Ships of Time

Oh Lordy, Lordy. Here we are half way through January.

Just before bedtime, on the last day of every year, Great Uncle Mole used to take down the old calendar and replace it with a new one, which he covered with his handkerchief. And as soon as he got up on the first day of the new year, he would whisk the handkerchief off to reveal January and say, ‘There, now’.

When I was a little mole, and I was very little when Great Uncle Mole was still alive, I thought he meant that the big Now had arrived, there was no escape. Carpe Diem and don’t forget it. Now that I am nearly as old as he was then, I think it is was a sigh of relief that the old year could be put into mothballs.

I have followed his tradition, but when I take down the old calendar and look at the bare hook in front of me I want to pause – not just for long enough to hang the new calendar but for a very, very long time. I would like it not even to be called time; perhaps it could be a limitless suspension, ending only when I am completely ready.

The progression of year upon year, – days, hours, minutes accruing relentlessly are only made so onerous because of their domination by numbers. As soon as you have numbers you notice gaps if you leave any out. If I took the calendar for 2014 down and breathed and then put up 2016, I would know that 2015 was missing.

So I was wondering how it might be if, instead of numbering years, we named them like boats, the Florentine, for instance, or Esmerelda – though perhaps not Marie Celeste. You may think it odd for such a land-bound creature as a mole even contemplating ships as comforting containers of time, but if so you haven’t reckoned with the story-telling capacity of Uncle Ratty. He wasn’t really my uncle, but a very dear friend of Great Uncle Mole (actually, I’m not even sure Great Uncle Mole was a relation. We tend to all be called Mole which can be a bit muddling). When Uncle Ratty told his sea-faring stories, Great Uncle Mole would cover his ears with his paws, and tell him to stop before he scared the poor wee mole (me) to death. Not that Great Uncle Mole was cowardly by any means. He still had scars from the Siege of Toad Hall, and I think he may have fought with Garibaldi, but poor chap, he did shake at the sight of water.

I hope you will forgive me that little digression, but thanks to Uncle Ratty, I have no fear of water and Great Uncle Mole is no longer with us to tremble at the metaphorical ships I wish to use for my new concept of time. So let us imagine these ships, each a container, but none dependent on the other. The ocean itself is timelessness. The only time on the ships is a fullness of time. In the harbours there is a time of imagining – a before time when preparations are made for the voyage: maps and telescopes, warm blankets, cakes and port, a friendly crew and a fiddler. And there would be an afterwards. To be sure that would be a time for scrubbing the decks, mending the sails, splicing rope and resting in dry dock to have ones barnacles removed. But above all it would be a time for rejoicing in one’s adventures and telling tales to young moles and other creatures.

Oh Uncle Ratty, I do miss you.


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