Last night I dreamed… no, it wasn’t Manderley again. I dreamed that I was on the phone to a call centre somewhere, on hold—for about five hours, I think, though you never quite know with dreams. At the end of it I woke up feeling calm and benign.
My unconscious, if not the waking part of my mind, must enjoy wasting hours connected to hyperspace, listening to bland music. That makes some sort of sense. My relationship with time is becoming ever more perverse. I don’t think I’m alone. Have you noticed how the older you get, and the less time you have, the more you relish activities that take up gallons of it?
One’s interest in cooking tracks this phenomenon. Most of us take little or no interest in cooking as children or teenagers. Food is something to be sliced, slathered and gobbled. As young adults, the same applies: in a university hall of residence a “foodie” is someone who uses tinned tomatoes rather than Dolmio to make sauce for pasta. Did you know that you can cook fishfingers in a toaster? Well, you can.
But then it sneaks up on you. You start to wonder what would happen if you made a pan hot and put a steak in it. You master salad dressing. You poach eggs. You spend three quarters of an hour in the kitchen. But it’s only later that you get into the really time-consuming stuff: stews and braises; lamb you can shred with a fork; stringy cuts of meat made unctuous by slow cooking. I was in my thirties before making stock started to appeal, and in my mid-thirties before spending all day making a loaf of sourdough seemed like a nice thing to do rather than a chore. By the time I’m 50 I’ll probably be making demi-glace.
Cooking is just one part of it. How many teenagers do you know who get a bang out of gardening? I still haven’t got there. The idea of a leisure activity whose rewards are timed in months and years rather than days still seems incomprehensible—sprouting mung beans is still about my horticultural tempo—yet I know it will come. You see it coming to those around you. Likewise painstaking hobbies: oil painting, the curation of collections of stamps, taxidermy.
This is, surely, paradoxical. Children have scads of time. Time gapes and yawns before them. An afternoon,…