This has linguistic consequences. Do you know what the Anglo-Saxon for immediately is?
I think I'm a little better with in a second. But it probably still means anything up to five minutes. In fact, I can't say in a second in a second, which means that the phrase is in itself untrue. I might as well say, "I cannot speak."
Listen to the radio or watch the gogglebox and you're as likely as not to hear a phrase like "In a moment we'll be talking to Lord Lucan, but first here's the weather/The Archers/The Ring Cycle."
So what to do? We need a new and unsullied measurement of time. Where to find it? Why, in the notes to The Cloud of Unknowing of course, where else?
The Cloud of Unknowing is a medieval religious work that says, amongst other things that we should really pull our socks up. When we get to the Pearly Gates (incidentally the Pearly Gates are not up in the air, they are the gates of the New Jerusalem as mentioned in Revelations: the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl) when, as I say, we get to the Pearly Gates we will have to account to St Peter for our whole lives: not just every hour, not just every minute, but every athomus.
An athomus is the smallest unit of time there is, or so theologians reckoned, it is the indivisible moment, like an atom, which etymologically means unsplittable, a derivation that didn't help Hiroshima. The idea of the athomus was taken from St Paul, Corinthians 15v52, which is usually translated as the twinkling of an eye. But, medievals being medieval, it had of course been calculated, though I've never been able to work out how. An athomus is, officially, fifteen ninety-fourths of a second.
So there it is. Now I must be off. It's a lovely sunny day and there's a hammock, a bottle of Pimms and a copy of Ulysses waiting impatiently in the garden. I'll be there in an athomus.