Time is like water. It slips through your fingers. Sometimes it makes great pools of stillness when it hardly seems to move at all: endless childhood summers, langourous days in the garden. Sometimes it gathers into stagnant ponds, dank and slightly smelly: those hours hanging around on chilly railways stations or dismal afternoons looking out of the rainstreaked window at grey nothingness. Sometimes it charges and spills like a waterfall: the rollicking day at the fair, the morning spent learning to sail or hiking a high peak, shouting into the wind.
It changes with company: the doldrums of an afternoon with the tedious, querulous, elderly aunt; the fast flowing river of a night with a lover.
It changes with the time of your life. I remember when the words "Maybe next year" were as meaningless as the idea that I might one day walk on the moon. Now years sprint past like the channel crossing from a hovercraft, a blur of grey and white.
Sometimes you can pack things in so your day overflows like a fountain. Other times everything slows. It takes forever to do anything. You are stuck, a canalboat with nowhere to go and nothing to do but watch the lock slowly fill.
I remember when I had babies how hard I found it to cope with how little I could do. At eleven o' clock I was still in my dressing gown, the dishes still unwashed, the baby still relentlessly feeding. When we got ready to go out I would forget that it would take me nearly an hour to prepare the baby, the toddler and myself and find that after only a few minutes I would need to come back again, friends unvisited, the park deserted. What had happened to my ability to achieve in half an hour what took most people twice that, to the quickness, the speed of response which had characterised my childhood and university days? All lost in a sea of milk. I never really learnt to go with the flow, which I suspect is the secret of happily mothering small children. I remember how much happier I was when I knew I could make a timetable again and the day had a shape and a structure.
Time at work was a different, more desperate matter. There was never enough of it. It poured through my days like water into a bucket with no bottom. No matter how hard I worked, how much I did, how busily I tried to organise and prioritise, life with a demanding job and children was always rushing past me at full flood, with the major achievement being just to keep my head above the swirling water. When I had an occasional day off I would think I could achieve masses at home and was always astonished at how little I actually crossed of my accusing list.
Time up here on my hill has slowed into a calmer backwater. Here there is time to wander the garden just for the sake of it, time to water cuttings and make jams and jellies, marmalade and bread. I have loved the breathing time of the last year or so and now it is changing again. Time with my father in law is astonishingly like time with small children, astonishing because he is an intelligent and competent adult and most of the things that need to be done to get him up and going for the day or not done by me but by Ian, yet still I find that by the time I have changed the beds and washed the dishes and checked the hens and been for his paper and made a cup of tea for him and sat with him for half an hour it is somehow a quarter to eleven which is practically lunch time and then there is lunch and he has a snooze and I do some Welsh and whoops, he hasn't done his exercises and there is supper to be made and still some work I need to do and the whole day has trickled away like water from a jar which you didn't know was cracked.
I am better at slowness this time around. Maybe it is a sharper awareness that he won't always be here that makes it easier to sit at the kitchen table, cup of tea in hand, talking about life on the brick wagon or in the bakery. I steal away to inspect snowdrops and spend half an hour on the computer choosing varieties of mint for the herb garden. He wants to walk faster than his competence with his sticks allows. "Just stop for a minute," I say. "Look out of the window, stroke the cat." He paces himself. So do I.
I will need some rapids and some waterfalls sometimes or I shall go nuts but I am better than I used to be at idling in the shallows, trailing my hand, looking for minnows.