Monday, 23 August 2010

Frittering - Andrew Strong

I hate wasting time. I hate queuing, traffic, train stations and airports. I get irritable just waiting for images to load on my web browser. More and more items on the BBC News website have that horrid little 'click to play' icon: I do not want to watch, I want to read. I can read faster than I can watch. I can scan the headline, and then move on if I’m not interested. For that reason I shun YouTube, and get shirty when people send me email links to ‘amusing’ videos. I am unable to sit through a full length movie; I have to watch in thirty minute bursts, usually from the seat of my rowing machine. This way I can get fitter as I fritter.

Time is the most valuable commodity on Earth: more valuable than air, water or food. Without time you would not be able to take a breath, a gulp or a bite. Yet, although we know we are all busy recycling bottles and boxes, there is nothing whatsoever we can do with time once we've wasted it.

Taking foreign holidays, going shopping, doing the gardening, or worst of all, watching television are forms of time-frittering that get on my goat. Nothing on television is worth one hour of my life. Nothing!

I picture myself on my deathbed, with just one more hour left to live. Shall I watch that jolly bird programme with Bill Oddie? Or how about dropping in on 'Fat Families' before I shuffle off? Nothing, not even an earnest documentary, or live coverage of Nick Clegg eating his own face would make me watch TV if I had just sixty minutes left to live.

I’ve tried living every hour as if it were my last. I soon became a hopeless, jibbering mess. “What’s the point of doing anything?” I hollered. “I’m going to die!” So instead I tried to refine my time wasting and came up with this exceptionally brilliant idea: use every hour as a means of saving time in the hours ahead.

To do this I live my life like an air traffic controller, with thoughts constantly streaming in, diverted, put into holding pattern, or some of them acted upon and brought down safely onto the runway.

So, even as I make breakfast, I’m planning when will be the best time to unload the dishwasher and, perhaps take the bins out. Should I do those first, or fill the kettle? Then there’s some post to be opened, and the hens to be fed. As I am slicing the bread, I am considering in which order to tackle these immediate chores, and at the same time, in holding pattern, are the thoughts about the things I will act upon when breakfast is cleared away.

Of course, because I'm thinking ahead, the task I am presently engaged with tends to be less than well done. Toast gets burnt, tea goes cold, cutlery ends up in the fridge, hens starve to death, I slice my finger off. I am always moving one step ahead of myself, but rarely do I know where I am. Even as I write this sentence I am juggling with the next paragraph. As I finish my third book I'm half way through the fourth and plotting the fifth. And as every writer knows, planning your next book is a hundred times more exciting than writing the present one.

Another time saving measure is to undertake two activities simultaneously, always ensuring that every wasteful element is counterbalanced by a useful one. I can watch dvds as I row myself fitter, read Proust as I struggle to eat my morning muesli and listen to opera as I'm having a bath.

In this way I get to lead three or four lives in parallel, and keep in shape, too. With my accumulated years I will be the fittest one hundred and eighty year old on the planet. I shall also be a mumbling, foam-spluttering idiot, who doesn’t remember one thing of any quality he’s done in his over-long life. But I won’t have wasted a second.

(Oh, and that bit about Clegg. It's not true. I would have to watch that).

10 comments:

Stroppy Author said...

Lovely post, Andrew. I understand completely the terror of wasting time. I won't watch TV either, as that is the ultimate time-waster. People in the UK waste 70,000 years of work days every night watching TV. Just think we what could achieve! It's ten times the length of civilisation!

It's hard to get that balance of doing the right things slowly and with pleasure, avoiding the irrelevant (YouTube, usually) and speeding through the necessary but dull. But I think reading on the bus and listening to opera while doing the cleaning is a form of recycling time. At least it makes it more pleasant...

Elen Caldecott said...

I don't like telly-bashing. Yes, of course we can all get by just fine without Come Dine With Me or Pets Do the Funniest Things. But to counterbalance those we have The Wire, The Sopranos, Survivors, Sherlock,Buffy... I'd take any of those over a crap novel.

Nicky said...

I'm afraid I am just the opposite a fritterer and time waster of the highest order. I multitask but badly and spend altogether too much time not doing very much at all. There is nothing nicer than snuggling down with my daughter in front of bad TV with a book or a magazine and a cup of coffee.

Leila said...

I'm so with you on the not watching internet videos, Andrew. I hate waiting for things to buffer! And we don't even own a TV - though I agree with Elen that there's good stuff on, or at least stuff that can be learned from. I listen to a lot of Radio 4 and there's some absolutely fascinating stuff on (except on Sundays, which for some reason Britain seems to have designated Duff Media Day, possibly to try and force the population out of the house and into the fresh air).

Linda said...

Telly is useful as well as fun. You can relax and feel reassured because the wily cop always catches the bad guy. You can keep up with some yoof-thinking by a little judicious viewing (well, okay, I enjoy Dr Who and Buffy and Town Called Eureka, but having a serious reason too adds to the pleasure). And unlike a book, there's a good chance you're experiencing it at the same time as others, so it makes for a common conversation platform. But it's true that I feel completely alienated from a huge section of the viewing public: I simply can't understand why they want to watch programmes about people who are featured solely because they are ugly or wicked or drunk or . . . Still, I watch it differently these days, since I got serious about writing (serious being a relative term, of course). I had to turn off a film the other day because I felt the main character was difficult to identify with for way too many chapters (Oops. I mean minutes). I deconstruct programs to see how they introduce and identify characters. I assess the mix of personalities in cop/monster-bashing/problem-solving teams. Sigh. It's still television, but not as I knew it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Stimulating post and comments!

I don't watch much television but I wouldn't knock those who watch more than I do. We all get our pleasures - whether in terms of relaxation or mental stimulation - in different ways. There's rubbish on TV and there's good stuff. End of, pretty much.

I do agree with your comment about time being the most precious commodity but I "waste" it in many ways - drying my hair, ironing clothes, not getting up ten minutes earlier in the morning. I also try to cram as much as possible into my day and life but I'm not going to feel guilty if I'm not achieving something every minute.

adele said...

What she said! Nicola, I mean. There's good and bad telly and some telly that's better than most drama, novels, etc. WIRE, Sopranos, Mad men etc. But I am an unrepentant television addict, I'm afraid. I also waste TONS of time and try not to feel guilty about it. Commenting in comments boxes when I ought to be working? What's that about? But good fun. I recite to myself that poem that goes: "What is this life if full of care/we have no time to stand and stare?" and feel quite okay about wasting time on the whole.

石JaquelynS_Whitesi白 said...

感動 + 感恩 + 感謝(。-ˍ-。 )............................................................

Nicola Morgan said...

Adele - I love that poem with all my heart. It's inscribed on a stone looking out to see somewhere on the Galloway coast, with a statue of a man, leaning and staring out to sea. I have a pick of my husband in the same stance! I think we do ourselves no favours, healthwise, driving ourselves all the time. (She says as one who regularly works far too blooming hard...)

Andrew Strong said...

WH Davies wrote the 'stand and stare' poem, the 'supertramp' who spent many years escorting sheep and cattle to and fro across the Atlantic. (I recommend his autobiography). He came from the same part of south Wales as me and I remember, as a child, the romance of 'men of the road', some who slept under trees on the canal path near my home. Much to my mother's horror I used to spend hours talking to them and a part of me longed to be one of them - the open road, the endless horizon. And the other part of me charges headlng in the opposite direction, frightened to death of freedom. And I wasn't bashing TV, by the way, just trying to describe my manic inability to relax.