Time on your hands? That’s holistic theory

Original drawing of the White Rabbit from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. With the text: I'm late! I'm late!
Original illustration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Sir John Tenniel

When I was 12 I inherited my father’s wind up wristwatch on condition I never took the back off. It was extremely slim, the slimmest watch I have ever seen, then or now, and weighed less than its expanding strap of fine tiny metal links. It was shock proof, anti-magnetic, water-resistant and had 21 jewels! Wow! 

Of course, it was Swiss. There were no numerals on the dial, merely blobs of gold. The watch was fit for purpose – it gave you the exact time of the day. A few months later, to my horror, my Uncle Bill took the back off.

“Don’t worry – I’m an engineer,” he said.

How a mining engineer could qualify as a horologist puzzled me.

Then I saw the jewels – rubies, sapphires and emeralds.

“Why are such beautiful things hidden, Uncle?”

“They do a job, the bearings are made of jewels. They reduce friction between metal and metal. They also absorb shock. Besides which, it would be extremely vulgar to show off your wealth to everybody.  The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”

Well, Uncle often said strange things.

He told me the workings of the watch were holistic. I thought he meant some of the tiny metal plates had holes drilled in them to reduce shocks. 

“No. It’s a whole universe. Everything is dependent on everything else. If this tiny cog goes out of balance, the universe within this case will cease to function effectively and, like the grandfather’s clock, just STOP!

“Consider the world in which we live. Small fish ingest plankton. Those fish in their turn are eaten by larger fish, even larger fish eat them and so on, right up to the largest creatures on this planet – whales. The Right whale, is a large species of Baleen whale and it lives on – yes, you’ve guessed it – plankton! 

“So, you see, everything is connected to everything else, all in a delicate balance.”

With that, he snapped the back onto the watch, which incidentally is still ticking away to this day.

So how, you ask, can we turn holistic theory into a practical and personal plan which will help us cope, not only with this current situation, but also with whatever the ‘new normal’ turns out to be?

With lockdown, dental appointments are few and far between, so first, you make sure there is petrol in your tank and air in your tyres, you get ready to leave early, just in case of roadworks,… the car won’t start! The battery is flat because you have obeyed instructions and ‘stayed at home’ – holistic theory to a T.

The string on your guitar breaks. Of course it does, you’ve decided to re-learn the guitar in lockdown and the string is overused. The friendly music shop where they will thread that new string for you is closed. 


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Boris – looking more like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland every day – has come to the rescue of cyclists. Our lycra-clad cycling PM decreed that bike hospitals should remain open, so you can be sure to get help, even with aligning your 20 gears.

The pandemic has disrupted all our lives – we should come to expect it.

Before the plague and Black Death, but when I was child, polio was rampant. The symptoms could be mild, or you could be left crippled or worse, sentenced to life in an iron lung. Us children were required to wash our hands frequently and for some strange reason, had to have an hour long nap after lunch on camp beds in the school gym. 

I met two people who had polio. Ian Drury, the singer with The Blockheads, many of whose gigs I attended, contracted polio in 1949 at the age of seven in a swimming pool at Southend. He was partially paralysed.  The other was Sir Edward Courage, the owner, trainer and breeder, of the racehorse Spanish Steps, which won many top horse races in the late 1960s. He was left wheelchair-bound as a result of polio.

The polio vaccine – rolled out in the 1950s – has contained that disease and the Covid vaccines will contain Covid and its ensuing variants.

Take heart. On a personal level your life, like the workings of my watch, is  holistic and in delicate balance. One thing going wrong can impinge on another. Plan ahead, but have a Plan B, which often turns out to be better than Plan A.

Finally, my long departed Uncle Bill used to say, amongst other things: “Time is the medium in which we all burn, there are no overdrafts at the Time Bank Inc. All things come to pass. Be brave!”

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