Time Redesigned

October 2015

A story about time and what might happen if you dare to challenge it.

From the point at which the calendar was invented (and with it, the seven day week), the Scrooge McDucks of this world had a nice, handy regimented chart with which to squeeze every last drop of effort and life out of their underlings. Then, mercifully (and only in the last few decades), the weekend arrived. Suddenly the underlings had a day or two to tend to their chilblains and make cupcakes. They’d cracked it. They’d snaffled a chunk of their lives back from the man.

But what came with the weekend was an immediate context for the other 5 days. When you never look up from a stone mill that could take your face off at any moment, Sunday and Monday feel pretty similar. But when you get Sunday off, Monday suddenly has you wishing for a quick and painless industrial accident. Fast-forward to our desk-dwelling present, and the seven days have taken on firmly established lives of their own, with their proximity to the weekend giving them universal characteristics.

If you were to think of the days of the week as people, you could probably picture them immediately. Monday would be a self-loathing sweaty little character in an bad suit, Tuesday would try hard, doing its best to disassociate itself from its brother through ill-conceived forays into fashion. And of course your friend and mine, Friday, would make up its own rules, never looking anything less than awesome, but secretly fighting a vicious drug habit that’s developed as a result of always having to be the guy bringing the fun.

Now you don’t have to be Dr Melfi to figure out that the way we feel about these days has become self-fulfilling. When Monday rolls around we’re the thin-lipped Rick Moranis-like 50s bank clerk assuming no good times will come our way because they never have done, and anyway we don’t like that sort of thing. Then we gradually pick ourselves up until we’re skipping towards being the one with the private jet to Malibu, leaving at 5.30 on Friday. Then 72 hours later we’re Rick Moranis again. Then we’re his brother in double denim. And the whole thing goes around again and again in a Groundhog scenario, but with no Andie Macdowell to save us from eternal screaming frustration.

It takes some effort to stand back and see that it’s all just time, to be moulded and redesigned as we want. It takes either effort or an alternative way of doing things to be forced upon you. In submarines, where there’s no use for the conventional way of doing things (and crucially no concept of what the sun’s doing), they live to 18 hour days, sleep in 6 hour cycles and nobody bats an eyelid, because that’s just the way things be under the sea. They’re away for months, and just tap back into ‘normal’ time when their pasty faces get a well-needed hit of vitamin D.

It shows how easily our brains are sold a pattern, they fully buy into the sales chat about a regimented week being the best way to organise your life, about the way it synchronises perfectly with the sun coming up and going down, and the clincher that no brain with a brain can ignore, is the fact that everybody’s doing it, so if you don’t get on board, you’ll get left behind.

But the sales pitch doesn’t work on young children. It means nothing to them because they don’t need any aspect of it. They bounce from one sleep to another, asking occasionally what it is that we like to call this day we’re in. And that’s probably more out of politeness and an effort to connect with us on our level than because they actually give a nappy filling that it’s Wednesday.

So what’s to be done? Well I think we have to accept that the world needs its patterns, it’s too late to stop now. But we don’t have to think in those patterns. Even if we live within them, there’s a juicy liberation to be snatched from forgetting about your proximity to the weekend, or at least not letting this dictate whether you wear your grumpy pants or your swagger slacks.

If we start looking at our old pals the days of the week as total strangers, or even better, naked strangers, we’d sidle up to them with no preconceptions, no ideals, no expectations of what they’ll serve us up. Yes, you still have to go to work on Monday morning after 2 days off, but don’t give it a hard time till you’ve met it. It might well turn out to be a throat-stomping, artless pedant, but there’s every chance it could be a disco dancing raconteur with beer in his jacket and dough balls in his pocket.

It leaves the day free to do its thing without prejudice, but it also liberates your behaviour. It gives you permission to do things when they take your fancy, rather than at the point at which such things are generally done – this could well be seen as a philosophy that conveniently advocates 24/7 drinking, but it’s (hopefully) more than that – it’s as much about not feeling the pressure to make Friday, Saturday and Sunday into heroes.

With a bit of peace, love and persuasion, you can end up with the state of mind you had smack bang in the middle of the summer holidays, when time stretched out in front and behind you without any discernable markers, and you’d look up from your bowl of Frosties and say ‘What day is it mum?’

Just don’t blame me if Rick Moranis turns up on Saturday morning.

WORDS Michael Walker

ILLUSTRATION Jenny Jokela