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About A Week: Tick-Tock

Peter Hinchliffe wonders whether the day will ever come when he is no longer a slave to Time.

When I was a young lad I didn’t give a ripe fig for Time.

I didn’t have a watch. What use would it have been to me? I was too young to derive any significance from the big hand pointing to twelve and the little hand to four.

During those hazy long summer days, our tummies told us when it was time to go home for dinner.

And heavy eye-lids informed us that it was time to go upstairs to Bedfordshire.

My mother let me know when it was time for learning.

“You’re going to be late my lad,’’ she’d say, as I struggled to knot my clog laces before setting out for the village school.

“I’ll run,’’ I said. “I’ll get there.’’

If I didn’t meet Arnold Smith, Brian Banks and the Kaye brothers going up Howroyd Lane, I ran faster. Somehow I always managed to sneak in at the back of the queue after Miss Mercer had rung the handbell to summon kids in from the playground for the first lesson.

When I was 11 I moved on to the “big’’ school, and Time ensnared me. I had to catch a bus at 8.05 am precisely. Miss it, arrive late for school, and the result was a detention. Stay on for 50 minutes after the final bell had rung to fill page after page with the line “I must learn not to be late.’’

When I left school I went to work as a junior in a local public library - a job I did not want, and most certainly did not enjoy. We were frequently required to work until 7 pm. The hourly bus service to our village left at five past the hour.

Every late duty involved a headlong dash across town. Looking back on it, that was when I became a keen and purposeful runner.

On the rare occasions when I missed the bus I felt as though I had lost a vitally important slice of life.

Next came two years in the Royal Air Force. Military service imposes Time’s most restrictive straight-jacket.

At 6 am ever day a loud burst of the Swedish Rhapsody on the Tannoy catapulted us out of our beds.

For good measure a drill instructor called Hudspith came bursting into the hut where 24 of us slept, bellowing louder than a thwarted bull.

“Wake up you horrible lot! Up! Up! Up!’’

We had 25 minutes in which to wash, shave and fold our blankets and sheets into a rectangle of such geometric precision that it seemed to have been set in concrete..

Another 25 minutes to dash to the cookhouse and gulp down breakfast. Then a nervous 10 minutes in which to sort ourselves out before going on parade.

Irons - that is knife, fork and spoon - and one’s mug had to be arranged in a prescribed pattern on top of a small bed-side locker.

One lad, dreading Hudspith’s revenge if he was so much as a second late on parade, once brought seven mugs crashing to the ground with his trailing rain cape as he sprinted for the hut door.

That cost him half-a-week’s pay.

Lights had to be extinguished prompt on 10 pm. One’s head hardly seemed to touch the pillow before that infernal Swedish Rhapsody was blaring out again.

After national service I became a journalist, one of those acolytes upon whom Time makes the most stringent demands.

Time snatches the forelock of everybody involved in producing a daily newspaper, dragging them relentlessly through each working hour until that moment when the presses start their rolling thunder.

There’s no standing back for a breather until that day’s paper is out on the streets.

What did I do to switch off from the daily turmoil of headlines and deadlines? As soon as I arrived home from work I donned shorts and trainers, then went for a five-mile run.

Not a steady jog. A hell-for-leather run.

I wore a stopwatch. I timed myself, mile by mile. I was enslaved by Time.

Now, in retirement, I go for a walk instead of a run. I wear a pedometer, trying to click up 10,000 steps a day, the number required, say the experts, to maintain perfect fitness.

10,000 steps. That’s quite a long walk.

I glance at my watch. Only been going an hour. Nowhere near 10,000 yet.

Oh dear.

Will the day ever come when my watch no longer orders me about?


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