"When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity."Albert Einstein came up with that, it is said. And if anyone knew about time and how it goes by, it was Albert. Not too much knowledgeable about personal grooming techniques, but a bit of an expert on time.
He was right, though. Time never passes at the same rate. And even if you're not comparing the onwards rush you get when you're, ahem, courting to the treacle-slow pace when there's a backside:cinder interface going down, time doesn't always take its time. But it's not just pleasure and pain that makes the distinction. It depends on your own point of view, too.
This has been brought home to me recently when regarding the teenage son of our friends. (Actually, that's scary, I've become the person who has friends with teenage sons. God I'm old.) Anyway, the individual in question is a splendid chap and has every chance of growing up to become a well-rounded, well-mannered young man. Essentially, he's the complete opposite of every Daily Mail reference to 'teenager' you could find.
Of course, it's easy for me to say this as I don't have to live with him. For all I know there could be untold tales of bedrooms last tidied around the fall of the Roman Empire and conversations that are 50% conveyed by guttural noises.
I know none of this. Although I'm guessing that his parents are at this moment nodding their heads ruefully.
Back to the time perception thing, though. Recently, the teenager in question (let's call him 'A') has entered that exciting time in anyone's life when, on the border between child and adult, you start to come across a number of milestones. Amongst other things, he's quite keen to get mobile - to drive, to get a car, to be that bit more independent.
It's been apparent for a while this is an over-riding aim for A. Every waking moment is spent dreaming of motorised mobility. As is the modern way, we can see this through the beauty of social networking. Oh yes, you don't just have your friends on Facebook, you get to see their kids, too. You see their status updates, feel their building excitement and sense their impatience.
And it's abundantly clear from those conversations not held in fluent Wookiee, and from a succession of Facebook wall posts, that time is going very, very slowly for our A.
He did well to keep the date of his driving test fairly secret. But we all knew that time was a-dragging. Then it was put back a few days. These probably felt like months. Then the day arrived. Sadly, due to an almost-too-close encounter with a Travel West Midlands bus, A did not prevail.
There is absolutely no comfort for A if I tell him that on my first test I performed a perfect emergency stop, but failed as I'd had to do it to prevent myself mowing down an innocent old lady on a pelican crossing. My re-telling of the 'seven-point-turn' story will butter no parsnips, I'm sure.
The re-test will come around soon enough, but to A it will feel like a decade. As he takes in the outrageous numbers being quoted by various insurance companies to cover him once he does get his wings (wheels?), A's dreams of car-ownership probably seem like a distant blip on the horizon right now.
And we all know exactly how he feels. When you're that age, time flows at a glacial pace. For me, August 1989 took about six months to pass, I recall. The slowness of time, the aching, it drives every decision, every emotion. But it gets better.
In my 40-years-old-fartiness state I looked at the calendar today and went: "Holy Crap. March? Really? Surely it was Boxing Day only last week?" My mother sees time shooting by, interrupted only by visits to buy more pink things for my niece. And my grandmother? Well, if you're still deftly going about things in your tenth decade, you're not exactly going to be troubled by mere weeks and months, are you?
So there's really no point in saying "Be patient" to the A's of this world. There's nothing to be gained in telling them their time will come. Reassuring them that it was the same, or worse, when you were their age? You might as well try teaching your dog to speak Swahili. There would almost certainly be no point in asking them to read some blog post written by a friend. A blog? That's so 2007. I'm too busy being downcast, thank you very much.
It's this perceived slow pace of time that drives everything, though. Bad times are going to be with you forever, it seems. The world is a crappy place. Everyone else is having way more fun.
But everyone's time comes, sooner or later, faster or slower. We just haven't yet found a way of actually speeding it up. But just as I spent the distant eighties watching time go by like it was wearing lead boots, A will, when he's 40-odd, be scratching his head as the birthdays rapidly pass. I've no doubt he'll be driving a very nice car, too.
After all, the only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once. That's another one from Albert. Wish I'd come up with it myself.