Second hands came a lot later, dividing time into even smaller parcels to be delivered fresh and then either forgotten, or sent to the drawer marked Memories/Nostalgia.
When I was a boy I thought that a moment was shorter than a second and I speculated on the idea that there were 60 moments in a second and that every clock should have a moment hand whizzing round like a motorbike on a racetrack.
Before industrialisation we relied on the sky and the seasons to tell us, more or less, what time it was. I say more or less because it didn’t really matter in the wide fields of agriculture whether it was ten past four or twenty past; there was still ploughing to be done.
Then the Industrial Revolution happened in a blast from a furnace, and time, or a method of delineating it, became more important.
After all, there was no point going for the nine o’clock train if nobody could agree what time nine o’clock was.
Train time became Real Time, which certainly helped people to get to the factories but which also somehow made us slaves to the ticking watch and the clocking-in machine and eventually to the ping of the message arriving as you inch towards a looming deadline. Time has somehow speeded up and left us with less, well, time.
So how, as a writer and a reader, can I wrestle back control of time? Well, I reckon poetry can help with that; I look across slim volumes that crowd my shelves and I take one down at random.
It’s called At the Edge of Night by a poet from Luxembourg, Anise Koltz, published by the marvellous Todmorden-based Arc Press.
It is 152 pages long but it’s a dual-language edition so that the translations into English take up only half the space and many of the poems are tiny so that, already, they are slowing time down.
Many collections of poetry are thin and that makes me take my time with them; you could read a 75-page work of fiction fairly quickly, but these poems demand I put the hours in, tiny as they are.
Here’s one: Drawn by dogs/time glides/over invisible snow/on its iron sleigh//If you fall asleep/it will pass through you.
I’ve put the slash marks in to indicate where the line and stanza breaks are. The poem is only 21 words long so it should take a couple of seconds to read and maybe at first glance it does.
But then the real reading begins; how can time glide over invisible snow? What is invisible snow? Why did the poet end the lines where she did? I start to read deeply. Time passes, and passes.
And I’ve missed my train. But I don’t care.