My life has always been ruled by time and rarely my own. Growing up I had to get up at six to get ready for school. Breakfast was a bowl of porridge on good days, and on bad days, an egg sandwich. I hated egg sandwiches, but there was no escaping a mother who only wanted to make sure that her child was properly fed. Off to school, snow, rain, hail, sun, there was no excuse to be late. My time was not my own.
You imagine when you grow up that you’ll get to wake up whenever you want to, do whatever you desire and only when you choose. Each decade has its own demands. Early childhood is woken up with a mum’s lovely kiss. The teen years are a strong push out of bed; you just have to chat with your best mate about the newest love of your life. There is no sleeping in on those days. You don’t need an alarm clock to spring out of bed. The front door slams shut before mum gets a chance to call out, do you have a coat on?
Before we know it, our adult years have begun and we start to drag a little. One too many late nights in coffee shops and clubs, force us from our beds, stumbling to lectures, eyes drooping, we wait for the coffee to kick in. We wake up at about one in the afternoon, mind finally cleared from the morning grog, even though we have been out and about for hours.
Parenthood arrives with its joys and surprises. No one ever tells you upon the birth of your child that your schedule has puffed away to vapours without you even knowing it. Every second is geared by your child’s need. Nap time, feeding time, diaper changing time, and pencil in your diary- no sleep at night. Before you get a chance to catch your breath, the mad rush to get to school has gripped you in panic. Where is that school bag, no you can’t go to school without your gloves today! It’s minus one this morning. Then the clock watching starts, all life starts and stops around the hour before school bell’s ending ring. Projects must be finished or put away until tomorrow; the dog must have that walk before he comes along to school. If you are driving, then there is the mad dash to get into queue and not be late to pick up the laughter of your child. Where did the time go? Weren’t you just changing nappies the other day? Why am I crying at a college graduation?
When we are eight, we could not wait for time to hurry up so that we could become teenagers. Birthdays take forever to come round. Is it mine yet? No? Another ten months to go? How cruel! We restlessly wait for our twenty-first birthday and all the freedom it promises! Until suddenly, without any fair warning, twenty-nine is upon us. It is a dark moment when we realise that all chances of holding on to our youth is slipping away. It is time to be an adult no matter how hard we want to avoid it. We don’t know yet the wonders of the years to come. The thirties are times of tempest and trouble, finding our way in the adult world, a world of bills, jobs, and losing ourselves to children and school plays. How we dread losing the thirties, but somehow magically as the calendar date turns, we are forty and suddenly know and accept who we are. It is a freeing time. Another year and we are fifty. We accept or change our lives for new ones. The sixties, we have forgotten about looking for birthdays, but evil relatives remind us with unwanted announcements and birthday cards. They callously blast our real age to the world. You’ve turned sixty this year! The seventies, we are just glad to see another day. In our eighties and beyond, we know what a waste of time it is to worry about something as silly as time. I have yet to learn all this.
But there is yet another time in the world; a world with it’s own rhythms and no guidebook to aid the wanderer through it’s mysterious ways. My old French clock sits at eleven-twenty-five every day. It ticks and tocks to it’s own magical counting. The hands never move, but the sound is so reassuring. It has a mad little bell, ringing out whenever it wants and not according to any time known to man. It like my dog Ted has it’s own inner clock.
Ted knows when it is seven past seven in the morning. When the clock ticks past the seven, I have slept in according to him. He starts the alarm first by staring at me. I can feel it. Then the pillow goes over my head. Go away, Ted! The result? He pounces on the pillow and starts to dig me out! I might be smothering! Rescued, I throw the pillow across the bed. How come he can bounce off the bed, spring across the room, return with his tennis ball in his mouth before my feet have even touched the floor?
His time is impatient. Why do I have to get dressed first? Brush my teeth? Why bother? He likes it when I smell. Running a brush through my hair, he steps back out of arm’s reach. This is not grooming time, he warns.
The walk over, I come back home, fix a coffee and get to work at my desk. The hours whiz by. I am in the land of no time. Ted on the other hand, at one minute past twelve noon exactly, knows this is his walk time. I ignore his stare. I just want to get this last sentence written. No? The paws are on my legs now, his head cocked. Come on, he urges, it’s time to go outside.
The afternoon is a mixed time for Ted; there is only so much desk time he will put up with before the tennis ball is placed underfoot. I stumble when I get up. He is delighted at this new game. I pick up the ball and toss it. He is always ready to catch it, for it is always ball time in his world.
Back to my desk after a short break until exactly five minutes past five, and he knows that precisely. How? I have no idea; the little French clock has not chimed a warning. It already tinkled the twelve o’clock hour at four this afternoon. Somehow Ted knows it’s minutes past five and off we go for the evening walk.
In the evenings he settles down after his dinner walk. He sleeps contently on the couch, but at nine fifty five, he gets up. Rather I should say, he wakes up, and bounds out of the room, races upstairs to the bedroom, and returns with his binky, (a smelly old tennis ball with cotton squirrel’s tail fastened to it.) He does this of his own volition. He paces back and forth in a circle. Binky in mouth, it’s time for bed. Sometimes I follow him, but often he gets tired of waiting for me. He keeps time far better than me. It is late and time for bed. I go upstairs and find him curled up on the pillow, fast asleep, his binky by his left paw.