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The fleeting feet of time

As I sat down to write this the news broke that veteran Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts, had died at 80. He had been drumming with the band since 1963 - fifty-eight years in all.

My goodness, is it really fifty-eight years since 1963, since the world felt like one long Saturday afternoon, where the air smelled of hairspray, aftershave and Brylcreem and cars were innocent things, adorned in walnut and leather and sparkling all over with chrome.

In those days, time passed in hours and minutes, now it feels as if it is whizzing by in epochs. Where does it go?

Charlie Watts’ departure to the beat of the eternal drum certainly put me in mind of the fleeting feet of time. It caused me to remember, of all things, the first manure spreader we had at home on the farm. That might seem like a random association of ideas, but with a memory bank that’s nearly full, I make no apology if incident, image, recall and reflection run randomly into one another.

Anyway, the first artificial manure spreader we had was made up of two conical containers sitting on a wheeled frame. Manure pellets from the containers fell on to spinning plates fitted with fins and driven by a cog and groove mechanism powered by the wheels. The spreader was attached to the tractor when working on the land and when travelling between jobs it was pulled behind a trailer carrying the manure.

As was the custom with a lot of farm machinery the spreader was shared among a number of farmers. One day my uncle came to collect it, and of course was invited into the house for a cup of tea. No one left the premises without tay. He parked the tractor with the attached trailer and spreader on an incline leading out our gate and on to the public road. More than likely the starter or the battery weren’t doing their job, a common problem, so it was left on the incline to take advantage of the hill start.

While the adults were inside having the tea, I availed of the opportunity to conduct an experiment. I reckoned that if the wheels could turn the spreading plates, the spreading plates should be able to turn the wheels. To test my theory, I grabbed hold of a fin on one of the plates and pulled with all my might. To my surprise, not only did the wheels of the spreader start to move, so did those on the trailer and, horror of horrors, the tractor wheels followed suit.

Before I knew it all three pieces of machinery were heading for the gate and gathering speed as they went. I tried in vain to hold them back by hanging on to the spreader, but my boots could get no grip in the gravel. I was left sitting on my backside watching the components of my experiment hurtling to disaster. I can still feel the panic. To my great relief, as the tractor reached the gate the trailer jack-knifed and the towbar jammed itself between the ridges of the tractor’s back tyre bringing the whole menagerie to a halt. I picked myself off the ground and disappeared down the fields to avoid the public inquiry that was sure to follow.

The passage of time reminds me of the manure spreader and its headlong rush to the road. The same panic I felt on that day and the accompanying sense that things are out of control can grip me at the strangest of times and in the oddest places. The death of someone like Charlie Watts, a man I didn’t know, can jolt me into recognising the broad span of my days and the number of milestones I have passed. It’s like falling asleep on a bus leaving Dublin and waking up in Roscrea.

I suppose that’s what mindfulness is about, being conscious of the present, of the moment you are in right now and not wishing it was any other time. We get tasters of that, fleeting senses of what it is to be absolutely present to the now. I had that sense after Limerick’s recent hurling triumph in Croke Park. As the Cranberries’ Dreams pulsated through the sea of green swaying around the stadium, there was no other place I wanted to be, no other time I wanted it to be in and there was no other feeling I wanted to have. It was pure bliss.

Every now and again the tow-bar gets stuck in the back wheel, the fleeting becomes slow motion and there a space opens up where you can breathe deeply and luxuriate in the eternal wealth of the moment.

First published in the Farming Independent, Tuesday, August 31st 2021

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