Looking at the field across the river I caught a glimpse of a recognisable thing. A hay stack. To all intents and purposes this could have been something typical from the 19th century, standing there somewhat timeless and shapeless. Maybe the ghost of Monet had passed by and invited my gaze.
Apparently he had spent time in the Limousin. Monet visited the Creuse area during 1889 to be precise. He even had a porcelain dinner service produced in Limoges for use at home in Giverny.
Did time briefly stand still? It can certainly occupy a moment or two finding yourself looking at a haystack. A pile of hay that is obviously squeakily new may tentatively offer a glimpse of a so-called paradise lost? Yet the scene fleetingly transports you to what may have existed over a 125 years ago. Five generations ago; feeling, you could say, as if it’s the here and now rather than the there ‘n then.
We now understand that time can be influenced by gravity. The galaxy apparently bends to the forces of it and yet we still seem to hang onto the eternally immovable ‘Captain Clock’.
Where did the ‘Captain Clock’ come from?
We know when the railway networks were established around 1840, the Great Western Railway line was one of the first to adopt London Time. Thereafter Greenwich Mean Time was recorded as being used in 1847 for the burgeoning railway service. The legal system, during those years, continued to use local time clocks only fully adapting to GMT in as late as 1880. It seemed many watches were worn then, all telling a different time.
Considering Earth’s 24 hour rotation we understand the speed is influenced by the planet’s position in the orbital cycle. Clocks have been around for centuries although it has to be mentioned that there is a difference between ‘Sun Time’ and ‘Clock Time’. Clock time is measured by the longitude calculation the Earth rotates at, a steady 15 degrees per hour. Therefore between the two most extreme eastern and western points of the British Isles there is a physical difference of 30 minutes in time.
Historically with the advent of the GMT demarcation for clock time a certainty for folk was ensured. It became a reassuring measuring stick regarding their dates of birth, its ramifications as well as for the legal system, railways, telegraph and Post Office. Thus you could say ‘Captain Clock’ came into general being, regulating our lives from before conception to beyond the grave.
My elderly french neighbour, a former cattle farmer and miller often replied, when asked a question about the weather, ‘look out of the window’. He didn’t go on trailblazing holidays around the world requiring a packed suitcase of clothing for all weathers or feel anxious at the thought of not knowing how high the rainfall would be in either London or Sydney. The weather here, on his doorstep, was what would be affecting him immediately.
The idea of checking the clock first to herd the heifers was not top of the list. Herding the heifers was. Monsieur Audevard knew as a child how to read the ‘Sun Time’ by dint of that around him. Nature’s effect upon the skies, grass, trees, insects, temperature, the animals themselves and his meal times of course.
We’re talking about an agricultural life rather than the fast paced city one. There is perhaps less nature to read in the skyscraper horizon which has changed our lives dramatically since the Industrial Revolution.
My neighbour didn’t wear a watch. Without ticking hands to tell the time he’d look up towards the sky. However over here in France, there are certain activities which seem immovable, transcending all clocks weather clues and gravitational anomalies. These are the 12.30pm lunch, the 19.30 dinner preceded by an apèro, the Sunday afternoon walk and the fixed holiday or feast days to name a few. These habits seem to emerge from within the inhabitants’ DNA. Not even a potentially gravitationally flexible GMT scale nor cloudy sky would dare interfere with the ingrained obligations.
Gwen Jenner – www.gwenjenner.com