Sunday 25 Sep 2016

A Sweep Thru Time
David Simmonds

That power outage last week sure made people testy.

I just happened to mention that I was one of the few enlightened people who kept his kitchen clock on 24-hour time. I was immediately challenged by everyone wthin earshot: “why would you do that?” they said.. 

“Well, because then I can tell what time of day the power ran out,” was my first and lamest response. That was seized upon and devoured. “What difference would that make?”, the chorus demanded to know; “you’ve still got to reset it.”

“Well, it helps me read train schedules more quickly,” I ventured. “You just look at schedule that says the train leaves at 21:04 and you know instinctively that it leaves at 9:04pm. The response: “you’re not a teenager on a Eurail pass any longer.”

So I tried a third time, tyring to explain in my own patronizIng way so those simpletons could understand. “I enjoy taking advantage of the full technical capacities of my stove clock: why force it onto a 12-hour cycle when it is capable of tracking a 24-hour cycle? Can you honestly say that you have never fallen prey to the ambiguity of the 12-hour cycle, and assumed you were in the morning instead of the evening, or vice versa? So why not go for greater precision?”

I sat back and folded my arms smugly. To me, the point was unanswerable. I was met with snorts of derision.

I guess it boils down to the fact that the we appreciate time is very much a personal thing. So let’s have a look at some other time issues. 

Punctuality is an obvious candidate. Everyone knows the world is divided into two camps: those who care about punctuality and those who don’t. There is a also a category of pathetic specimens who profess to care about punctuality but who assume that if it takes everyone else half an hour to get into Picton, it should only take them 15 minutes; and who then profess bewilderment and regret when they are a quarter of an hour late. Unfortunately, I am a charter member of this painfully unaware group. Is it any wonder that punctuality dissputes are the second leading cause of matrimonial breakdown, behind only disputes over whether bathroom tissue should hang top out or bottom out.


Exact time fetish is punctuality’s first cousin. I don’t know anyone who still sets his or her watch by the National Research Council Official Time Signal: “the beginning of the long dash following ten seconds of silence indicates exactly one o’clock”. It didn’t become CBC’s longest running or shortest programme by accident. I know several people who will have us “synchronize our watches” when we head off in separate directions in a shopping mall. I even know some who will do so when shopping alone. 

The of course there’s the great ‘analog or digital’ debate, in which the old routinely denounce the young for their inability to read a clockface. I think the young are missing the boat on this one: an analog timepiece can be a recreational drug, if used properly. 

For me, except for a few things, such as trashing a police car on after Friday hockey night in Vancouver, are quite so thrilling as watching a second hand sweep around a clock face to trigger a mass exodus at the end of some deathly boring class, just a few moments shy of professorial questioning being directeed your way that would reveal that you hadn’t read the material and couldn’t understand its import even if you had. Yes, I come by this conclusion the hard way: first year law school, civil procedure, a late afternoon class or torts.

Then there’s “sports time,” a world unto itself. Take hockey. It’s not even on forwards time, its on backwards time. I’m baffled by how quickly the announcer can say, “Dukes goal by number 54, Hermione Gingold, assisted by number 22, Lucille Ball and number 17, Mae West. His 5th of the season, unassisted. Time of the goal 12:51.” In the meantime, I’m looking at the clock that says 7:09 and frantically doing my mental arithmetic; “lets see, 60 take away 9 is 51, carry 1 is 6, so that’s 14, no wait a second.” But by then it’s too late: I’ve been trumped by an announcer to whom I wouldn’t concede any advantage in the IQ department. There must be an app for that, I think, but what did they do before apps were invented?

I’ve got additional problems with football and basketball, both of which also employ backwards time. In football, the “two minute warning” really means “stay tuned for 10 minutes of moronic beer commercials”; in basketball, the fact that the clock shows that there are 16 seconds left in the game is code for “this game will be over in half an hour.” Baseball purists like to say that the game has good karma because it is potentially endless. I say it just shows that you can become infinitely bored in a nanosecond. Even soccer, on forwards time, is not immune from criticism: ‘added time’ suddenly appears at the end of the game, and then the referee chews on his whistle for double the announced period. 

We’ll have to wait till the next power outage to resolve these issues. In the meantime, I’m sticking with my 24-hour clock and hitting the sack when it tells me its 22:30. I’m not going to complicate my life my wondering whether its time for mid-morning coffee instead.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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