We are in the 2019th year of our time-ordering system, nestled deep in the Vulgar Era, or the era of the common man.
What we perceive as an iron grip on the seconds that tick by, seemingly relentless and unstoppable, began 525 years after it was thought the man Jesus Christ incarnated onto this vivid busy globe.
It was a monk who thought of it. Ironically the monk’s name is a bastardisation of the god of the grape harvest, fertility and ritual madness. His name was Dionysius Exiguus. Even back then it was vital that the Christian world knew when Easter was, and co-ordinating the passing of seconds across the known world was quite a task.
These days there are even Seconds Police. The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service(IERS) is firmly in charge of announcing when – because the earth will not quite conform to rotating daily around the sun for exactly 365 days, and the moon awkwardly takes 29 and a half days to journey epically round the earth – extra time should be inserted so we’re all on the same temporal page, People.
The IERS , with bases in America and Europe, issues four bulletins, each with rigid purposes. The third, bulletin C, announces the outcome of the Service’s core purpose: when leap seconds are to be inserted into man-made time.
The second, Bulletin B, releases categorical measurements of EOP – a collection of data describing irregularities in the rotation of the earth. This happens all the time, because large things inside or on the surface of the earth can skew the rotation.
It is paper A, released weekly, which interests me most.
The fact that it is released weekly should provide a clue as to its importance. For paper A is a rapid turnaround service. It predicts up to a year in the future, based on weekly data. Cos you never know what might skew the earth’s daily journey.
Life is not tidy. Whatever control mechanism, however ingenious and lofty, we use to try to subdue this wild horse it remains wild and from one perspective it seems a little ridiculous, inserting extra time into a warm, living time created for us by the globe we inhabit.
Of course like the virtual life of provided by the Internet, from the perspective I have just mentioned, it may seem that we use our artificial time as a crutch which has now become a tight, one-fits-all corset. For this we run fast little tin boxes on wheels to meet the constraints of man-made time. We arrive at the office using man made time. Our entertainment is scheduled, our factories mechanised to man made time. The corset holds up industry, commerce, leisure, human life.
It is a far cry from Newgrange and Stonehenge and so many other stone monuments which were created against all odds to harness an annual moment from our earthly journey around our great, terrible and bounteous star.
A few weeks ago I stood in a charity shop browsing, minding my own temporal business, when a sound made me stand upright. It was a sonorous peal, a chime, sweet and clear. I searched and found it. It was a chiming clock, a humble, utilitarian version. Nothing special except its unique clockness, curved lines and brass Roman numerals, and a sound to soothe the spirit. It cost a kings ransom but I could not leave it on the shelf.
At the till the lady congratulated e on my choice. ‘We have a gentleman who reconditions them” she told me. “He made a key especially to get this working again.”
Now the clock and I have a relationship based on the tension or not of a spiral torsion spring. The little clock loses time as its springs wind down and I potter and wind it when it begins to slow and lose likeness to man made time.
But as corsets go, it’s is far more comfortable than the digital clocks of today.
Man made time seems , at present at least, to be a necessary evil. If we must live within its strictures perhaps somewhere in every house should be a clockwork timepiece to loosen the grip of the hectic pace of life in the 21st century.