Father Time

Father Time is one of the most popular chiropractic stories from Bernard Preston.

This page from Frog in my Throat was last updated by Bernard Preston on 21st September, 2019.

Frog in my Throat cover.

‘I’m too embarrassed to show you. And it’s so sore!’ she looked at me shyly. A mathematics teacher at local St. Catherine’s school for girls, Mrs. Sandy Spain, had made an appointment to see me but, when my secretary had asked her to undress and put on a gown, she had declined. A very prim and proper schoolmistress, she really didn’t want to reveal any part of her body to this stranger. Particularly not that part which a few days ago had been black and very sore, and now was going purple and yellow, and was still just as painful.

‘Better let me see,’ I said, giving her time. She eventually pulled down her jeans showing me a buttock with the most enormous bruise. Not another, I thought, remembering the last bruise like that I’d seen only a few weeks earlier. A worker at a local print shop had injured his shoulder and the company nurse gave him an anti inflammatory injection in the buttock. The enormous bruise, and subsequent sciatic pain down his leg, had been a challenge.

‘An injection?’ I looked at her enquiringly.

‘No,’ she laughed, relaxing for the first time. ‘I slipped off the dais in my classroom and landed right here on my bum.’ She had a very expressive face and the look of embarrassment made me laugh.

Chapter 7: Father Time

Fortunately, the fall had done nothing more than give her a very large bruise. A careful examination of her spine and pelvis revealed no other injury. While she was lying face down and I was icing her buttock she began to tell me about her work and her love of mathematics and the frustration of making geometry relevant to the girls.

‘What about making some sundials?’ I asked, thinking about how my latest dial had challenged my memory. Dropping perpendiculars, and dividing an angle geometrically into three, was something I hadn’t done since school days. I’m a great believer in hobbies. First introduced to sundials by an astronomer patient, I had found the subject fascinating and now there were numerous sundials on our walls and on pedestals in our garden. Helen hates them because, of course, they never agree exactly. I love them because I have come to realise that our preoccupation with arriving exactly on time, not leaving a minute early, nor wasting a precious second, squeezing in an extra chore, adds so much stress to our lives. In some respects the main problem with progress is that it goes forwards instead of backwards and, I for one, would be very pleased to go back to sun time.

‘A sundial?’ she asked. ‘Do they use geometry?’

‘Absolutely,’ I replied. ‘Astronomy and sundials are all about geometry. The ancient Egyptians were incredible mathematicians. Just look at the pyramid of Cheops – how did they know to face it true North?’

I discharged her after a week almost pain free with some instructions about stretching the buttock muscles for a few weeks, and had largely forgotten about our discussion when a surprise letter arrived:

Dear Dr. Bernie, Would you consider giving my girls a talk on sundials and their relevance to geometry … The letter went on to give a few details of time and place.

I gave the matter some thought and eventually settled for a short talk on the subject of “time” and a practical class on making paper sundials. It was quite an intimidating affair. Never before had I addressed sixty young women, many already bored and wishing they were elsewhere. Geometry was for the birds and so was this creep! I could see it in their eyes, even before I had opened my mouth. Starting with the arbitrary nature of choosing twenty-four hours in a day and sixty minutes in an hour, I moved on to the comparison of a dazzling minute spent in a young man’s company as compared with a very boring minute spent waiting at a traffic light. Moving on to different timepieces, the remarkable John Harrison and his clocks at Greenwich, I gave them a short piece on the golden hours spent leisurely beside a swimming pool and measured gently by a sundial compared to the frenetic hours spent at work, strictly and harshly measured by tiny metal wheels and hands, or by a digital piece with the seconds tearing away unchecked. I noticed a beautiful fourteen year old beginning to fidget and scowl at me and another very plain lass listening intently. I didn’t know what to make of it. Who would be a schoolteacher? I opened a large suitcase, pulling out half a dozen sundials that I had made, some very primitive, others really quite sophisticated. Scowler’s interest was restored for a short while, but I decided it was time to move on to the practical course. It wasn’t long before they had taken out pieces of cardboard and scissors, drawing instruments, paints and crayons. There was a general buzz in the large hall and I could see most were enjoying themselves. A few were struggling with the geometrical constructions so Mrs. Spain and her colleagues moved around the class. The very plain girl came tentatively up to the dais: ‘Sir,’ she said, ‘why hasn’t time been metricated? Why don’t we have ten new hours like new pence to the pound in England and cents to the Rand?’

I was astounded at this thought and hadn’t yet answered when another voice interrupted: ‘What a dumb idea. Why do you always make these stupid suggestions, plain Jane?’ I looked around to see the beautiful girl in the second row sneering at the girl standing uncertainly in front of me. Jane’s face dropped and she crept back to her place, humiliated by the gorgeous

girl with the ugliest scowl in the class. ‘Actually it’s a very provocative idea. We’ve metricated the measurement of distance and volume – why not time?’ I muttered to anybody who was listening, quite unable to understand these two girls, the one quite threatened by the intellect of the other, and Jane completely unable to handle the stunning blonde’s derogatory remarks.

Anon, the bell rang and we arranged to meet a week later for me to see the finished dials. I went home slightly disturbed by the afternoon, wondering why it is that all the spite of mankind seemed to have started in some still so young. And wondering who was more beautiful: Plain Jane with the enquiring mind and the loveliest of smiles or the stunning blonde with the ugliest of scowls and a dismissive manner.

I arrived the next week to find the gaily-coloured sundials on a sunny veranda looking, for all the world, like a flotilla of yachts starting the Whitbread Around the World Challenge. I was impressed. The girls had obviously taken their task seriously. Who was going to win the half dozen bottles of honey that I had offered as a first prize? As I walked around them I was astonished to discover they had found interesting inscriptions from the internet: Tempus fugit and Amyddst ye flovvres, I tell ye houres and, of course, many others. I stooped and picked up one that was quite different: The inscription was in Latin:

Horas non numero nisi serenas.

Looking at it more closely I knew immediately who had made it – the hours were not from 6am to 6pm but from 3 to 7 new hours. Midday was at 5. Turning to Mrs. Spain, I said: ‘I know who made this. Where is Jane?’ Shyly, Jane came out of the crowd of girls who were milling about: ‘This is stunning, Jane, but you will have to help me with the Latin.

Jane’s face fell and she mumbled: ‘I count only the hours that are serene.’

I raised my eyebrow, questioning, but decided not to pursue the matter any further. I had seen the hurt in her eyes and46 the slump in her shoulders. She looked down at her shoes urging me not to pry. Body language said it all. Instead, I turned my attention to the flotilla of sundials, and spent a happy half hour with my new digital camera. Later, Mrs. Spain explained that Jane’s father had divorced her mother, and his children, and gone off with a much younger woman. Jane had been bundled off to boarding school; she saw her mother occasionally and her father, whom she adored, almost never.

I count only the hours that are serene.

It was ten long years before I met Jane again. Neither of us recognised each other. I had lost most of my hair and it was difficult to connect this chic young woman hanging on a young man’s arm with the plain girl from St Catherine’s sundial class. ‘We’re getting married on Saturday,’ Jane blushed, once the formalities were over, ‘but I’m getting such headaches.’

Every chiropractor knows to take special care with headaches. They are usually straightforward, most being caused by subluxations of the upper cervical spine or muscle tension in the neck, but it’s a fool who makes assumptions.

I started by asking: ‘When did they begin, Jane?’ ‘I’ve been working on my PhD and I promised John I would finish the data collection before the wedding. It’s meant hours and hours on the computers and telescopes.’ ‘And where do you feel the pain?’ I went on through the often-boring process of outlining the full history. It was not long before I established that she had pain on the side of her head above the ear, and sometimes in the upper neck. The examination was routine but left me non-plussed: Jane’s vital signs were quite normal, so was her eyesight and the cranial nerve examination, and there was nothing much wrong with her neck.

Sombrero galaxy from the Hubble telescope is one way we measure time.

The Sombrero Galaxy is located 28 million light years from the Earth; this photograph was taken by the Hubble telescope. It has 800 billion suns and is 50,000 light years in diameter.


I went back to the history: ‘Jane, have you had any operations or serious illnesses?’ I asked. ‘Think back – when did these headaches really get bad like this?’

‘I had my wisdom teeth out about three months ago. Could that have anything to do with it?’ I snapped my fingers, silently cursing myself for not checking her jaw joints.

‘Aha!’ It was not long before I located the problem with a marked click in her jaw joint on the same side as her headaches, an unusual asymmetrical opening of the jaw and a severe trigger point in a muscle deep in the jaw joint.

‘That’s it!’ she exclaimed. ‘When you press on that spot the pain radiates right up here,’ she pointed up to the side of her head. ( Father Time )

Jane grunted as I did some cross-friction with my gloved finger in the tiny pterygoid pocket in her mouth where some of the muscles of the jaw are found and gave her some new stretches I had learnt at a recent congress.

‘This was probably caused by your mouth being over-opened under the anaesthetic,’ I said. To take Jane’s mind off what I was doing, I casually asked: ‘And what is the topic of your research?’

‘When I finished my honours in astronomy I started getting interested in the whole subject of time. Boring stuff for most people,’ she smiled at me, ‘atomic time clocks, and measuring different parameters of the galaxies and so on, and then I’ve been back to an old fascination of mine: what effect would it have if we metricated time here on earth as, of course, it is only on Earth that we have hours and silly minutes and seconds.’

Sundials explained in Father Time.

My mind started whirring. Metrication of time? Ding-dong. It rang a bell.

‘And after the frenetic weeks of PhD and your wedding are you hoping to have only serene hours to count?’ I casually asked.

Jane sat up abruptly from my table where I had been dealing with a trigger point in a large muscle on the side of her head, and turned to look at me. ‘How do you know about that?’ she exclaimed.

‘Something about horas serenas,’ I replied, happy for a change to be one up on a very intelligent and younger patient. I enjoyed keeping her guessing. How could I forget the words? They were boldly scrawled on an old Chinese pocket sundial I had copied some months after my visit to St. Catherine’s. The sundial lay strategically placed on the corner of my desk where the warm sun streamed into my office in the winter months, creating an interesting talking point. I reached across my desk for my handiwork, and loosened the catch.

‘How do you know so much about Jane?’ asked her fiancé, now also concerned about this strange doctor.

I could see he was thinking that he was the only person who had been let into that private part of Jane’s life, and was there something she hadn’t told him? I laughed at them both, enjoying the moment: ‘Ever made a sundial?’ I asked, directing the question to Jane, opening the dial so she could see the words carefully carved into the timber.

Memories came flooding back. Comprehension dawning and the lovely smile on her face made her fiancé even more worried. ‘I thought I knew you. You’re the bee man who gave us that talk on sundials. I can still taste the honey you gave me for first prize. Ha.’ She was so excited and went on to explain to Mr. Big how we had first met all those years ago.

‘You have no idea how that sundial shaped my future,’ Jane went on. ‘I was planning to go into medicine but, by the end of first year pre med, I knew that it was physics, not becoming a doctor, that really intrigued me.’ Jane went on telling me about how she had to change courses, and move to Rhodes University where astronomy was offered for post graduate work.


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By this stage I had turned Jane over onto her abdomen and was doing some final work on her. I went on to ask: ‘And where did you two meet?’

There was silence for a moment, and then an embarrassed giggle from Jane. They looked shyly at each other. John took up the tale; ‘I was driving to Johannesburg in my new BMW to an applied mathematics conference. It’s a very powerful car but I was running it in and couldn’t go too fast. I started to get irritated by this little old white Ford that rocketed past me every time there was a steep down-hill and then I calmly passed it on the up hills. Finally I started looking at the driver and she grinned at me and waved every time she shot past.’

Jane took up the tale; ‘The cheeky man then gestured drinking from a cup just before a rest stop. So we pulled off and drank a couple of cups of coffee and swapped phone numbers and, well, one thing led to another,’ she smiled at me, blushing again.

I was honoured to be invited to their wedding, which was a simple affair, but I was very disturbed when Jane’s younger brother gave her away. Dad wasn’t even invited. I wondered if he had thought of the ‘worst case scenario’ when he took off with the younger woman? I couldn’t think of anything more devastating than not being invited to my daughter’s wedding.

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