Yesterday I had to be somewhere by 6pm. Not anywhere. Somewhere. Seated, prepared, centred. Getting to that somewhere would take me two and a half hours by train with a spare hour tucked in my back pocket. This was my unassailable, one and only, Plan A. Then the wind arrived. Yorkshire, where I happened to be, was on the fringes of its flouncing petticoats; my final destination, Scotland, was in the howling middle of its corset. I watched the screen announce delays in ten-minute increments until it became clear that, save the use of Doctor Who’s TARDIS, I was not going to attend this particular ball today. Had you spied me seated on Platform 10 you might have thought me the embodiment of cool, tranquil acceptance. Not so. Inside my head I was water spiralling down a plughole; all shallow breaths, arms aloft, hands franticly flapping like pennants on a mast: a frenzied version of Alice In Wonderland’s white rabbit: “oh dear, oh dear, I shall be late!” My spare hour was being nibbled, then munched, and finally gobbled in full and swallowed. I had run out of time.
It’s an odd expression, is it not: running out of time? Running into time, running away from time, running through time, running out of time: all attempts to put words on that inexorable drift forward. Yet, no matter how much we project ourselves forward or backwards, or try to straitjacket time with strict diarising, we remain fixed in time at every moment. Time, on Platform 10, was not going any more quickly or slowly than at any other moment of the day, but I was squarely accusing it of running away from me; blaming it and its apparent dearth in tying me up in knots, sending my heart beating to the thrum of a African djembe. The, ‘I’m running out of time’ mantra, was fuelling a fruitless dash to nowhere. We all know people whose lives are governed by haste: beating the clock, squeezing in more than they’re able, stuffing their day to bursting. We are each given the same number of hours in a day, yet how we approach time – be it as friend or enemy – can profoundly affect our lives and health. Eventually I remembered this, decided to make friends with time, and phoned Y. “It’s me,”I told her, by way of apology, “Any chance of a bed for a second night?” Of course there was, and, yes, there would even be a quiet place for my 6 o’clock Skype call. That was that: Plan B, quietly delivered on Platform 10, without recourse to gas and air. Internally becalmed, I found a number 30 bus, tripped up to the top deck and weaved my way through the back roads of North Yorkshire back to Y.’s house. Outside the wind was still swishing its skirts. I watched gusts skim a layer of topsoil from a freshly ploughed field, while a wind-buffeted kestrel held steady, hovering high over its prey. I felt a bit steadier myself, and an hour reappeared in my back pocket.
‘I Meant To Do My Work Today’, by Richard Le Gallienne
“I meant to do my work today –
But a brown bird sang in an apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand –
So what could I do but laugh and go?”