10.30 pm and the traffic lights at the road works turned red against us. Four miles out of the town, the land around lies in darkness. The lights are reflected in the polished bodywork of a vehicle parked at the end of a side road. As we draw to a halt, it pulls out – a hearse, and one that appears lost. It seems empty, saving the driver even greater embarrassment.
First an owl had flown across our path, now there was a hearse; short of the Grim Reaper coming walking from the town, there could have been few more intimations of mortality.
Watching the evening’s rugby between Glasgow and Ulster, thoughts had gone to Saturday teatimes in a former age when the BBC ‘Final Score’ programme would have included results from matches involving Scottish teams whose names were poetry – like Selkirk and Hawick and Stewart’s Melville FP. Rugby clubs of big, softly spoken Scots whose tries and penalties were as worthy of note as goals scored by the great soccer clubs.
Saturday teatimes seemed moments of contentment, there would be television programmes to watch and still the vast emptiness of Sunday to follow. Only when Annie Nightingale began her Radio 1 programme after dinner on Sunday would the reality of the approaching Monday strike home.
Sometimes there are moments when life seems to pause, when sights and sounds might be recalled with a freshness that denies their age. Perhaps it’s simply a vindication of Einstein’s contention that time happens all at once and that the linear sequence we observe is no more than a matter of convenience. Perhaps the result of Selkirk against Hawick on a black and white television screen seems at a paused moment because that is the case; if the whole of time is at one moment, then there is no replay nor a fast forward, each second of it is now. If Einstein was right then the human aspiration to travel in time will never be possible, ‘Doctor Who’ will forever be a television fantasy.
Not that one would wish to contradict one of the greatest intellects in human history, but it would be sad if there was never ever the opportunity to occupy any moment other than the here and now. The superstitions regarding mortality,among them owls being the call of the dead, might be entirely nonsensical, but they point to a human need for past and future to be something other than the present.
If Einstein was right, a hearse being lost will be of no consequence, for lateness is nothing other than our perception, its arrival will be at the same moment as every other moment in history.