Sunday, 5 June 2011

Pip Pip

Pip Pip. The title of a book by Jay Griffiths.

Pip pip. The sound of Greenwich Mean Time, broadcast over the airwaves.

This book is neither written as a science of time nor a history of time – for they both existed already. Rather it is an exploration of time. Its subtitle calls it “a sideways look at time”. It is an argument for the subtle and dynamic time that we have largely forgotten, but that children instinctively know and that nature will always remember. It is both an angry and a playful outburst.

Image credit: Jay Griffiths

It claims: that Greenwich Mean Time is mean indeed - declaring itself as the time, when it is just one of thousands of different times; that time isn’t represented by clocks – and in fact it is quite the opposite; that time isn’t money - and whoever says it is, is short-changing you; that time is time - and life itself.

Right across the world, throughout history, time has been rooted in nature; from “the scent calendar” of the Andaman forest, to “bee-time and coconut clocks”, from harvest festivals and lunar festivals, to the different experiences of time between men and women. Our relationship to time is a direct reflection of our relationship with nature and with place.

Reading the book heightened my felt awareness of how thoroughly we are surrounded by clocks and clock-time; on radios, telephones, television, computers and buildings. We’ve sliced the seasons into months, weeks and days. And we’ve cut up our days into hours, minutes, seconds, nano-seconds and pico-seconds. I could see all around me the ways that time has been straight-jacketed and tied down. I could feel the way that our modern treatment of time encourages us to fill it. We have created a flat, hollow, same time, all the time; nothing to do with the real time - nature’s time. In the beautiful, clear and playful words of the book:

“It is always mid-morning, mid-May in the shops and offices of the present; the light is the same and the temperature is the same. It is Same o’clock in the month of Same” [p13].

Our modern, linear timekeeping doesn’t describe time so much as it describes us. While reading, I realised that by disconnecting with time, I disengage from nature and close off opportunities for relating to it and thinking about it.

I found Pip Pip’s style entertaining and sometimes uncomfortable - Griffiths doesn’t take a linear, purely rational, step-by-step approach - but the book is better for it. Outside my comfort zone I reflected on ideas that I take for granted, that I presume unconsciously but have never justified. Over several months while reading the book, I was acutely aware of time and how it felt. Both where I was and what was around me mattered and gave me a sense of a more inclusive, rounded experience of time.

In one of the final chapters, I read about the sun rising over Gisborne, New Zealand and gradually waking the Earth place by place. Over Madagascar and Australia, Israel, Italy, and then Ireland. In my mind I held an image of the Earth from space - more a feeling of colour, shape and pattern than a sharp picture. An archetype-amalgam. I imagined the sun making its way across its surface; time and nature combined. Talk about getting perspective - I felt at once outside myself, looking down on the Earth, and also grounded; ‘located’ in the particular section of the globe where I live. I find myself going back to this image in my mind regularly since reading the book. I imagine that I always will.

Note: A version of this post was initially submitted for an Environmental Education subject as part of my Master of Environment course (University of Melbourne). We were asked to personally reflect on a piece of writing that has influenced our 'environmental perception'. It helped me to reflect on the role that writing, music and art can play in being a catalysing or crystallizing experience in which our world-views, values, beliefs and/or deeply held understandings make significant shifts. I'd be interested to hear about similar experiences that you have had.

The book also inspired a song: Wildwood

No comments:

Post a Comment