Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Sands of Time

The summer before I started university, I took a holiday job in a glass factory.  Thermometers, bulbs and laboratory equipment were the bulk of production, with a small sideline, producing time glasses.  Huge double bulbed glass timers, hand blown and filled with dark black sand.  Each day, my hands encased in thin white cotton gloves, I applied gold transfers of signs of the zodiac onto these great glass orbs.  Twelve transfers, each one in exactly the same place, at the same angle, on every one.  They looked like they were falling, scattered randomly across the two bulbs.  The gold was shiny when buffed. Capricorn, Cancer and Sagittarius gleamed against the jet coloured sand, like stars in the night sky.

The factory was small and had a tin roof.  It was hot inside.  Every morning I clocked in, and clocked out.  The antiquated machine made a large clunk as it punched my card.  I was never late.  The foreman made me nervous. I was cautious as a cat near a dog around him.  A ladies man; the other factory girls would flirt with him. He was handsome in his white coat, with dark, slicked back hair as he stood amongst the furnaces.  Lucifer, with his harem.  

There was something enchanting about the time glasses.  To begin with, I found their shape difficult to hold in my hands.  I worried I would hold them too tightly, and break the fragile glass.   The delicate gold transfers were tricky to apply in the heat, it was painstaking work, and had to be done at speed.  Yet, when each one was finished, I could not help but admire the creativity of it, and wonder who in the world, would one day own it and watch the black sand run through, marking time.   In the close atmosphere of the factory, time passed slowly.  At times it was tedious and frustrating. On other occasions, I found something strangely restful in the monotony of it all.  My mind was able to wander, to daydream.  At that time, the irony of holding so much time in the palm of my hands was lost on me.  Oh, the blissful ignorance of youth.

On my last day, Lucifer gave me one of the time glasses, wrapped in a piece of newspaper.  It was a semi awkward exchange, made so by my teenage shyness, and not a gesture I would have expected of him.   I treasured my time glass.  To my eighteen year old self it was a symbol, a source of inspiration, a reminder, when I crammed in ‘all nighters’ pre –exams, that life in a factory in a small town was not something I wanted to go back to.

I found the time glass in a cupboard at my mother’s house recently, still in it’s newspaper wrapping.  The top corner of the paper had the date; 1993.  It seems like only yesterday I was sitting in that factory. I still feel like that girl of eighteen inside.  I still look like her, with just a few more lines around the eyes.   Standing in my childhood bedroom, holding the time glass in my hand, I let the sand start running.  Millions of grains of fine black sand slipped through the tiny hole, at what seemed like great speed, but in the bottom bulb mounting to a peak very slowly.  Deceptive, how the individual particles can pass so quickly, yet the mass of them coming together takes so long.  Like days, before you know it, 365 of them have come and gone, and another year has passed.

I do not know how long my time glass runs for.  Many times I have set it running in an attempt to find out, but I’ve never had the patience to wait for the sand to finish falling; to see it come to an end.  That long summer, time was not something I needed to worry about, measuring it seemed pointless. Life was like an endless road, stretched out in front of me.  Young, in love, carefree, and sometimes careless, life was not something that I planned, I just let it happen.  Now, almost twenty years on, teetering towards the mid point in life, nearly half the sand has run through my glass.  Oh, still plenty left, and still, I hope, a long road left to travel and enjoy, except now, access to some of the side roads is closing off.  Blocked with signs. ‘Caution. Limited access for women the wrong side of 35’.

One child, two miscarriages, eight collective years of ‘trying’.  I long for a second child.   It seems that the sand is running through my time glass faster and faster.  Every day, every month, more and more sand slipping away from me, from the top of the glass, to the bottom. 

My response has been one of forensic focus.  ‘Timing is everything’, they say. Day after day I find myself looking at the calendar, recording temperature readings, using an ovulation predictor kit.   I find myself wishing the start of a monthly cycle away, to get to supposedly fertile ground, and then shortly after those 1 or 2 ‘golden’ days, I begin the process of wishing another 2 weeks away, impatient to understand whether we have achieved the success we crave.  Sometimes it tires me out.  It creates a silent pressure, and inevitably, a lack of spontaneity.

The miracle of modern science recently allowed me to peek inside my own natural time glass.  Or rather, eggtimer.  I hesitated briefly, should I delve into Mother Nature’s secrets? I felt fear, yet I forged ahead.  One vial of blood was all it took, and a laboratory, filled with instruments, like those made in the factory, to reveal, like the grains of sand in my glass, the eggs in my ovaries are increasingly few, slipping away.  More so, it seems, than one would expect for a woman of my age.   Shock, anxiety, sadness; I’ve experienced a million different emotions since the day I stared at those results on the stark, white piece of paper.  I considered giving up, I lamented my choice in finding out.  Too late, ‘unknowing’ is impossible now.  I tell myself all is not lost quite yet; there are still choices that can be made, and there may be ways to make the dream happen, if we choose.

Time.  I want to use it wisely.  If this is my one shot at motherhood, I want to make the most of every moment. My gorgeous boy is growing so quickly, each day I am racing to keep up with him.   I have pledged to myself that I will cherish every moment we spend together, and I will do my utmost not to waste the time I spend with him thinking or obsessing about another child. But I have also decided that I’m not ready to give up on my dream of another baby yet. I’m going to run the race against Mother Nature, as fast and hard as I possibly can.  The time glass is still running, and so am I, even faster than before.  I just hope I can reach the finishing post before I run out of sand.

This post  is for a writing workshop at Sleep is for the Weak.  This week's topic is Time.


  1. This is lovely, so well written and enchanting x

  2. I agree with SusanKMann, this was a brilliant post to read. So well written, it just drew me in. And now I'm thinking about time, and how to use it well. Thanks for sharing =]

  3. Hi Susan, Hi Katie
    Thank you both so much for taking the time to read, and comment. I wrestled with myself for a while before I pressed the publish button on this, and now I feel glad I did.

  4. That's a lovely post. I agree about the race of time, the sands cascading with a strange speed. Thank you.

  5. I SO know how you feel. You make some very perceptive points. So glad you did hit "publish". I only spent 5 years trying before a last messy miscarriage drew a line for us. Like you, I treasure the child I do have. I wish you all the luck.

  6. Thank you. I'm sorry to hear about your experience too. Thanks for reading and making a comment. x