How to pass the time.

It’s a cold June night. The power has been out since 4.30pm. I’ve cooked fried eggs in chilli on the wood stove and lit my last two candles.

For a while, I blow out the candles, sit on the sofa in the dark and watch the firelight flicker on the wood panelled ceiling. Then I just sit, in the dark.

The cuckoo clock stirs into life and I count the calls, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Seven. It’s only seven o’clock. What happens now?

I’ve become so accustomed to distracting myself with my phone. It’s a de facto man-sitter on lonely nights, it’s become my company when no one else is around.

No electricity means no internet. I read last weekend’s Saturday Paper by candlelight. I read about preserving a glut of lemons that are mysteriously thriving in Braidwood where no citrus is meant to grow.

No power means no time in the studio where I’ve been spending 10-12 hours a day creating artworks for What the Wayfarer Saw at Goulburn Regional Art Gallery in March next year.

And it reminds me of why I started this project in the first place. When COVID lockdowns kept us locked in our homes, when even local parks were closed, we started to go back to basics. Baking bread, pickling vegetables, cooking proper meals.

This surfeit of time we’d normally fill with external activities became a very small locus of quieter, slower pastimes.

And I think the answer lies in that word itself. A pastime passes the time. Gives meaning to the void.

When I was walking from Goulburn to Braidwood over 6 days in March, I spent a lot of time doing nothing.

I sheltered out of torrential rain on the steps of the condemned St Andrew’s church in Tirranaville for three hours. The overhang of the church doors was so slight I couldn’t sit on the step out of the rain. So I just stood there, watching the rain, as the darkness closed down the day. It was just me, being there.

A couple of days later at the Loaded Dog Hotel in Tarago, I had to be out of my room by 9.30am but the rain was still hammering the tin roof. I walked up to the railway station and sat. Watching the rain. A train pulled in and waited for me. I explained to the driver I was just sitting.

There is an extreme luxury in time. It is so hard for me to be idle with my tradesman’s son’s work ethic. But I discover there’s a joy in quietness, simple observation.

After a time of stillness, time itself becomes a figment. It’s not 24 hours sliced into 60 minute intervals, it’s just an endless moment. You become, well, you don’t become anything. You’re just there. And sometimes, that’s all you need to do.

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