pandemic clock

The Plague-Ground – Is time just nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once?

One April 1st morning long ago, my clock radio awakened me to the CBC host announcing that since Canada was shifting to metric for measuring distance and temperature and weight,  it was now time to adopt metric time.

As of that morning, there would be 10 hours in a day and 100 minutes in an hour. Every Canadian would get a $50 tax rebate to offset the cost of getting a new metric watch.

Groggily, I asked myself how I’d missed all this. Then the CBC host said: “April Fools!”

“Oh gawd, leave me alone.”

Today’s Pandemic Standard Time feels a little like my morning with metric time. The minutes race by, the hours drag on, and the signposts that kept my rhythms on an even keel seem to have been stolen in the night.

The first sign for me was sleep.

For decades, I simultaneously craved it and deprived myself of it, with crankily predictable results. Now, I get 9 hours of sleep a night, sometimes even 10, and what do I feel the next day? Tired. I also nap before dinner, and wake up groggy. Maybe I need less sleep.

Next, work.

My concentration is shot. It takes me hours to do what I used to do in minutes. Thank Heavens I’ve got so little work, otherwise I’d be in real trouble. When I have to work on two things in the same day, I bounce between them, and often end up getting neither done well, let alone at all.

Now comes my perception of time.

I may be turtle-like in what I get done, but the day itself passes with lightning speed. Right after breakfast, I go to my desk here at our cottage. I look up and suddenly it’s noon. How did it get to be that? Sure, I trawled the news sites, answered email, did……stuff.  Then after a quick lunch maybe I have a Zoom call, and that’s pretty much the day gone.

Oh, I do manage to get out for an hour’s walk or bike ride. But again, Pandemic Time plays tricks. By my iPhone stop-watch I set out at 1:00 p.m. to walk an hour up and down our country road. I return at precisely 2:00 p.m. to the exact spot where I began. But somehow, it takes me an hour to take off my jacket and pour a coffee before I’m back at my desk.

The other scary thing is that I go completely crazy if someone schedules a phone call at 5:00 p.m. and then an email arrives inviting me to another call at 5:00 p.m. In the old days of March, I’d simply put off the second call until tomorrow morning. But now, I’m frozen. Which call should I take? What should I do?! Help!

Even though, and this is another fright, my calendar tomorrow is absolutely empty. For you analysts out there, my panic may be precisely because my calendar (and therefore my self-worth) is empty. But I digress….

I prefer to think that this pandemic has arrived with its own highly refined sense of time. It’s not just a plague; it’s an alarm clock.

I mean, didn’t we all have plenty of time, really, to prepare for it? Wasn’t it howling for weeks that we should run for the hills?

And now we know just what a wake-up call it is.

We’re four weeks in to something that will last another four to eight weeks, and likely more.

Wars and natural disasters have upturned millions of people throughout history. But not since humans first walked the earth have billions of lives and routines been suddenly suspended. It’s little wonder our sense of time feels out of whack as well.

Amid the zillions of lessons the pandemic is forcing us to learn about time, one for sure is how reliably it rules our lives. Maybe we can use this forced time-out to think of new ways to calculate its value.

After all, for years there’s been a noodle bar in Tokyo that charges not according to what’s on the menu, but by how long you sit at your stool. They’re betting that the longer you sit, the more you’ll eat.

Share this post

34 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Is time just nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once?”

  1. Steve Elliuott

    “Amid the zillions of lessons the pandemic is forcing us to learn about time, one for sure is how reliably it rules our lives. Maybe we can use this forced time-out to think of new ways to calculate its value.”

    Here here!

    Bob, it feels like there is a great thematic writing opportunity here – the introspection and reflection of an extrovert. Really enjoying your riffs in this time.

  2. True this! We are all
    completely and totally in the same boat. Thanks for helping to navigate these rough waters.

  3. Thought I was the only one! But I realized last night as I warmed up food in a 250C oven for an hour rather than 2 minutes in the microwave, that I have no reason to rush! I can take my own sweet time.

  4. Lorraine Majcen

    I just love you and your blogs Bob. I trust Jean won’t mind me saying that. You are putting into words and helping normalize, what I have, and maybe many are, feeling. As I read, I keep saying so true, so true and keep chuckling.! What is the saying, keep calm and carry on. Easy to say, hard to do. Thanks Bob!

  5. I agree; you said it better than most. The feeling of not being able to concentrate, or finish one chore before you start another is a new experience. Oh well, it will pass.

  6. One of my favourite lines I have read throughout this time is “Wars And natural disasters have upturned millions of people throughout history. But not since humans first walked the earth have billions of lives and routines been suddenly suspended.” Quite a statement. It’s no wonder everything (not just time) seems out of whack.

  7. Elizabeth Seto

    I thought it was just me ! Thank you for the reassurance that we are all experiencing our own particular disorientation. Your blog is keeping me sane, Bob

  8. I envy you your sleep Bob. I slept little before and even less now: not enough to do to work off my energy?
    The days do loom endlessly. Here in the heart of the city, I try to coordinate my long walks to destinations: as I put on my mask (my clever daughter who makes everything from snack bars to baby clothes is making masks from colorful fabric leftovers) I am thinking about which back alley route to take to the butchers, the post office (daughter #2 isolated and pregnant in the middle of BC: when will I get to meet my grandson?), the fruit and veg store. I am thinking about how I cross the street to avoid runners, pedestrians. I am thinking about how I have all the time in the world to accomplish a few meager tasks, prepare all the foods I love to eat (now only for two instead of 4 or 6 or ten), to vacuum (who knew I could love that so much: exercise and cleaning!). When I am on delivery for my mask maker I am thinking about how if there are more than two cars ahead of me, I get annoyed. The local gas station (I haven’t filled up since self-isolation on March 14) for the first time in the 20 years I have lived near it, has no line-ups. I think about my friends and family and think about a Neil Young (rather plaintively sung) song: When will I see you again.

    1. I had to fact check that sentence in my head a couple of times. But it ‘feels’ true, doesn’t it. Thanks for connecting, Hatty.

    2. Yes, it will be pass, Jane, but before it does……oh well, I guess it’s all about being out of control. Cheers. Bob

    3. Thanks, Lorraine ! It’s very strange times for all of us, and by all, I mean the 8 million of us! thanks for connecting, Lorraine. Jean sends her best as well. Cheers. Bob

    4. That’s very funny, Valerie! And I now make tea in a kettle rather than a microwave. Reform is possible !

    5. Thanks. Steve. It was good to chat with you last week (it was last week, right?!)……strange times, indeed. Cheers. Bob

  9. Bob, I sincerely look forward your daily blog. I find your personal perspective on how one copes with life during these extraordinary times to be realistic, thought provoking, inspiring, and at times quite amusing; yet always so concisely expressed. So glad you are doing this; for it reminds one that their own thoughts and fears at a time like this actually do not have to be so singularly daunting; for we are all in exactly the same boat and the boat is definitely not sinking!

  10. Yeah morning …but just had to sleep some more today -yawn.ou nailed it with this one Bob. Thought you were writing about MY life. Read your podcast first thing but had to sleep some more today. I had a heavy night last night getting caught up on ‘Fleabag’.

    1. Julia — I woke up from my mid-afternoon map around 4 and now all I have to look forward to is…..I can’t believe I’m saying this…..Tiger King !

    2. Thanks so much, Julia. It is, indeed, disorienting times we live in. But as The Queen said: “We will meet again.”

  11. I laughed out loud – it was my life – especially since I started a recipe purging project on the weekend and it’s still covering every flat surface in the kitchen – which is quite big. Another thing that hit home is my self worth. I used to be the helper, the care giver but now I am deemed too old even though I’m sure my immune system is in better shape than my 40 something daughters. Another frustration is that despite deleting thousands of e-mails, Google still has the same message “You’re running low on storage space” . Will that ever change?


  12. Oh Bob – thanks for writing this – I feel so much better as you just described my current life in detail! Your blog has been so heartening! Virtual hugs to you and Jean. Best Dana

  13. Thanks, Bob, for continuing to share your thoughts on these strange times.

    It’s as if we have entered another dimension (cue Rod Serling and the music…). As a novelist, there is more time to write … but it seems that I’m transferring angst and uncertainty into my characters. They will all need professional help by the time this passes.

  14. Sharon Mah-Gin

    Thank you Bob for your “timely” insights! Time is the best gift of all. As a result, for my bday present to myself I bought the unlimited time version of zoom to have calls with family and friends without feeling rushed to the 40 min free version! Hope you and Jean continue to be healthy, safe and positive! This too shall pass….

    1. Sharon — You’ve reminded me to sign up for Zoom for the very reasons you mention.
      Thanks so much for checking in.

      All best,


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to my Free Weekly Omnium-Gatherum Blog:

  • Every Saturday the Omnium-Gatherum blog is delivered straight to your InBox
  • Full archive
  • Posting comments and joining the community
  • First to hear about other Ramsay events and activities

Get posts directly to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign Up for Updates!

Get news from Ramsay Inc. in your inbox.

Email Lists
Email Lists(Required)