' House in Spitalfields. I heartily recommend it – arrive early to beat the queues. The house's arch motto Aut visum aut non! – 'Either you see it or you don't!' – hints at an implication of snootiness towards those who don't 'get it', but there's plenty to see even if you think you don't get it.

I don't want to prejudice your interpretation of what's on display by giving you a mundane description. It certainly isn't what I assumed it was when I first arrived – a museum reconstruction of an eighteenth-century interior. Suffice it to say that artifice and naturalism are blended, as are past and present. Part of my experience involved taking the role of a time-travelling detective looking for clues, though it wasn't a murder I was investigating, but rather a subtle, unspoken trauma of the heart that had become imprinted onto the day-to-day activity of the house for generations.

About a dozen visitors are allowed into the house at a time. With the fulcrum of centuries so delicately poised, the illusion would be spoiled if talking were permitted, and we were warned against doing so, first by the doorman and then repeatedly by prominent notices displayed throughout the house. So it was surprising that several of our fellow visitors found it so hard to keep quiet.

I've seldom come across such a clear example of language being used to inhibit communication. Something uncanny and disturbing was going on in Dennis Severs' House, and it would take much more than a single visit to get to grips with it. All that is required is to observe, listen and smell. But this requires a certain submission and vulnerability that is far from straightforward. There was a strong impulse to block out the house's story. You could see from the pained expressions of the chatterboxes' faces that they earnestly wished they hadn't succumbed to the temptation to speak. I felt sorry for them.

Get yourself to Dennis Severs' House at your earliest opportunity! Shh!