‘How quaint,’ remarked Mistress Hora as she turned the afternoon on its head, ‘that you would consider time to be a linear construct.’
‘Positively post-historic,’ agreed Master O’Clock, nodding his head in perfect synchrony with the orchestra that played inside his ear. Today was Waltzday (or so he had named it), an interminable reminder that atomic metronomes, particularly those of Viennese manufacture, were not to be trifled with.
‘Be assured, my dears, that this fancy is a passing one and exists only as a fleeting extemporaneous distraction,’ our Mistress continued. The first year students breathed a collective sigh of relief. ‘Now, I want no clumping, no running ahead, and NO helical improvisation. When yesterday’s fish and chips come wrapped in tomorrow’s newspaper it gives our school a most unfortunate reputation.’ The class chortled as one. ‘Most importantly, please remember to take your pocket guide.’
I reached for my bedraggled copy of The Theory of Chronometrical Fluidity: Compressed Edition and wrung the pages out. I had failed badly at applied clepsydrics and my cousin Widget wasn’t letting me forget it. From behind the glass, I spotted her playing a furtive game of Gregorian, and by the look on her face, February was winning. I blew her a lemniscate to grab her attention. She scowled, looked up from her losing streak, and giggled when she saw me spiralling in her direction. ‘Good luck,’ she spiralled back.
Miss Hora flexed her wrist and glanced at her temporal transponder. ‘You will be marked on cuneiformity, consistency, and rate of continuance. Now be off with you. Tempus fugit!’ With a flick of her bejangled fingers she opened the S.A.N.D. grates. I held my breath and jumped.
I couldn’t get hour glasses out of my head, and overnight my poem became a drabble. In my travels through Wiki-land I discovered that a clepsydra was a water clock, a device used by the ancients to measure time during night hours when sundials were reduced to decorative but functionless masonry. A lemniscate is the symbol for infinity, the horizontal figure-eight of algebraic theory.
‘Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.’
- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy