Time’s up for my alarm clock!

My alarm clock has marked the passage of time for me but its time is finally up. Alarm bells have been ringing and alerting me of its imminent demise with limp hands, no glow and yes – a dead alarm feature. Farewell, my ex-trusty alarm clock. May you snooze in peace…

Let me introduce you to my alarm clock. I bought it at the start of my university studies and it has faithfully provided me with the time every day ever since. It has woken me from timeless slumber and ticked on through my waking hours.

An amazing 26 years later it’s sadly time for me to let it go.

Alarm clock - been with me through thick and thin but times up!
Time’s up for my alarm clock 🙁

Yeah, it’s a clock, and arguably there’s not much that’s special about it. It’s certainly not in the class of time pieces in this post but it has been special to me, and has reliably marked the passage of much time during which much has happened.

Everything was fine when I bought it, which is quite some time ago. And in this instance, “quite” means 26 years. Why so long? Yes, I hoard, but at the same time, why throw something away when it works perfectly?

Ah. In this case, “perfectly” means “not quite right”, though the hoarding part of me wants to clarify by saying, “not completely broken” either.

Let’s start at the beginning.

No cap on power

Although my clock is analogue it runs with a battery. A battery powered clock – and a ticker.

I wrote an article a few years ago about the horrors of analogue clocks and the terrible monotony of the tick-tock. Grandfather clocks are the worst with their sonorous din. Aaarrghh! They don’t even tock! Some sort of deep throated lazy C-U-L-L-O-C-K. Then that incessant striking every 15 minutes, worse each half hour – then on the hour it bangs out a chime for each hour we’ve endured its annoying operation.

The misnomer of digital clocks (clocks with no hands – or fingers) are beautifully silent. But my battery powered clock wasn’t silent; it ticked. Not uncomfortably so, but the tick was there, and if it was self aware it would have felt some shame of the noise it made, like a cheap electrical appliance would do when it makes that irritating high pitched whine.

And I think this is why it openly displays its energy source as a reminder that it is in fact battery powered, and is doing its best to be silent.

Alarm clock - missing battery cover

It’s nothing to do with me using it during my studies in Plymouth where it was on a shelf on the opposite side of the room to my bed, forcing me to get up and out of bed to put it on snooze when the alarm clock sounded) and falling off the shelf when I…got out of bed to put it on snooze, and the battery cover came off and somehow was never found again.

Too hot to handle

With age comes signs of wear. (Please recall that although this is a personal blog I’m talking here about my clock!)

Alarm clock - snooze button and melt mark
How many times has the snooze button been smashed in its life time? Note the melt mark in the top left and the fading luminous paint by the numbers on the clock face.

You might notice that there’s a part which has been melted away in the top left. Not in an El Salvador Dhali kind of way, but in an ironing kind of way – the kind of way that the neighbours of my in-laws came over to make and fit some curtains for us and somehow ended up ironing my alarm clock instead of the curtain. Was she removing a wrinkle in time? Making a stitch in time?

Who knows what goes on in the minds and on the faces of those who have traversed many years of time.

Alarm!

A missing battery cover didn’t stop the clock’s operation, as a further 23 years will testify.

Its operational demise started with the alarm – which ironically should have been an alarm signal for me, but wasn’t. This is the old fashioned alarm which is set with only an alarm hand which equates (in theory) to the hour hand. The idea is that when the hour hand crosses over the alarm hand, the alarm rings.

And I press snooze.

I don’t know for how long I snooze, but it’s never long enough, so after an amount of time that someone who was fully awake would be able to tell you, when the alarm clangs its ringers again, my arm crashes again to the black button on the top. Snooze.

Snoooooooze.

And I must admit that the process is repeated a number of times. A number which someone who was fully awake might be able to count and tell you.

The point is that the alarm clock isn’t a person, and doesn’t count out that number. And as time marches on and the hour hand slowly moves away from the alarm hand, the snooze feature isn’t reactivated. And correspondingly, my sleep isn’t de-activated and I remain in permanent snooze.

Permanent, that is, until someone who’s awake comes crashing into my room, or pounds on the door and startles me into the land of conciousness.

Snoozing. There’s no such thing really permitted. But I can’t even give it the chance now that the alarm no longer works.

A loose sense of time

So the alarm clock became just a clock – one which projected the circular motion of the hands onto a square clock face. A square peg into a round hole. But now it’s fumbling.

The hour hand has come loose of the central spindle so it hangs limply at or around the 6. Sometimes, like a spider in the bathtub trying to climb up the side, the hand will gain some energy and get itself to the 7 or even the 8. Perpendicularity to gravitational forces at the 9 are always too much; the hour hand drops back down.

You’d think that setting the alarm for six o’clock would mean either a continuous alarm, or a snooze of anywhere between 0 – 15 minutes. But who wants to get up at 6 in the morning?

The lights are on but no-one’s home

So to be clear, the internal time-telling mechanism works fine; it’s just the hands which struggle to keep a grip. So whilst the hands don’t run, the clock turns the expression on its head.

Shining for all to see

Time works in the dark, but where this clock has no back light, it has a glow in the dark capability – except the luminous paint is wearing off…or something. The glow has faded, like a red hot poker which has been out of the fires of time for too long.

The time has come

So finally the time has come. A clock which doesn’t work is right only twice a day, and I need it to be right more often than that. Or at least, for the number of times that I look at it, and by extension (or more accurately, interpolation) for all those times in between.

And when I look at my clock, I have memories of the times it has shared with me – but I don’t have any sense of time.

It cannot serve the purpose of its existence. It’s time has come. Goodbye dear clock, you have served me well.

May you snooze forever in peace…

Paul

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An alarming sense of time

Do we have a subconscious perception of time? Something deeper than our inbuilt body clock and connects us intricately with other souls or times?

Most of us have probably heard of our body clock – the internal clock that roughly speaking helps us to know when-abouts in the day we are. It might get scuppered a bit with long distance travelling in the ‘wrong’ direction (jet lag), but generally speaking it does pretty well (maybe with the exception of some self inflated middle managers who can’t seem to hold meetings to time!)

Birds and other creatures of nature seemingly set their body clocks to natural phenomenon like sunlight; studies have shown that they go doolally during total solar eclipses when it gets locally dark at a time not in sync with their body clock. Some marine life uses moonlight, and in some cases, even moon phase.

Perhaps us humans are not so different from animals – every now and then our body clocks need calibration – why else do we check our clocks and watches to make sure that we’re on track?

I think this is shown most clearly in the act of waking up – our bodies often wish to continue to sleep, despite years of training, when external time would suggest that it is time to rise and shine.

OK, it’s a fair point that there maybe biological requirements for sleep and energy recuperation.

But does it go deeper than that? Do we have a more subconscious perception of time? Something which goes deeper than our inbuilt insular body clock and connects us intricately with other souls or times as some say dreams do?

Alarm clock
What does the alarm clock know that we don’t?

Why do we wake up just before the alarm clock rings? Are we subconsciously aware that the the time is nigh? Or that the ringing of the clock is timed with an event in our dreams?

Some say that dreams allow our minds to wander through time…to stir up memories or to presuppose the future.

Or are dreams, as spiritualists might dare to believe, Plato’s realisation that they are a memory of the future?

Either way, alarm clocks pull us out of them, and we either fight to resist it or succumb to their calling us back to the fixed temporal time line. To recalibrate our sense of time, or at least to the frost of social agreement, if not convention.

I’m not convinced that we really need alarm clocks anyway. I found a brilliant article written by “Big Guy” at bigguymoney.com who indirectly holds the same view – alarm clocks wake us up in the wrong part of our sleep cycle, so we wake up disorientated and groggy. We’re better off without them (aside from social requirements such as work!).

The timing of our natural sleep cycle is at odds with external time; arguably the alarm clocks offers calibration. But it’s not always wanted!

In that article there is also a video clip about the snooze feature – which generally I love (it gives me more time in bed) but my wife hates (it wakes her up several times and yet at the same time doesn’t provide enough time to return back to a deep sleep.).

She has a point – indeed, the video suggests that if you just get up when the alarm clock goes off you’re more refreshed and awake than getting up after using the snooze feature, or simply sleeping for an extended but uninterrupted period.

An experiment to sleep through

There may be truth in that and being a scientist I had to test it! I repeatedly hit the snooze button…so many times that without realising it the hour hand eventually moved over and past the alarm hand and no longer triggered the alarm.

Yes, I overslept.

The following morning I switched off the snooze feature and aimed to get out of bed as soon as I woke. But I was too tired to get up, I fell back asleep, and with no snooze to reawake me…

I overslept.

Conclusion: I’m screwed either way!

A crazy notion anyway…

The idea of alarm clocks is crazy – that we desire an interruption to our normal biological requirement of sleeping.

But they only work in the morning. Obviously you can’t wake up in the evening before you’ve slept (time travel aside…!) but I’m talking here of the attitude; the expectation of a right to sleep in the evening isn’t carried through to the morning where we take efforts to bring ourselves out of sleep with an alarm clock

We’re much more likely to hear our neighbour banging on the wall late at night calling “Don’t you know what time it is? I’m trying to go to sleep!” than having him at the front door at 11:00 in the morning complaining of noise and demanding his right to a lie-in.

Perhaps teenagers are the most sensitive to this conundrum – they don’t want to go to sleep at night and don’t want to get up in the morning. Are they out of kilter with society, temporally displaced by a few hours, or more in tune with their inner sense of time?

A natural call

cockerel or rooster
What we did before alarm clocks: A natural start courtesy of a cockerel or rooster

Before alarms clocks we woke with the sound of a rooster, who, I guess, woke with the rising of the sun. It seems to be more harmonious, more natural to our own internal rhythm.

Yes, using alarm clocks seems to be altogether cuckoo!

Further experimental trials

A far cry from the call of nature is a call from the differential of space (i.e. motion!).

Apps exist which monitor how your body moves whilst it’s asleep, and from that determines which part of the sleep you’re in and when the best moment to wake up is. So a use of spatial motion to call us to time.

My experiment on that didn’t work either – my wife’s movements ‘contaminated’ the measurements. Although a former (single) colleague told me he had tried the app..

He told me he had tried it…when he got into work late as he’d overslept.

First things last…

My last trial (which really as a baseline should have been my first) was to wake up completely naturally with no alarm clock…except my oldest daughter (coming on 5) ironically woke up earlier on a Saturday morning than on a school day, ran into my bedroom and jumped on my belly. (Which woke me up!)

Conclusions

The seemingly overall conclusion is that the mind is [sometimes] willing but the flesh is weak. That is to say, tired.

Exception to the rule: Unless you’re a child (i.e. younger than our late-nighter / lying-in teenagers)

And what can we learn from this? That indeed an hour before midnight is worth 2 in the morning? An improbable route for time dilation, (just as “a stitch in time can save nine” – though seemingly a lot more efficient!). I don’t think so.

So much for the morning calibration of our sense of time. It doesn’t always work, and indeed we often wake up with not only temporal disorientation (“morning already?”, “what happened last night?”) but also spatial (“where am I?”, or “who are you?”).

So we turn to validation.

(Calibration is setting ourselves to be the same as everyone else; validation is making sure it’s been done correctly.)

How does coffee sound? Or an energy drink (or some other caffeine based product), children, or pure requirement?

Or simple resignation – usually reserved for Monday mornings…if you know when that is!

Paul

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