zero time

There’s a moment when you’re crossing all the time zones at 625 miles per hour, when the light in the sky no longer looks normal, when flight attendants have brought you a meal and you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be hungry or not but you eat it anyway. There’s a moment when the hands just fall off the face of the clock, the gears slip loose from the spring, and you have no idea what time it is. I started thinking of this as “zero time.” The passage of time eludes your senses. I kept doing the math, and it didn’t seem to help. The inside of the Boeing 777 offered no usual indicators of time, and the trip here to England seemed to be over before I knew it. I managed only about 2 hours of fitful sleep.

I’m researching Methodist communications networks in eighteenth-century Britain: preaching, letter writing, diaries, publishing, reading, writing, listening, sharing. The first day in the library was pretty spacey due to lack of sleep, but I managed to get some good work done, returning to the inventory of books that was completed upon John Wesley’s death in 1791. It’s a very detailed snapshot of Methodist publishing activity in the late eighteenth-century.

Next, I returned to the Bible of Methodist lay preacher Samuel Bradburn, obsessively recording as many details from it as possible. This book is filled with marginalia, most of it in the form of fat “iron crosses” next to particular verses, which I take to be his system for reminding himself which texts to use when he preaches. Over a thousand of them are spread throughout just about every book in both the Old and New Testament. As far as I know, no one has ever written about the ways in which preachers customize their Bibles to improve their use as tools like this. I don’t know how many Bibles that look like this survive from the eighteenth century, and I did not expect to find it: I just opened what I thought would be a box of Bradburn’s personal papers and there it was.

I also got a tour of the boxes and boxes of manuscript material downstairs. Librarians and archivists are wonderful people, listening to what you’re interested in and then pointing you towards what you need. And each box seemed to contain something unexpected. There are dozens of boxes containing thousands of pages, and as with most special collections, the level of cataloguing with most of the material is relatively general: you know the box contains the papers of so-and-so, but you don’t necessarily know what those papers are. Diary? Receipt book? Letters? It’s a treasure hunt. Fun and scary at the same time. What if I miss the best stuff? What if what I hope to find isn’t here? What if it doesn’t exist?

If you want to see something silly and fun, Manchester is currently doing the CowParade.

And just for yucks, here’s a brief playlist of Manchester music in roughly chronological order:

  • Buzzcocks, “Just Lust”
  • Joy Division, “Digital”
  • New Order, “Blue Monday”
  • The Smiths, “Boy With the Thorn in His Side”
  • Badly Drawn Boy, “Pissing in the Wind”

Note: last year’s Manchester Adventure starts here.

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