THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

41   The relative importance of passing time

It was clear from the outset that the relationship between Henry Fuckit and Alfred Whitehead was going to be similar to the relationship between a grit of sand and an oyster. The constant nagging irritation would result in a many-layered product greatly adding to the value of the sand but being of doubtful benefit to the shellfish. Innumerable conversations were to take place in that office on the second floor, most of them centred on the subject of Time, and The Passage of Time.

Alf Whitehead:
You do understand the theory of Relativity, don't you?
Henry:
Of course. Both. My grandfather was doorman at the Savoy in London back in nineteen-voetsak and he opened a door for Albert Einstein. It was a momentous moment, not for my grandfather, who didn't know a slide rule from an anal thermometer, but for Herr Egghead. Just imagine the implications if my grandfather had not opened that door.
AW:
Somebody else would have opened it. Or he would have opened it himself.
Henry:
Precisely. You come up with two possibilities without even thinking about it. If we accept the possibility of my grandfather not opening the door as he was required to then the ENTIRE HISTORY OF SCIENCE could have been altered. No. THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE WORLD FROM THAT MOMENT.
AW:
Oh for goodness sake! You're trying to tie my testicles in a knot. You know perfectly well that once the moving finger has written etcetera, etcetera. I wish you wouldn't introduce any of your degenerate relations into serious conversation.
Henry:
Yah, but haven't you heard about South Africa's secret space project? At this very moment a spaceship…
AW:
PLEASE!! (Shouts in a frantic whisper, face contorted in alarm. Puts finger to lips and goes to window. Leans out then quickly pulls back.) Just as I thought, you bloody fool. You know their rules about discussing secret projects. They're always trying to catch terrorists and communists, and spies and rooinek traitors. Hand me that hook. (Henry hands him the six-foot window opener standing in corner of room. Leans out and pulls. A scream is heard simultaneously with a clattering and bumping sound.) That'll teach them. Bloody Ape disguised as a Monkey window cleaner. Now where were we? Alright, but keep your voice down.
Henry:
They've launched a spaceship with one person on board: twenty year old Shadrach. His twin brother Meshach they've got in a cage at Apollofontein. The craft will progressively accelerate until it reaches a velocity of 372 000 miles per second. That's really fucking fast. Initially they aimed at Alpha Crucis, the brightest star in Crux Australis, but then chickened out and are now headed for the middle of the Coalsack Nebula for fear of hitting something. The spaceship will travel for half a year and then do a U-turn and come back to earth. Obviously when it gets back after a year Meshach will celebrate his twenty-first birthday with a double helping of putu and five gallons of skokiaan. But Shadrach, South Africa's first astronaut and the world's first time traveller, will find that he's only eleven years old. He will have shrunk in stature, his big manly voice will have turned again to childish treble and his foreskin will have regenerated to its undiminished proportion and elasticity. Our top scientists recently gained access to a special version of the Special Theory of Relativity and have come up with their own conclusion. They talk about contracting time. If this experiment is successful the world will sit up and realise that we're not just a bunch of fascist shitheads with brains the size of peas.
AW:
I see. Mmm. Yes, it makes sense. The implications boggle the credulity. Our leaders could remain young forever. Just a little sabbatical, a time trip, and the years would fall away.
Henry:
For the select few it would mean immortality. Only one problem though.
AW:
What's that?
Henry:
The K factor. Heard the one about the Englishman, the German, the Japanese and the Kaffir? They're each given three iron balls and told to do something with them. I forget how it goes exactly… Anyway the other three do something or other each… I think the Englishman balances one on top of the other and the Jap copies him and the German… Anyway. But the Kaffir - this is where we get the K factor - the Kaffir loses one and breaks the other two.
AW:
Yes I've heard it several times, in different versions in both official languages and yours is far and away the poorest rendition. I don't see any profit in trivializing a serious discussion with badly told jokes of dubious wit.
Henry:
Do you think humour and science are incompatible? I suppose you must, from the disapproving way you tighten your lips in imitation of a cat's anus. The point is the South African astronaut is BLACK and brilliantly imaginative and with a sense of humour light years beyond the grasp of the bush professors on the ground at Appollofontein. ANYTHING MIGHT HAPPEN.
AW:
This might or might not be true. You know that I suspect you of being a bloody liar. A bloody wisecrack. Be that as it may. I can elevate myself above the slings and arrows of swinish pricks. My thoughts dwell in the realms of metaphysics and pure science. Let us resume the discussion having, in a spirit of magnanimity, wiped your filthy slate clean on the strict understanding that you refrain from all further attempts at levity or frivolity. I am your senior in years, position, wisdom and decency. Kindly refer to me as Mr Whitehead and not Alf, Alfred or Fred. Are we in agreement?
Henry:
Yah sure. Anything to make you feel good. Mr Whitehead. Sir. Just call me Fuckit.
AW:
Very well then. That seems to have cleared the air a bit. Now let us discuss The Measurement of Time, a subject of central importance to each and every member of civilian staff working in this Dockyard. Damn the imposition! (Annoyance at the phone ringing on his desk.) You answer it. If it's anything to do with work tell them I'm in the midst of a total re-inventorization of screws, brass, self-tapping, and can't possibly be disturbed.
(Henry picks up phone. Speaks slowly and clearly.)
Henry:
Central Store. Assistant Stores officer Henry Fuckit at your service. Good day. Sentrale Stoor. Assistent Stoor beampte Hendrik Fokdit op jou diens. Goeie dag… Oh, hello… Yes Madam. He's just been in conference with the Admiral but I can see if he's available… Yes… okay… I've got it. I'll make sure he gets the message immediately. Thank you. Goodbye. (Replaces phone).
AW:
My wife?
Henry:
Yes. She says don't forget to make the copies of her knitting patterns and also have you phoned your sister in Canada to find out whether they received the photographs.
AW:
Damn it! I'd clean forgotten the copies.
Henry:
She also said you have a head like a sieve. Mr Whitehead. Sir.
AW:
Ahem. Yes, well that's… No damn business to… as we were saying. Thank you for the message. As we were saying, The Measurement of Time goes back to time immemorial. Our first thinking ancestors became aware that the sun comes up and the sun goes down, the sun comes up and the sun goes down, the sun comes up and the sun goes down. Yes, and it was the movement of the sun, or shall we say the APPARENT movement of the sun, for as you might know the sun does not move about the earth but the earth rotates on its axis and gives the false impression of the sun being in motion about us, east to west, when in fact it is we who are moving west to east. The appearance of the sun moving across the sky having made man aware of the passage of time. The first clock was the sun in the sky and days were regulated accordingly. Now we are at present talking in terms of SOLAR time which I will define in precise and cogent phraseology as time measured by the Earth's daily rotation relative to the Sun resulting in Apparent Solar time which is the time indicated by a sundial marking the position of the Sun relative to the meridian upon which the sundial is located. So far so good and all reasonable and within the grasp of the meanest intelligence. Now the motion of the Sun relative to the stars is not uniform; neither is the orbit of the Earth truly circular but indeed elliptical, both of which factors having resulted in variations in Apparent Solar Time during the course of one year. To remove these damnably irritating little discrepancies we have devised Mean Solar Time which I will now endeavour to explain but require you to sharpen your concentration and to hang upon each and every word in order not to render the time and effort I am expending in elucidation totally null and void. (Henry slaps face and pinches ear lobes.) These variations are corrected by turning our gaze from the Sun to the stars in order to obtain Sidereal Time, Sidereal Time being measured again in accordance with the rotation of the Earth but this time relative to the stars and not the Sun. Unfortunately matters are complicated by the fact that a Sidereal Day is four minutes shorter than a Mean Solar Day and a mathematical formula beyond your grasp must be applied via Sidereal Time to Apparent Solar Time in order to arrive at Mean Solar Time. Yes?
Henry:
Two questions. First, if there's a four-minute difference between the two systems what's to stop them going completely out of synch after a few years; and second…
AW:
Enough! If you wish to ask questions you may submit them in writing. Where there's a will there's a way. Now the Mean Solar Day is divided as follows: one Mean Solar Day equals twenty four Mean Solar Hours; one Mean Solar Hour equals sixty Mean Solar Minutes; one Mean Solar Minute equals sixty Mean Solar Seconds and, ipso facto, one Mean Solar Day comprises 86 400 Mean Solar Seconds. The Mean Solar Day is reckoned to begin at midnight and run through twenty four hours, or to comprise two twelve hour portions, one from midnight to noon and the other from noon to midnight. In the twenty-four-hour system the hours and minutes are given as a four-digit number. For example 0028 means twenty-eight minutes past midnight and 1240 means forty minutes past noon. But, and here we encounter a problem of disastrous proportions, 2400 of September 30 is the same as 0000 of September 31. Now in the twelve-hour system…
Henry:
Excuse me.
AW:
Damn it! I said no questions.
Henry:
This isn't a question, it's a point of order. Thirty days hath September.
AW:
What? For God's sake don't be so bloody pedantic. The twelve-hour system has twelve hours from midnight to noon designated ante meridian, and twelve hours from noon to midnight designated post meridian. However an even more serious ambiguity arises. 12 AM and 12 PM are mutually indistinguishable unless one adds the word 'noon' or 'midnight' to 12. I shall now proceed to discuss in some detail Greenwich Mean Time, Ephemeris Time, Co-ordinated Universal Time, and the Rolls Royce in time, Atomic Time. Now GMT or Greenwich…
Henry:
Please! For Christ's sake, this is INKRREDIBLY boring.
AW:
Boring? BORING? Understand me correctly: do I understand you correctly? Are you saying that you find the most important aspect of your life BORING? I can only put this down to subhuman intelligence. Also you are new here. You are immature, you have not learned. I pity you. You are defenceless. Arm yourself before it is too late. How are you to cope with the years of emptiness that lie ahead? You speak of boredom? Every day of every week of every month of every year will be a nightmare of choking black boredom. Addiction, insanity, suicide. That is what awaits the man not equipped to deal with time.
Henry:
Alright, alright. Tell me about Atomic Time.
AW:
Atomic Time? Very well then but heed my warning. I see danger in your path. There is something amoral and reckless about you. And you are coarse. Be that as it may, you have been warned. Atomic Time. Yes, now Atomic Time is pure and beautiful and the contemplation of its crisp precision never fails to uplift my spirits and help me place one foot in front of the other. Unlike Solar Time and Sidereal Time and Ephemeris Time, which are dynamical and involve the motion of bodies such as Earth, Sun, Moon, Stars and Satellites, Atomic Time is measured by cycles of electromagnetic radiation. There are some fifty-one Atomic Clocks scattered about the world and one of them right here in Simonstown Dockyard. They are all independent but regularly compare recordings and it is conservatively estimated that after a period of three thousand years between them there will be a combined difference in readings of less than one second. This is what makes life tolerable, knowing that every instant of our day is determined and there can be no doubt about the order of each individual succession, in the progress from seven thirty to four thirty, of thirty two thousand four hundred seconds. (Long pause in which they regard each other.)
Henry:
Boss?
AW:
Yes. And don't call me 'Boss'.
Henry:
Don't take offence but can I ask you a personal question?
AW:
Certainly not. I don't want any of your bloody insulting rubbish.
Henry:
It helps to pass some of those dreary seconds. Alright. How about showing me the Atomic Clock?
AW:
Not now. All in good time.

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