If time is money, I'm getting poorer by the day

When time is against you, who could honestly want to indulge themselves in a film like 'About a Boy'?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Feedback is a wonderful thing for a writer. By the simple expedient of leaving one's e-mail address lying around at the end of an article, all sorts of fascinating opinions and responses are made available to you. It is as if the door to the study has been left open so that now and then a stranger can walk in to share their feelings about what you think and how you live.

Feedback is a wonderful thing for a writer. By the simple expedient of leaving one's e-mail address lying around at the end of an article, all sorts of fascinating opinions and responses are made available to you. It is as if the door to the study has been left open so that now and then a stranger can walk in to share their feelings about what you think and how you live.

Last week, for example, an Independent reader wrote in to tell me that I was a wispy-haired twat. Someone else, yesterday, was more expansive, characterising me as a "smug, spineless, London-centric classist wannabe member of the ruling élite". Fair enough, you might think, although some of the other details included in the e-mail were a little off-beam or out of date. I was accused of living in a period house when in fact I am about to move into a caravan. It was said that I disapproved of football, a hilarious misapprehension. Some rather unpleasant (and surprising) allegations were made about what I do with strangers in public conveniences.

But, of course, it is all rather interesting. In an age of categorisation, we long to know how we fit in with everyone else. Yuppy? New Man? Career Woman? Tweenager? Right-to-Roamer? Classist wannabe member of the ruling élite? It seems that we now hardly exist as an individual unless we belong to some accepted grouping or other.

The hot, pulsating heart of the new obsession with trends and categories is the Office for National Statistics, which can put a percentage on virtually any aspect of British life. This week's report, the Time Use Survey, has revealed how, more or less precisely, the nation now spends its days, minute by minute.

Reports of the survey have varied, with each newspaper selecting a statistic to reflect its own concerns or hang-ups. The Daily Mail became very excited about the news that women spend four hours a day on domestic work compared to the two hours 20 minutes of the average man. Sport interested The Daily Telegraph, which reported that the English spend more time playing it than watching it, while The Independent led with the news that the so-called "culture vulture" is liable to be female, well off and probably single.

There were other equally interesting but less widely reported figures. On average we spend a paltry 12 per cent or our day alone. Only slightly less time is spent watching television or video than at work. Those who participate in one form of activity are likely to be busy in other areas as well – the main division is not between those who play sport and those who enjoy culture but between the doers and the dossers. Talking of which, women apparently sleep more then men. While we are busying about in our active, multi-tasking way, they spend almost an extra hour a week – that's over two full days during the course of a year – snoring away under the duvet.

Yet the most interesting time-use statistic is nowhere to be found in the new report because it falls outside the normal fact-gathering process. It is that time gets shorter as you grow older.

For a while, during the years of innocence, it is an infinite resource, as limitlessly available as air. Something happens, usually in your mid to late twenties, a good-lord-is-that-the-time? moment. From then on, unless you are an irredeemable slob, minutes and hours accelerate remorselessly. By the time you reach your fifties, time has long ceased to be something to fill; it's a bolting steed to be grabbed before it's gone.

So, at the very moment when logic and justice are suggesting that the pace of life should be slowing, allowing you to enjoy moments of torpid blankness, you are out there, anxiously and eagerly participating in culture or sport or anything that might just slow down the clock for a few minutes.

There seems to be no escape from this process. Once I could happily read a thriller, a rib-tickling comic novel, even something with a silvery cover from Jackie Collins. Now life's too short for mere entertainment. If a book is not going to provoke, interest, inform or move me, reading it seems pointless.

The same is even truer with TV or film. Now and then I try to indulge in a little comfort viewing – a Sunday-night costume thing or some curiously fashionable trash such as Footballers' Wives – but, at the first clunky line, I'm out of there. A film only needs the merest hint of a feelgood factor for me to be twitching in my seat. When time is against you, who could honestly want to indulge themselves in About a Boy when they could be watching Baise-Moi?

It seems unlikely that the Office for National Statistics will ever be able to identify how many minutes shorter an hour is when you are 50 as opposed to 20. But then the most important facts are often those that are not really facts at all.

terblacker@aol.com

Comments