Tuesday October 20th 2020

THE LAST LAUGH : In the Summertime, when we were…well, we definitely were.

We’re dying – all of us are, but some with a little more haste than others. We two who are writing this column have been given timelines which can be counted in months. Facing your own mortality raises several questions: how can I get one of those lovely Ghanaian coffin makers to fashion me one in the shape of a giant cock? What sort of contest can I organise for my friends to see who gets the playstation in my will? Does this mean I get a license to take medicinal marijuana? And – what will people remember us for? We hope that some of you, at least, will remember The Last Laugh.

“Have you got a minute?”, “I’ll be there in two twos”, “Won’t be a minute”, “This is your ten minute warning”, “Any day now”…deadlines, due dates, and alarms…and as Faulkner says, “It is man’s misfortune to be confined in time”.  Ever since humans invented time, and then standardised it so they wouldn’t ever miss a train, we’ve been slaves to it. Time is not on our side, it marches on, and we run alongside it desperately trying to keep one step ahead, and never succeeding.

But time, you see, is a relative concept, and doesn’t really make sense, and we’re pretty sure is not linear. Like this column – you could read the paragraphs in a different order, and they’d still make some sort of sense. For example, we could have begun with:

Recently, someone we love was travelling all over the world, and time zones became quite tricky things to keep track of. Sometimes he was still in yesterday, sometimes he was flying over the ocean and had no way of knowing what time it was, and sometimes, quite reassuringly, he was already in tomorrow. “You can’t die on the 11th, because it’s already the 12th, and you’re not dead,” he said firmly. And who could argue with that?

Long long ago, there lived people who didn’t have clocks, or watches, or cellphones, or anything to tell them what time it was. They got up when it was morning, they did what had to be done, they played when everything was done, and when it was dark, they went to bed. Simplistic, maybe, and certainly lead to a lot of shenanigans after dark, as, let’s face it, in winter it is dark for an awfully long time and one can’t reasonably be expected to SLEEP all the time. And just like today, when people are not happy unless everything is scheduled to a “t”, and in the diary, or the phone, or on the fridge door, people weren’t happy with not knowing when it was. They wanted to measure, and divide. And conquer, perhaps? And so, through sundials, and candle measuring, we gradually got a grip on Time. And then it really got a grip on us.

If you stop for a minute (well, maybe about seven) and try and imagine life without that ever advancing tick tick tick keeping you on your toes, then time might become a more pleasant thing again. There are times that are important, which you don’t need clocks to tell you about, Mealtimes, for example, your body will make damn sure you get round to sooner or later. Bedtime too is ineffable. How about storytime, when the kids are bouncing off the walls? A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill – wait, hang on, Pete Seeger’s getting a little carried away there. Let’s try not to schedule killing in, shall we?

How many of us, if it weren’t in the schedule, would make room for the important things? Partytime? Time for friends and family? Or that even bigger swearword to most of us negotiating the hustle and bustle of modern life: Me Time? If you were able to throw out your calendar for two weeks, and just be…would you still know how?

Everyone we know who is dealing with death, either their own or that of someone they love, wants one thing only: time. And it’s not something you can save, you can’t take ten minutes now and have it next week. It’s not something you can freeze, or stop, or step out of. All you can do is spend it, so you’d better make sure you’re spending it as wisely as you bloody well can. When it comes right down to it, the only thing you can really be sure of; is now.

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