Time is money, they say. But is it? Time is an illusion (Buddha); time is joined with space in a single four-dimensional reality (Einstein); or time is the tick, tock, tick, tock measure of death's approaching footsteps. Take your pick.
Whatever time is, we all seem pretty much agreed that we have less and less of it. Modern life is a constant round of juggling and diarising, of rushing and squeezing and "managing" – supposedly – time. A book out this week called simply Time by Eva Hoffman gives us a much-needed reminder that how we experience time is a cultural phenomenon.
The trouble is, in the West, we live in a capitalist world and capitalism does believe that time is money. Every moment is an opportunity to make money and there are only so many of those moments in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime. This is most obvious if you charge your time by the hour, but it also applies to entrepreneurs of every kind. And it works the other way round. Time is also money in the sense that every second that goes by costs us. It costs to have the lights on, to pay the mortgage, to eat. It costs to be alive.
Money is an energy that flows through our lives and time is the dimension it flows in. But while the money supply (with a few blips) is – theoretically at least – expandable, time has proved annoyingly limited. Many wealthy people – all those overpaid CEOs, for example – have much more money than time.
In fact, unless you're a trustafarian, the richer you are, the more likely you are to be time poor. And if time is the very stuff that life is made of, then you're living in an existential poverty more serious than the ordinary man's cash-flow crisis. Money is meant to support life – not the other way round.
In her book, Hoffman argues that in our eagerness to control time and achieve efficiency, much is lost. More than just the costs of stress, what is being traded in is "nothing more or less than the experience of experience itself". The main factor in how we experience time (and therefore our lives) is shaped by culture. Think, for example, of the different queuing times considered acceptable in different countries and cultures. In India people might queue for days, in communist countries, for hours – even in Somerset the acceptable queuing time is several minutes longer than it is in London.
Unfortunately, anxiety, says Hoffman, is the tithe paid to the gods when we live in a culture that sees every moment is an opportunity to achieve something. One of the hardest things we have to achieve is "quality time". The very phrase would seem to imply that most ordinary time has less value. Quality time – in terms of children, for example – is when you're with them in a way that's fully focused. Ordinary time, on the other hand, is when we're so busy managing time that the time we experience has the quality of a paradox – it just eats itself.
Have you ever sat through a glorious performance of Handel's Messiah while running through the next day's to-do list in your head? Have you ever been to a beautiful beach and thought "I'm looking forward to the next time I come" because somehow the future is always better than the present moment? Do you always feel late or in a hurry or slightly on the back foot?
There's so much possibility in our lives these days. So much entertainment and information to consume. If we're not careful all that possibility only serves to give us a pervasive sense of what we are not doing and so life becomes a race against time, which is a futile activity if ever there was one. We're always losing, always behind. But behind what?
One thing is certain: we see through a glass darkly when it comes to time. If we're always counting and measuring, always so consumingly aware of the beginning, the middle and the end, then we're like those people who go on a wonderful holiday and spend the whole time behind the lens of a video camera, trying to keep a wave upon the sand. If we do that, surely we're going to miss out on the real thing: Hoffman's "experience of experience".
And that's sad, especially if it turns out that time doesn't actually exist at all. Shortly before he died, Einstein wrote of the death of a friend: "He has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."
Gripping Byrne does a Hugh Laurie
Great news. The strange American phenomenon that is In Treatment is coming to Sky Arts 1 in October. I urge you to see it.
The drama's format is half-hourly programmes that go out every night, Monday to Friday. And each show is the real-time portrayal of a session with therapist Paul Weston, played by Gabriel Byrne who has done a Hugh Laurie and become an American heartthrob (and become mine too).
Each weeknight Paul sees the same client. But on Fridays he – fascinatingly – goes to his own session with his supervisor. The show is brave because there's no action to speak of (well, occasionally someone attempts suicide in the bathroom) but mostly we stay in the one room and mostly it's talking heads. But what great talking. Laura gives verbal accounts of her love life more sexy and shocking than anything I've seen acted out in the flesh recently.
Most gripping of all is the performance of Gabriel Byrne. He is a revelation. Both a wise guru and a complete mess. All of humanity is in him.
Suffragettes are back
Well done Climate Rush! Climate Rush is the environmental action group that dumped six bags of horse manure in Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson's driveway. The group held up a message saying "This is what you're landing us in".
"We targeted Clarkson because of his blasé attitude towards climate change, as illustrated by his recent drive to the Arctic," said Tamsin Omond. The women call themselves climate suffragettes and are inspired by the kind of civil disobedience that was so effective in gaining the vote. They believe in deeds not words, and according to their website held a Love Life Hate Palm Oil Gala Dinner and Dance last July. Sounds marvellous.
And it went off well apparently. I'm not surprised. They've got panache, a sense of humour and great taste in mentors. The suffragettes are often laughed at but they did great and brave things.
Let's make Fashion Week like the Olympics
It's London Fashion Week but fashion weeks are going out of fashion. It's not just that we don't want to look at £2,000 dresses during a recession. The reality is that shows are less well attended these days – the poorer magazines just can't afford to get there any more and, anyway, why should they bother when it can all be seen on the internet.
Add to that the fact that catwalk shows are enormously costly to stage in an era when the luxury market is facing a 10 per cent downturn. Then there's the politically incorrect business of the way designers, models, fashion editors and the rest fly around the world from fashion week to fashion week – in one long air kiss – creating a carbon footprint far too big for even the most avid lover of a Louboutin six-inch heel.
Then there's the problem that the shows reveal the trends six months ahead of time, giving the high-street names a very convenient preview. Just the right amount of time, thank you very much, to copy the new looks and get them into the shops a couple of weeks before the designer does.
Surely, it's time to go virtual. And if people want some live action now and then, why not save the planet a little and make all these travelling circuses – fashion weeks, tennis tournaments, film festivals, book fairs etc – each condense themselves into one big annual extravaganza. As with the Olympics, it wouldn't much matter where it took place. We are meant to be a global village, after all.