About a quarter of a century ago, I had my blood pressure tested. I can’t remember why. There was nothing wrong with me, I think it was one of those ‘check-ups’ the body mechanics use in an attempt to find something that needs fixing.
The nurse expressed surprise at the normality of mine. I had been in the waiting room for two hours, and she had expected it to be higher. Considering where I worked at the time, those two hours of doing nothing had been bliss. I hadn’t had such a relaxing time in years.
Nearly half a century ago, if you had something for Christmas that needed batteries and they weren’t in the box, you were stuffed. Nothing was open, nothing at all, until the day after Boxing Day. Pubs were open on Christmas morning, I know this because my father always went, but you were not going to get your lunch in there. They closed up and threw everyone out in time for lunch.
Shops closed early on Christmas Eve, pubs opened for a few hours Christmas morning, and that was it until the whole shebang was over.
In fact, that was still the case when I was eighteen. I recall getting an impressive model kit for Christmas but no glue, and the shops were all silent.
Flipping back in time again (I’m a Doctor, we’re allowed to do that, it says so on TV) to the mid-sixties when our first TV appeared in the house. It wasn’t often turned on because there weren’t transmissions all day. We’d turn on before the kiddie programs (Watch with Mother, now only available on YouTube) started and we’d stare at the test card. When Bill and Ben, or the Woodentops, or whoever was on that day, finished their few minutes of babble, we turned it off.
The TV was in the kitchen because that was where electrical things lived and it could not be used if the washing machine occupied its mains socket. The only thing running electricity in the living room was the light bulb and the vast Scalextric my father had bought and which didn’t fit anywhere else. Four lanes of it. Mother was not best pleased.
I looked at that house again on Google Streetview. It looks exactly the same, right down to the concrete slab over the front door where Action Man met a terrible end with his parachute, because I’d forgotten about that and threw him a little too hard. He wasn’t fatally wounded, lost a couple of limbs but that just made him an ideal tank driver. My army did not discriminate against the disabled.
All these things, and more, far too many to go into here, taught me something important. It taught me how to wait.
It’s become a forgotten skill. Everyone wants everything right now. I’ve been in airport departure lounges where the flight was delayed by a few hours, shrugged and turned my attention back to either reading or writing a book. All around me were the tuttings and gasps of those whose lives must surely end if they are not at point X by time Y.
When I arrange travel that involves changes, I arrange it to account for possible delays. I never set up any kind of transfer that only gives me a few minutes between arrival and departure. Once, I admit, I did get it wrong and spent a whole night on Preston station in the cold. That was because of a shut-down of most of the East Coast line that sent me into an emergency workaround and I cut it a little bit too fine.
These days we are supposed to have 24/7 availability and time spent sitting on platforms is time wasted. We’ll see about that. I have a mass of photos from a 1978 all-UK rail trip that I plan to put together and sell as a photobook, as soon as I can scan them all. It was two weeks and we only left the rails for one night, so it’s a big box of photos. There are Deltics, 33s, 27s, engines nobody under 30 has ever seen. But I digress again.
That might indeed be the point here. I digress sometimes, drift off into other lines of thought. I don’t stick to the here and now. As a scientist, this has been an enormous advantage because I am not on tram lines. I don’t wear blinkers. I see the interesting thing off to the side and sometimes I follow it and sometimes it leads to a cure for something, using no nasty chemicals at all.
People, even in science, don’t do that any more. They follow a direct path to the end they want to achieve and no distractions are allowed. Funding depends on it. There was a time when they’d say ‘You have this much money’ and just let us loose and we’d invent things and discover things but it’s not like that any more. Now it’s a case of ‘We want you to prove this and if you don’t there’ll be no more money’.
24/7. Results defined by the funders. Instant gratification. Everything is now. Time is all that matters. Delays cannot be accepted. Time spent not earning money is time wasted. Nobody knows how to wait any more. It’s not just technology. It’s a kind of regression, an infantilisation. People act like little kids who have to have what they want right now, and then when they have it, realise they don’t want it at all.
Even Baloo the bear realised this.
Don’t spend your time just looking around for something you want that can’t be found
When you find out you can live without it and go along, not thinking about it.
Even if it can be found, do you need it? Do you need it right now? There is much to be gained by not taking credit cards out with you so you don’t come home, empty your bag and think ‘Why did I buy that?’ The safety net is no more. These days you can order it on the internet at 3 am and get all tetchy if it’s not at your house by 9 am.
I used to order electrical components from a company called Doram, the public face of RS Components. I’d write the order, write a cheque, put it in the post box and maybe a week later it would arrive. Now? Put in an Internet order and it’s two days at the most. No waiting any more because nobody knows how.
Someone asked me if I could produce a photo book for them, a few days ago. Sure, I can do that, when do you want it? Their desired date was yesterday. I said no. I can produce it in that time but to have it printed and delivered will take longer. So they went off in a huff. It wouldn’t take more than a day or two to make such a book if all the photos are already digital but printing and posting takes time.
It all has to be NOW and that is a very recent phenomenon. It’s as if the whole of humanity is regressing into the swamps, into little reptiles who cannot grasp the concept of tomorrow. It has to be now, there is no other time.
Some of us still know how to wait. I have a feeling that it will prove to be a massive advantage.