Time is abstract, so how can you explain the Archers?

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The Independent Online
IT IS only when you mislay your watch for a few days that you find out how idiotically dependent you are on knowing the time to anchor yourself in existence. You glance at your wrist, and say to yourself: 'Ah ha, it's nearly time for lunch,' or breakfast, or however you organise your day.

But if you glance at your wrist and all you have on your wrist is a pale mark where your watch usually goes, you feel lost. You feel panic. It is your watch that tells you what to do and your watch has suddenly gone on holiday without telling you.

This happened to me recently, and I found that I had two alternatives. I could rise above the whole thing and do without time. Or I could devise all sorts of makeshift substitutes for telling the time. Naturally, I chose the wimpish way out, as it is hard to ignore time altogether, and those of you doomed to mislay your timepieces in the future may like to cut out and keep this list of alternative methods of time-


1. Glancing at other people's watches. This is harder than it sounds as if you are in a bus or Tube, you have to somehow manoeuvre their coat sleeve back so that the watch is revealed, and this means rubbing up against them in an imperceptible way that I could never quite master, leading to several embarrassing confrontations.

2. Taking out very small amounts from cashpoints and reading the time on the slip.

3. Looking into the windows of clock shops and taking the majority vote from the times shown.

4. Listening to one of those radio stations which do precious little except play records, tell you about burst water mains and give the time.

5. Ringing up the recorded time message, even if it means listening to that oleaginous voice telling you the time 'sponsored by Accurist', and incidentally, am I the only person alive who doesn't know what Accurist is? I imagine that they make watches, but I have never in my life seen an Accurist watch . . .

6. Making long overdue calls to relations or friends, and asking them the time as if it were an afterthought.

7. Using a sun-dial. If the sun is not out, you can usually tell more or less where it is - behind the clouds - and then it's not too difficult to shine a small pocket torch (which you carry in your pocket for this purpose) from where you think the sun is on to the sun-dial, thus giving you the right time, though probably not British Summer Time, in which case you add an hour. By the time you have got this far, I generally find that some kind passer-by has stopped to help you and has told you the time.

8. Using your body. You don't realise till you mislay a watch that your body is an alarm clock, timed to do certain things at certain times of day. In my case I found that I craved coffee every hour on the hour, felt hungry at about 12.15pm and started twitching for the first drink of the evening at about 6.15. These things are fairly obvious, but there were certain subsidiary twinges I didn't realise my body was capable of. For instance, I would feel a regular moment of guilt every day at exactly the time I was meant to have finished this article for the Independent, and I would then have to go and start writing it. I would feel a moment of panic in late afternoon, which at first I could not identify but which turned out to be a quarter of an hour before the last postal collection in our village. (Recently the time of the last collection was changed, and I found myself reprogramming my body, somewhat painfully). Feeling that your body is capable of these functions is quite miraculous, like becoming aware that you can still smell or hear danger signs; as my wife said to me the other day, 'Isn't it wonderful that Mother Nature has endowed us with a sixth sense to warn us that if we don't switch on now, we are going to miss The Archers?'

9. Using a compass. There is an old Scout trick for using a watch to find north. You point the hour hand at the sun, and North is halfway between that point and 12 on the watchface. If you haven't got a watch, you can't. But if you know where North is, and know where the sun is, you can use this knowledge to work out the time.

That's it, really. Oh, and if you still miss your watch badly, and you can't imagine why it's not under your pillow, relax. It has crept inside your pillow case.