Theories About Time part 1: the Slowing Time Down Theory

Over the last decade or so I’ve developed two theories about time. For a non-physicist – in fact, for a non-scientist – I think that’s pretty impressive.

The first one, formulated some time between 2000 and 2004, I will call the Slowing Time Down Theory. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

In 2004, I went to Greece for ten days for the Athens Olympics. Nearly everyone I told thought I was mad to go “all that way” and spend “all that money” on airfares, not to mention “all that time” in flight, for just ten days on the ground.

The conventional wisdom in Australia is that if you travel to Europe you need to go at least for several months, which is surely as much a legacy of our days as an English colony as our long service leave entitlements are.

While I didn’t feel the need to justify my actions to anyone, I did take the time to explain two things to each person who seemed outraged or shocked by my decision.

Firstly, my sister-in-law had given me some great advice when I was deciding whether to go to Mexico in 2000 for eight days and that was: “Len, they can’t all be long trips.” In other words, if you wait till you have the money and time to take a three month holiday every time you want to travel longer than 10 hours away from Australia you’ll be waiting a very long time. In fact, the stars may never align. So better to take short trips when you can than potentially miss out on going at all.

Secondly, according to my Slowing Time Down Theory, the ten day trip would actually seem like a lot longer. In fact, it would feel more like a month. So the trip would definitely warrant the expense and the time spent flying.

This is what I had experienced in Mexico in 2000. I was gone for just eight days but it felt more like a few weeks. Then in 2001 I was in Greece for a month but it felt more like two to three months.

Why is it so? Well, it’s really quite straightforward.

Adult life is generally very highly scheduled. We are constantly moving through life according to a relatively strict routine. The alarm goes off at a regular time, you catch public transport (or drive) to work at a regular time, you start work at a regular time, have your lunch break at a regular time, finish work at a regular time. During the day, especially if you work in an office and super especially if you work in Government, you have regular meetings at regular times. You catch public transport (or drive) home, eat dinner, watch the news and/or your favourite TV shows and then finally go to bed all at – you guessed it – regular times. Do you go to the gym or piano or book club or any other activities? Chances are you do it at a regular time.

Weekends are a little bit more relaxed, but even then there’s usually a routine, especially if you have kids.

We are constantly aware of time. Where we need to be at a certain time, how long we need to be there, and what we’re doing next.

The Slowing Time Down Theory holds that the moment you break your regular routine and stop accounting for every minute of your day, time seems to slow down.

This is why when you’re on vacation, days stretch out and you seem to fit so much more into a single day. You might have things booked but they’re not at the same time every day. So it’s not that you don’t have things planned or have a schedule of sorts, it’s that it’s not a routine.

It even works if you just take time out and go away for a weekend. Weekends away always seem longer than normal weekends because you don’t follow the usual routine.

It also explains why time seems to last longer when you’re a child.

Even though your life might be routine, when you’re a kid you’re not the one doing the scheduling. It’s not you that’s hyper-aware of the time.

Others – your parents, your teacher, whoever is responsible for ringing the bell at school – are aware of it for you and propel you from one event to another. They tell you it’s time to get up, it’s time to eat breakfast, it’s time to go to school, have lunch, do your homework…and on it goes. You just float from one event to the other. And then on the holidays, when all regular activity is on hold, time seems to stretch out even longer.

As you get older and become more responsible for yourself, time suddenly starts speeding up. Next thing you know you’re saying things like, “Wow, where did the year go?” and “time flies!” and “the weekend went by too quickly!” You never hear kids saying stuff like that.

So there, my friends, you have it. The secret to slowing time down. Switch off your routine. Take off your watch. And just live.

Trust me, it works. Every time.

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Which Way to Confusion Corner?

Have you ever been waiting for someone on the street and seen someone standing near you looking slightly confused? You know what I’m talking about. They look a little lost. Like they’re having an internal conversation with themselves, trying to figure out their next move but unsure which direction to move in.

Those are the people I have a weakness for. When I see people like that I have an overwhelming desire to walk up and ask if I can help them. The thing is, I’m trying to learn to control this urge because I have an unfortunate history of … well, getting it wrong.

It started a few years ago when I was waiting for my friend Turtle (long story) on the corner of Bourke and Spring Streets. Turtle and I used to meet every Monday for a coffee and at the time, we’d meet at Bourke and Spring and then walk down Spring Street one block to Café Excello. As I stood there and waited I noticed a little old lady near me, looking a bit lost. I asked if I could help and I can’t remember now where she said she wanted to go but I remember telling her she needed to catch the 112 tram, which for the non-Melbournians in the audience, you catch from Collins Street.

Now… that part of it was correct. The part I stuffed up was when I told her to catch the tram from the tram stop “just there” (ie on Bourke Street), because (and I know it sounds unlikely but it’s true) I thought I was on Collins Street at the time.

It was only once Turtle and I had got to the café and I was proudly telling him what a great citizen I was, that I realised my mistake. As if on cue, just as I was thinking about how annoyed the poor woman must’ve been when she realised I’d given her the wrong directions, she walked past the cafe, heading towards Collins Street to catch the 112 from the correct tram stop. And yes, she looked very annoyed.

Thereafter Turtle referred to our meeting spot at Bourke and Spring as “Confusion Corner”.

The second instance of my inadvertent unhelpfulness occurred about a year after the Confusion Corner incident. I was on a tram heading east along Bourke Street when, just before the Bourke Street Mall, the tram pulled up quite suddenly. After a minute or two the tram doors opened, despite not being at a designated stop. I poked my head out to take a look and saw that my tram was behind several others that were banked up.

There was only myself, a young man, and a family of five from India who were clearly tourists, on the tram. After another minute or so, the young man got off the tram and the Indian family looked a little hesitant. A little lost. Thinking that something had occurred on the line further down and that the tram would be terminating, I told the Indian family to hop off the tram as it would be travelling no further. They looked a bit unsure but I assured them that I worked in public transport, which I did at the time, and that was enough for them. They all stepped off the tram.

On the other hand, I wanted to investigate the matter so I headed to the front of the tram. I was just about to knock on the driver’s cabin door when the tram’s engine kicked into gear, the doors closed and we started moving. I looked onto the street where the Indian family that I had persuaded off the tram were all pointing and looking up at me with looks of utter confusion and utter disdain. I felt terrible because I really had meant to be helpful.

So after that I tried very hard not to give anyone directions or be helpful in any way. Best to just leave people to their initial confusion rather than confuse them more, I reasoned.

I was doing fine but then recently it happened again. It was on my road trip with my friend Joi. We’d stopped in Lakes Entrance for the night and had gone out to a really lovely dinner at Miriam’s. We were walking back along the Esplanade to our motel when a man coming towards us asked us if the KFC was “that way” (ie behind us).

Now, in my defence, I’d had a little bit to drink and I was really tired. “Yep! Right down there!” I said to him cheerfully, glad to be of service. Which is why it was such a shame that we walked another 20 metres or so and came upon the KFC… in exactly the opposite direction to the one in which I’d pointed.

Which is why if you’re ever feeling a little lost and you see me on the street, and I have a really helpful look on my face, it’s best you turn around and start walking away from me. Very very quickly.

My Top Ten Road Trip Tips (or, How to Road Trip with Your Friends Without Killing Each Other)

I recently come back from a five day trip away with my friend Joi. In the past we’ve gone to Mexico together, to Great Keppel Island, on a cruise along the Queensland coast (with two other friends), and even on a one day “Monopoly tour” of London.

This time we ventured on the road, driving from Melbourne to the South Coast of New South Wales, also known as the Sapphire Coast. Being in a confined space for an extended period of time with people you know, or even complete strangers for that matter, could be a recipe for disaster, so we were pretty pleased that our first road trip, which covered over 1,400 kilometres, was such a success.

road map marking Melbourne to Merimbula

On that basis, in case you and your friend(s) have decided to hit the road together, here are my top ten road tripping tips to keep you from killing each other.

Establish the ground rules before you set out; this will help avoid arguments and misunderstandings later on:

1. You may have a detailed itinerary or you may, like us, set off with a general direction in mind but without a specific plan. Either way, it’s critical that you agree on your approach to the road trip before you head off. This includes agreeing on the accommodation budget as well as whether you’re going to take the ‘roads less travelled’ or stick to the beaten track. Make sure everyone’s comfortable before you proceed and don’t assume anything. (You know what happens when you assume!)

2. Be open and honest with each other about your needs, without making it all about you. You can’t read each other’s minds so it’s best to speak up about your own needs while understanding and respecting your friend’s needs too. It’s about compromise.

Joi and I agreed that we would speak up if we were feeling too hot or cold in the car, if we were driving and were too tired, if we needed to stop to stretch our legs or go to the toilet or eat something or even if we needed to nap. We had a “driver gets to choose the music” rule but also a “music veto” sub-clause that meant if the driver chose music that the other person just couldn’t stand, the other person could veto it.

view of Victorian State Forest through windscreen with feet on dashboard

On the road:

3. Share the driving – or be prepared for lots of breaks. No one likes driving for hours on end without a break, not to mention it can be quite dangerous. So either take a break while your friend drives or take multiple breaks to stretch your legs and/or get some rest if you’re the lone driver.

4. Bring up-to-date paper maps with you; don’t just rely on your smartphone or sat-nav. If technology (or mobile reception) fails you, you can always rely on the good ol’ fold out touring map. We found that we used our hard copy maps 95 per cent of the time.

5. This may seem obvious but… always keep an eye on how much petrol you have left, keeping in mind how long your next block of driving is. You can fill up as you go or wait till you’re under a quarter tank full and then fill up; whatever your strategy you absolutely do not want to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere.

6. Bring your own snacks so you don’t need to buy something every time you need to munch. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find something suitable to eat in every small town you stop at so have your own supply. I’d suggest a combination of healthy and not-so-healthy goodies (there are times when only chocolate will do).

7. Keep water in the car with you. The last thing you want is to get dehydrated as you’re driving and if you have it in the boot of the car with the rest of your supplies you’ll likely go several hours without drinking.

Sign at entry of Eden Killer Whale Museum

Off the road:

8. You’ve decided to stop somewhere for the night and you don’t have accommodation booked. There are a couple of options at this point to help you get the right accommodation and each has its pros and cons:

  • Head to the local Information Centre. The pro is that you get help from volunteer locals who do all the hard work for you (ie make calls to check for availability, etc). The con is that unless you ask questions or volunteer a bunch of information about your taste/needs/budget, the volunteers will make some assumptions and you may end up in some place you wouldn’t have picked for yourself.
  • Get out your smartphone and look for accommodation online. The pro here is that you feel empowered that you’re seeing all the options and can decide on something that suits you (based on the info and photos provided, of course). The con is that not every local place may be listed or discoverable online. Also, you have to do the ring-around yourself which can be a bit tiresome when you’re at the end of a long day’s drive.

Merimbula Aquarium and Wharf Restaurant

9. Know your budget. If you are intimately acquainted with your budget, or even if you just have a rough amount in mind of what to spend per day on food and accommodation, you will be able to make little adjustments along the way without blowing your budget. For example, choosing bargain accommodation for a night or two might mean you have the money to splurge on a classy dinner or more expensive accommodation later on.

Most important of all:

10. Give each other space when it’s needed. This is true for any trip away with friends but especially so if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in a confined space together. Maybe one of you wants to do something and the other doesn’t, perhaps one (or both) of you is feeling a little moody… whatever the reason, if you sense a bit of tension in the air, give each other some space till the tension clears. You don’t have to be in each other’s pocket all the time.

Happy road tripping!

water crashing on rocks at Tathra

Have you been on a road trip? Was it a success or an epic failure? Feel free to share your story and your own road trip tips.

It’s a Dog’s Life

If you’ve been to Syntagma Square in Athens then you’ll probably be familiar with the stray dogs of Athens that congregate there. By my count there are about half a dozen large-ish dogs of mixed breed that seem to have the run of this major central square in Athens.

Syntagma Square, for those not familiar, sits in front of the Greek Parliament building, which also has on its grounds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the other end of the square the very long Ermou Street, the premier shopping street of Athens, kicks off, and the Plaka precinct brims with shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Syntagma Square is always bustling, popular both with tourists and locals, who arrive in their hundreds every minute from the Metro station that sits underneath it.

It seems kind of surprising then, that a pack of stray dogs would be able to survive in Syntagma Square, yet these dogs do more than survive: they thrive in it. They are an incongruous addition to an otherwise sophisticated environment, yet over the years they have become an integral part of the whole Syntagma Square precinct. God knows they have the run of the whole area; on my last trip I even saw one dog snoozing near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, unperturbed by the tourists – and soldiers! – who gathered nearby.

20130214-151957.jpgWhen I first saw the stray dogs of Athens I wondered how they managed to survive through the hot summers and cold winters. On this trip I spotted a young woman who had come into the city one night with the specific objective of feeding the dogs. She seemed to be checking them for any signs of ill health, as well, which made me guess she was a vet or student vet.

20130214-152106.jpgA lot of the dogs wear collars and tags and there are shops whose staff feed various dogs. There is obviously a support network of animal lovers that looks after these dogs. Even in times of economic crisis when everyone and every business is tightening their belt, the stray dogs of Athens remain at the heart of a community that finds a way to take care of them. They are quite literally the underdogs that everyone wants to see succeed in life.

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Mi voy a Marbella… y Granada, Sevilla y Cordoba

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I find myself in Spain so I hope you don’t mind too much if I temporarily morph my fledgling blog into a travel diary. I’m in Marbella, on the south coast of Spain (the famous Costa del Sol), at the … Continue reading