Someone apologised to me recently for having to re-arrange our meeting. ‘Don’t worry’, I said as I arrived, ‘this is a good time’. Four o’clock is what I think of as ‘the magic hour’. It’s a time I notice: a pause or crossing. Most days I feel compelled to stop what I am doing and look up. I have been doing this for so long my timing is often exact.
While I waited for the meeting to start I reflected on when the magic hour first began. My initial thought was school; for those long years the hometime bell had rung each day at ten to four. Perhaps this was the source of the day’s magical exhale? But then I realised there was a more recent explanation: four o’clock had been Dylan time.
Continuing to work full time had only been possible in my years as a carer because of flexible work practices. I had been able to organise my teaching and other commitments so that I could leave work in the late afternoon and be home for Dylan; I would then continue working at home while Dylan relaxed. Maybe my magic hour was as much about welcoming a vulnerable child home as about a vulnerable child escaping from school at the end of the day?
Flexible working was enabling for me and I was glad of it. Having to work from home in the late afternoon, however, had an impact on my professional life. I wasn’t able to attend the academic seminars and research events typically held as ‘twilight sessions’ at the end of the working day, for example. If I went to a day event, such as a conference, I missed the plenary. The addition of travel time, meanwhile, meant external events were out of the question. Rather than feel frustrated by what I couldn’t do, however, I switched my attention from research to management. As consequence, the last decade of my working life has felt very different to the early years.
I walked home from work tonight, however, wondering if it might be possible to get the magic back. Earlier this year, as the pressures on me escalated, I decided to give up my management responsibilities; I was stretched too thin and too far and something had to give. This was an easy decision; my children needed me and they came first. Now however, with both children settled, I have time and space again.
It feels strange not to have to rush off at the end of the afternoon. I instinctively check my watch as the hour approaches or find myself standing up, quickly and anxiously, wondering what it is I have forgotten. As the magic hour gets underway I experience time differently; it is a held place still, where boundaries dissolve. This is a good time, I have found, for doing the unexpected; reading at tangents, perhaps, or a wild card bid from the bottom of a to-do list.
Would I want to return to a management role? Not on your life. But re-starting my stalled research life – now that might interest me. So, in the last two weeks, I have spent some of my afternoon hours at seminars; today, for example, I went to one on a whim, out of curiosity. Afterwards, walking an unmagical hour home, I wondered if I was simply distracting myself from missing Dylan. But, I reflected, some days Dylan looms large as ever in my life. At today’s seminar, for example, all I could see was the potential Fan Fiction might have for children and adults with an autistic spectrum condition (not the particular focus of the seminar). I could write a Fan Fiction story for Dylan perhaps?
At last week’s seminar, meanwhile, the woman seated next to me had asked ‘How is Dylan?’ We hadn’t recognised each other immediately; her office had been next to mine at the university where we both worked nearly two decades ago when Dylan was diagnosed (and where she works still) but I had been so long out of circulation our paths hadn’t crossed since.
‘What are you doing now?’ she asked.
‘Oh, still here’, I said. ‘Can’t get away.’
‘Have you tried?’ she asked.
‘Well, no’ I replied.
I explained that Dylan had just moved into care and that my energy had been expended on that in recent years. ‘But’, I whispered as the seminar began, ‘I guess I could now’.
After the seminar, as we said our goodbyes, her parting shot:
‘Maybe you should.’