Time, warped

15th August 2014 at 01:00

August is the cruellest month for teachers. Making the most of the brief freedom it brings from school's wearying embrace comes at a price. While you enjoy your respite from the clamour of small children, and the mountains of paperwork that crush your spirits, and the morbid fear that Ofsted might pounce at any moment, dark clouds have already begun to gather. On the not-too-distant horizon, September looms.

Right now I'm trying to make the most of the last day of our family holiday by lying in the shade with a cold beer and my Kindle edition of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. But unfortunately I'm being pestered by a fly that is repeatedly landing on various parts of my anatomy. I have made several attempts to swat it into fly oblivion but without success.

Sensing my growing annoyance, Brendan from County Cork, whom I met at the bar two nights ago, explains the reason I can't hit it. Apparently flies perceive time in a way that is entirely different from the way a teacher on a sun lounger in Lanzarote does.

I had no idea that flies even had a perception of time. I thought the only thing they perceived was animal matter in various states of decay. (And my exposed body parts, which probably amount to the same thing.) This revelation prompted me to do some Kindle-based research.

In 2013, a team of scientists led by Dr Andrew Jackson from Trinity College Dublin reported the results of an investigation that explains why flies are difficult to swat. They found that because of their small size and rapid metabolism, the insects experience time at a much slower rate than humans. For example, in the time it will take me to plan and prepare my lessons for the first week back at school, the average house fly will have hatched, pupated, achieved adulthood, lived a life dedicated to satisfying its every carnal desire and been eaten for lunch by a spider.

Even more intriguing than this, the same report goes on to suggest that our experience of time is age-related. It passes more slowly for a child than it does for an adult. If this is true, it goes a long way towards explaining one of life's most enduring mysteries: how does Ryan always manage to be as far away from every crime scene as it's possible to get?

The idea that our perception of time might be flexible raises several fundamental questions. Why do weekends disappear in the blink of an eye while Mondays drag on for ever? Why do summer holidays hurtle by at the speed of a Boeing 757 on its way to Malaga, while the first term back grinds forward with the pace of a traffic jam on the M25?

These are questions that cry out for further analysis. Preferably while reclining philosophically on a sun lounger and thoughtfully sipping cold beer. But unfortunately it appears time has caught up with me. I need to go and pack my suitcase ready for our flight home.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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