If you've got the time, we've got the chronologist

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The Independent Online
TODAY I am glad to welcome Tobias Stubbings, well-known chronologist, who will answer your questions about time. All yours, Toby.

What is a chronologist, exactly?

Someone who studies the nature of time.

What do we need one for?

Basically, to have on chat shows to ask questions such as: 'So which is the first year of the 21st century, 2000 or 2001?'

And which is it?

Not so fast. That's the highlight of my act. Start with something simple, like, 'What is time?'

What is time?

I'm glad you asked me that. Time is basically hostile . . .

How do you reckon that?

Hence the expression, How goes the enemy? But it is also a personal possession . . .

In what way?

In the way that we ask: 'Have you got the time?' And we reply, 'Sorry, I haven't got the time.' It is also an ever-rolling stream. And a thief. And something that stands still for no one. It also goes hand in hand with personal desire, as in, 'I've got the time if you've got the inclination . . .'

Hold on] You're confusing two different things] When we say we've got the time, it can mean EITHER we have enough time to do something OR that we know what o'clock it is.

Well spotted] Yes, we use the word time for a mark on the clock and for the fourth dimension. Other languages make this distinction. The French use temps for time generally, but heure for the time of day. We used to say 'What hour is it?', but we have lost the expression, and the distinction.

So the French are more logical?

Not really. They also use the word 'temps' to mean weather.

So, which is the first year of the next century?

All in the fullness of. . .

Time?

Exactly.

OK, then - what is time?

Time is of the essence. Time is something added on for injury. It's what we play for. Time is extra. Only time will tell . . .

So at least we know that time is singular? Not plural?

On the contrary. We can have good times and bad times. The best of times and worst of times. You read Time but also read the Times. We can write our life and times.

So it's singular or plural?

It can also be in between. You can be on time and a half . . .

OK, OK. What about jet lag?

What about it?

Is it caused by time changes?

No.

How do you know?

We have studied people who were stuck in planes over Heathrow for hours, and when they landed they had all the symptoms of jet lag, even though they had passed through no time zone.

So what is jet lag caused by?

Excess hospitality lavished on passengers to placate them for being stacked over Heathrow.

Returning to the next century, my information is that, because of the International Date Line, it will arrive first in the Antipodes.

'New Zealand's grapes - the first to greet the sun each day]'

Beg pardon?

Sorry - it's a meaningless little slogan I dreamt up for the New Zealand wine industry.

Well, just as some of us are still in Wednesday when it's Thursday in Japan, I suppose it is possible for some of us to be in the next century while the rest are back in the last?

Yes, of course.

So it would be possible for someone in the new century to board a plane and fly back to the previous century?

Yes.

What would be the point of that?

I've no idea. Unless you preferred the previous century.

Is that possible?

Of course. Many people prefer previous decades. They are called Fifties or Sixties people. Sometimes it happens to countries. How often do you meet people back from their first visit to New Zealand who say 'Gosh, the Fifties are alive and well there]'

Good heavens. Does this mean New Zealand will be going straight from 1959 to the next century?

Parts of it, undoubtedly.

And that first year of the next century will be . . .?

1999.

You're joking]

No. Current research shows that some time in the past a whole year may have gone missing.

I don't understand.

We think superior beings from another planet may have removed a whole year from our history to take it away and do research on it. It was probably 1846. Not a lot seems to have happened in 1846.

Something must have happened]

A few minor events. But nothing that couldn't have been manufactured and put in place by a more advanced civilisation.

Well, thank you for your time.

Thank you for yours. And don't forget to change your clocks.

Yes, I'd forgotten. What would happen if I didn't?

You'd get clock lag.

Clock lag? What's that?

Sorry. We've run out of time.

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