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Island Time


There is a story about the Scotsman and the Spaniard.

They met on a station platform, waiting for a train that showed no sign of arrival, but neither seemed perturbed by the glitch in their travel plans. The Spaniard was first to glance at his pocket watch. “Late,” he observed dryly. “In my country we have a word—mañana—for things that don’t happen quite when you might expect them to”, addressed more to the wind than to his would-be fellow traveler. He then inquired more directly, “Do you have a concept like that in your country? The notion that things will happen in their own good time and can’t be rushed?”

After thoughtful consideration of perhaps half a minute, the other man replied in an accent redolent of heather and sheep, “No, in Scotland we doonah have a worrrd with quite that degree of specificity.” Several years ago I spent two weeks on the Isle of Skye (“An t-Eilean Sgitheanach” in Scots Gaelic, which I had come to learn) and found this to be true.

Arriving from London by two trains and a bus at the mainland port Kyle of Lochalsh, I inquired when the ferry would depart for Kyleachin, its sister port, which I could see through the ever-present haze across the strait on the Isle of Skye. The ticket agent replied, simply and succinctly, that the ferry would depart a few minutes after it arrived. That was the open-ended answer to each query concerning time and, especially, punctuality in the Highlands and the Hebrides, and I soon adjusted to “local time” on the Slait Peninsula, which boasted one road and that with only one lane.

One day a school friend, a man of Scottish origin who lived south of the border among the sasanach and had come north to get in touch with his roots, asked if I’d enjoy driving with him to see more of the island. Happily, we made a day-long trek counter-clockwise around Skye and spent an hour in Portree, the island’s largest town, with a population of fewer than 2,000. It was market day and after only a week on the island, I found myself harassed by the hurlyburly of so many people bustling about. It was a relief to get back in the car and enjoy the Company of Two for the remains of the day.

That island idyll is no more: a fucking bridge links Skye with the Mainland now and, no doubt, people consult their watches far too often.

Howard wants to tell us something about Agincourt’s arbiter of hours, the community’s “keeper of the clock”, but it may take some time.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Railroad Time

Before the introduction of Standard Time, each community set its clocks and watches to suit local rhythms. Each community became an island of time. Temporality by consensus. Railroads were the one component of 19th century life that called out for a degree of predictability. Otherwise, waiting for the train was akin to “Waiting for Godot”. As a consequence, businesses and banks, schools and the county courthouse set their clocks and watches to Railroad Time. So, until the implementation of time zones in the 1880s, the station master regulated life in small town America. Ours was Walter Seitz.


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