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Time does go slow

DOES time always march with an inexorable, steady beat? We have all experienced occasions when time appears, if not exactly to stand still, to be excruciatingly elongated: during sermons by particular preachers, or in General Synod.

Science might now support the phenomenon, we learned in Time, the first episode of a big-name documentary series presented engagingly by Dr Michio Kaku (BBC4, Sunday), a co-founder of String Field Theory in modern physics.

The passing of time is more than an industrial construct, a ploy by capitalist bosses to squeeze the last ounce out of a downtrodden proletariat by means of clocking-on, and time-and-motion stopwatches. Deep within our brains we all have a mechanism that fires cells in a pattern of beats which synchronises our bodies, a biological mechanism that we apparently share with every other terrestrial life-form.

But this steady rhythm can be altered: the production of adrenalin in moments of acute stress slows down our body time so that the perception of, say, a serious accident as happening in slow motion is in fact exactly what happens.

Speaking as a mere arts wallah, I thought Dr Kaku was concentrating on subjective rather than objective time, what we feel internally to be the passing of time rather than its actual passage: surely it's reasonable to expect that organisms would develop some mechanism to enable them to respond to the inexorable exterior temporal fluctuations - day and night, phases of the moon, the yearly progress of the earth round the sun. Perhaps all that will be addressed in future programmes, which, among other delights, promise to disclose why time proceeds in only one direction.

Time pretty much came to a standstill for me during the interminable Gideon's Daughter (BBC1, Sunday). This new drama is part of a celebration of the work of Stephen Poliakoff, and is intended as a riposte to the criticism that nowadays the BBC never commissions, well, new dramas.

On the showing of this and (in January) Friends and Crocodiles, they needn't bother. Both were self-indulgent: attempts to offer a dramatic critique of our recent history by weaving character and story around real events and political and social movements.

The characters had no internal reality: we were constantly told how important, successful, influential they were, but none of them said or did anything to make us believe these claims. On both occasions, a starry, wonderful cast, with no expense spared on location, design, and production, attempted to breathe life into wooden dialogue and incredible situation.

Our recent history was far more immediately summoned up by Searle's Progress (BBC4, Saturday), a celebration by his peers of the great cartoonist. Most telling was the way his famous St Trinian's drawings, the innovative presentation of schooldays as a time not of innocence, but of spite, torture, and crime, were a comic reworking of the terrible drawings that he smuggled out of his unspeakable sufferings at the hands of the Japanese as a prisoner of war.

It was a remarkable example of how art and humour can transform horror and degradation, a therapeutic coming-to-terms with the worst that humans can experience.


 

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