Time is a commodity that cannot be weighed out and measured by clocks.
Joan Lindsay (1896-1984) is most known for her novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock, first published in 1967, but Time Without Clocks is a reminiscence of the early years of her marriage to Australian painter, Daryl Lindsay (1889-1976), that was published a few years earlier, in 1962. Time is a constant theme throughout the book, from the measuring of time on a day to day basis, to the treasured memories of time spent with family and friends, to the passing of the Edwardian era, as it met its death on the battlefields of Europe .
Joan came from a family who wound clocks and followed maps and schedules religiously, but when she married Daryl, she entered the “free Lindsay world of ideas and imagination” where a trip to anywhere always involved a series of detours and shortcuts, stopovers and unpredictable leaps and bounds. For the Lindsays, time was measured differently. They enjoyed the company of “time givers”, people whose presence enlarged the horizon and expanded the hour through good food, good wine and good conversation, but deplored the “social vampires” who thought nothing of “robbing a creative artist of his most precious possession – his time.”
When Joan and Daryl married in 1922, their goal was a house in the country where Daryl could paint and Joan could write and they eventually achieved this with a cottage named “Mulberry Hill.” Here they lived without man-made time. They told the time by the angle of the shade, how the light fell on the stable, the sound of the train whistle and the rhythm of nature. They ate at anytime, day or night and learned to garden by paying attention to the signs and seasons of the Australian bush.
In Time Without Clocks Joan brings to life the interwar years of the 1920s and 30s. During this time Joan and Daryl take a trip to Europe where they experience a world far apart from their own. They meet Monsieur Fernau, “one of those anachronisms to be found in every period of civilisation – a survivor clinging to the raft of an already vanished past.” For Monsieur Fernau “it was still possible to live…in two distinct and separate worlds…the twentieth century world of banking and wool broking…” and the other world of wealth, luxury and the collection of rare goods. For Monsieur Fernau and those of his circle, “it was still comparatively easy to shut out most of the unpleasant things that were happening over Europe.” But it was a world that would be “virtually wiped out…by the Second World War.”
Joan and Daryl spent a considerable time in London where “the crystal chandeliers, crimson hangings, even the little gold chairs” of Covent Garden “stressed the importance of class and money.” Looking back though, Joan reflects how within a few short years these elegantly “gloved and toqued women and umbrellaed and bowler-hatted men” who sat “sipping tea and exchanging gossip in the stalls” would be performing “incredible feats of bravery and physical endurance.”
I guess it would have been difficult for the Monsieur Fernaus of that time to believe that their world would come crashing down around their ears and be wiped, physically and literally, off the map. But Joan expresses relief that their dear friend, Frank Downer, a perfect specimen of the Edwardian age never lived to see his “particular world engulfed in a flood of plastics and nylon shirts”. The passing of one time ushers in another, but is it progress?
Joan demonstrates a brilliant attention for detail and a flair for descriptive language. She recounts some amusing anecdotes from their life, such as their hens who “spent half their day strolling and gossiping” and laying “eggs with yolks yellow as buttercups.” And she gives a warning about taking driving lessons at the same time as your spouse.
“A husband and wife taking simultaneous instruction from the same teacher in the same car gives limitless scope for back seat driving by all concerned.”
Living without clocks and the pressures of man-made time sounds quite appealing. How wonderful it would be to be able to move through the day without one eye always on the clock. Would we be more creative and productive? Would we be less stressed and anxious? Would we come to appreciate the quality of time rather than its quantity?
Joan and Daryl had a motto for living life – Ars Longo – Vita Brevis (Life is short, Art eternal)
Time Without Clocks is a delightful reminiscence of a time gone by that encourages us to make our time matter, to privilege quality over quantity, and to cherish our time with those we love.
Life is short, and art is long, opportunity fleeting, experimentations perilous, and judgement difficult.