'Well I was walking down the street, just a-having a think'
I believe it was Albert Einstein in his seminal theory of time who said that as one gets older, bin day comes round quicker. Indeed, time runs so swiftly for me now, an event I would hazard a guess happened three years ago, often turns out to be more like seven. As for the rarely seen offspring of acquaintances, in my head they remain a toddler – at most, a teen – so it’s always a shocker when I ask after little Liam and it turns out he’s a pilot for Easyjet. Where on earth does the time go?
It was all so different as a child. To paraphrase Madonna, time went by…so slowly. Seasons stretched forever. The six-week school holiday was a long, languorous mid-summer dream. And everything was enveloped in an enormous patchwork of pleasure. Who’d have thought peddling bikes on baking pavements or sucking ice cream through a bitten-off cornet – a taste sensation akin to eating damp orange cardboard - would feel like experiences of neverending joy?
Back to the future
What’s kind of weird is when I look back at the various chapters of my life, it feels as though I’m reviewing a series of segmented films. Different worlds. A different me. Yet recently, a few friends from the dim and distant have been in contact - three I hadn’t seen for forty years – and within minutes of chatting, we had picked up the gossamer threads of lost connections, reeling each other in as easily as if we had spoken just the other week. Perhaps I haven’t changed as much as I think. Perhaps the characteristics that attracted us and the exploits that bound us, bind us still.
So how about the future? Well now I’m 60, I’m more than a little miffed that most of the direct marketing I receive is about winding things up. Or down. Stairlifts. Retirement homes. Funeral plans. Oh do bugger off with your presumptions. If and when I need one, I’ll call you. Not least because I believe now is the time for us mature types, if we are physically/mentally able, to start looking to the future and hatching horizon-pushing plans. Not colluding with some collective notion of writing us off.
‘Now is the time to hatch horizon-pushing plans’
Indeed, scientific theories back me up. According to Dr Christian ‘Kit’ Yates, Senior Lecturer in the department of mathematical sciences at the University of Bath, if we want to apply the brakes and extend – not contract - our perception of time as we age, we should start doing more, not less.
The theory goes something like this. When the brain is taking in lots of new information and all kinds of stuff you’ve never dealt with before (which is what happens in childhood) it does so really quickly, which has the effect of slowing down our perception of time.
It’s why a week’s holiday jampacked with a host of different outings and adventures can feel much longer than a week at work twiddling with your backgrounds on Teams. The extreme example is what often happens in an accident – it’s not unusual for those involved to report they noticed every detail, feeling as though they were watching the incident unfold in slo-mo.
The opposite is also often true. When faced with a same-old-same-old, repetitive lifestyle, with little new stimuli for the mind to process, perceived time tends to speed up. So Dr Yates suggests if you feel time is moving too quickly and your life is running out too fast, the answer is to travel, to go to places you’ve never been before, to participate and appreciate new things.
He sums it up thus: ‘Stimulate your brain like it’s the start of August and you’re seven, holding an ice lolly and running down a sand dune for the first time.’ I couldn’t agree more. What say we all grab a Lyons Maid Zoom and I’ll meet you at the beach?