oh, well, whatever . . .

the dilemma of a disillusioned bystander

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This morning I could see that Margaret still had unfinished business with me. As I sat watching the early morning TV news she came and sat opposite me. It is the day of the local government elections and I was wanting to see how Boris and Ken were shaping up

‘So what would you do with my clocks?’ Margaret said. ‘What time would you set them at?’

I shrugged. ‘I would have just left them where they were when you got them.’


‘Why not?’

‘Do you think how they were when they came had some special significance?’

‘No, I think whatever time they tell is meaningless.’

‘So what would be the problem with putting them at different times?’

I could see this was leading me into a contradiction. It was looking as if I was saying that the completely chance combination of times that these clocks constituted after their piecemeal arrival had a particularly meaningful sort of meaninglessness.

‘There is no problem in doing that,’ I said. ‘None at all.’

‘Okay, so what times would you set them at then?’

‘I wouldn’t have moved them from where they were. That would have as much meaning as anything else.’

‘Oh, come on, that’s a cop out. Come on, dip your toe into the universe and play God.’

This was a tight spot for me. We both knew I was playing God already. In this my universe where all the clocks have stopped at random I was refusing to acknowledge my responsibility for the new temporal order. I was a disenchanted, non-interventionist God, a surly deity pretending I wasn’t there at all.  I was elevating chance to a transcendental process. I had caught myself off guard. I was momentarily flirting with mystery.

‘I’d remove the hands from every clock,’ I said, ‘Unburden the clocks of their paradox, return them to timelessness.’

Margaret smirked. She put her cup in the sink and went off to work.

I have been in Morpeth all day on a training course. This morning and around midday there were some heavy hail showers, but in the afternoon it became quite warm and bright. It feels like the first day of summer.

When I got home from work I went to cast my vote. Afterwards I went for a walk and reflected on the squabble I’d had with Margaret over her clocks. I could see that the dispute revealed some fundamental differences in our personalities. Later I devised a self-assessment tool, an instrument I have provisionally called The Stopped Clocks Test. The instructions are simple. Imagine you have twenty three clocks, all broken beyond repair, and you have decided to keep them as ornaments in your house. From the following list, choose two options – the first being the one you are mostly likely to follow, and the second the one you are least likely to adopt.

  1. Remove their hands
  2. Set them all to midnight
  3. Never move them from the time at which they stopped
  4. Set them all at six o’clock
  5. Set them all at ten to two
  6. Set them all at twenty past eight
  7. Set them individually at regularly spaced times throughout the twelve hours
  8. Set each at a time at which some special event happened to you
  9. In absolute darkness reset each one randomly
  10. Set them all at the time at which you were born
  11. Set them all at the time at which you believe you will die
  12. Turn all their faces to the wall

There is no time limit for the completion of this test. It is important that it is not completed casually or impulsively. The test can be used simply for self assessment purposes or, where appropriate, for the assessment of the compatibility of individuals within partnerships.

I asked Margaret how her teeth were tonight.

‘How do you think they are?’ she replied. 

There are some questions it’s best not to answer.


Written by yammering

May 1, 2008 at 11:53 pm

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