If you had peered into my soul as the Tasmanian winter solstice approached and passed, you would have noticed a certain unease, a giddiness caused by the tipping of time.
Until the last few years, midwinter has been very hushed here in Hobart. Inhabitants have stuck to their burrows and waited for spring. But now they venture forth in their tens of thousands for Dark MoFo, a ten-day festival with feasts and fires, music and performance. The end (if you disregard the nude swim the next morning), is marked by a parade on the eve of the solstice.
It is a new festival and the themes are borrowed from other places whose marking of mid-winter is deeply imbedded. Indonesian artists came this year to build an Ogoh Ogoh, a monster that in Balinese Hindu culture is paraded through the streets to purify the world of the spiritual pollution we creatures have infested it with. In Bali the Ogoh Ogoh is turned anti-clockwise at every crossroad to confuse the evil spirits and is then taken to the sea and burnt. Here in Hobart, we were invited to feed the monster with scraps of paper that held our scrawled fears, and then to parade with it, banging our pots and pans into a cacophony, before setting it alight on the waterfront.
I wondered about winter solstice celebrations that might be closer to my moleheart, and discovered one not so very far from my birthplace on the south coast of England. Not that I can claim it to be deeply embedded in my psyche; the burning of the clocks was only brought into being twenty years ago, by a community arts group in Brighton called Same Sky. The idea is similar to the Ogoh Ogoh: locals fill an effigy with fears, but also hopes and, carrying home-made lanterns of cane and white tissue, they parade it down to the waterfront, and obliterate it in a bonfire . The difference is – or was when this event was first organised, – that the monster was a clock.
Now the idea of the monster as clock delights the cockles of my moleheart. The unease I feel at winter solstice is the sense of time tipping. The first half of the year feels pregnant with possibility but then it hurtles towards the end with accumulating litanies of things not done, expectations dashed, the spectre of summer and Christmas and time running out.
When I first returned to the southern hemisphere after clearing out the parental burrow, I came laden with time pieces: a grandfather clock with a loud and arrhythmical tick and an hourly wheezing and grinding of chains that built up to the striking of the hour; a mantle clock that used to drown out long-distance telephone calls with its quarter-hourly Big Ben chime; Grandpapa’s watch, which I nursed through its exhausted go-slows; Grandmama’s delicate fob watch; and my father’s more robust wristwatch on an uncomfortable spring-metal strap. Was this obsession something to do with honouring my ancestors, some sense that they had given me time and it was now up to me to seize every moment I had; their passing reminding me of my own life passing by?
Since then these timepieces have fallen silent. The odd beat of the grandfather clock sent lurches to my heart and I stopped pulling down its weights. The mantle clock lost its chime and I stopped winding it. Grandpapa’s watch came to a halt at midnight on Remembrance Day. I had already given away my father’s.
But there is still a clock ticking in my head, still voices that remind me how old I am, how little I’ve achieved in such a long time, how much shorter my future is than my past.
I feel as if I need to take time into my own hands, find myself some cane, string, glue and tissue paper, build a clock effigy, parade it down my drive and set it alight. It may be several days since the solstice, but who cares about a week here or there.