Thursday, 14 January 2010

What’s the time, Mr Wolf?

Perhaps you enjoyed this playground game when you were six or seven years old? It was a safe way to experience a frisson of danger and panic and an outlet for the demons that sometimes haunted childhood dreams. It maligned wolves but the knowledge of a wolf's true nature would come later in life, when innocent games would be replaced with more earnest pursuits. One child would volunteer or be chosen to be Mr Wolf. He would walk a little way off and turn his back on the rest of the group. Then the game could begin. The children would begin the sing-song chant.

'What's the time, Mr Wolf?'

After each question Mr Wolf would turn to answer them and the children would take a number of steps according to the time called out. Some children would take tiny steps, pretending fear, while others would show their 'courage' with huge strides.

'One o'clock.'

'What's the time, Mr Wolf?'

'Two o'clock.'

'What's the time, Mr Wolf?'

'Five o'clock.'

'What's the time, Mr Wolf?'


At this point the children would scatter, screaming, but Mr Wolf usually managed to capture the nearest who then took his place and the ritual would start again.

Maybe the correct answer to the question is, 'It depends where you are in the Universe' for time is not constant. If you travel, for example on an aircraft, and then return you will have aged less than someone who hasn't travelled. This was proved by scientists who synchronised two atomic clocks, placing one in an aircraft and one in a stationary position. When returned the clock in the aircraft showed an earlier time than the stationary clock. (Atomic clocks are so accurate that they will lose only one second in tens of millions of years.)

So speed affects time. Gravity also has an effect. If a person could live at the top of Mount Everest the ageing process would be faster than for someone at sea level. There are some places in the universe that have incredibly high gravity. If it were possible to get inside a black hole, where gravity is so dense that nothing absorbed can ever escape, time would effectively stop. Furthermore, if one were able to inhabit a spinning black hole one would be able to view the end of the universe.

To stay forever young may be your dream while all around crumble into ruins but to do so you would have to travel phenomenally fast and the energy required would be enormous. It is not possible . . . but any space travel was unimaginable not so very long ago!


  1. Oh know don't fancy moving to the top of Everest.

  2. Very interesting & thought provoking.

  3. Thank you Mo and Rajesh - we live in an amazing universe :-)

  4. It's a game I never heard of nor played but your post is a marvelous reminder of possibilities ... thank you.
    Hugs and blessings,

  5. Have you heard the children's story by the title, Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babitt.

    It tells the story of a hidden stream. The Tuck family inadvertently drink from this stream and gain life everlasting. They spend their time there after trying to keep the stream hidden because they know how dangerous it is to live forever.

    It's a beautiful story and honours the cycle of life. I think you'd love it. It was made into a film which I have not seen, but the book itself is wonderful. I recommend it to you. Your post here made me think about this book in relation to immortality and time.

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  7. Elisabeth - thank you for the recommendation. The book certainly sounds intriguing.I've just been shopping at Amazon and shall be receiving my copy on Tuesday! I look forward to reading it.

  8. Natalie Babbitt was born in Ohio I see through Google. You've probably already found this out. the book I see was published in 1975.

    It may not inspire you as it did me. I read it with my kids when they were young and copied out a section somewhere about the cycle of life. I'd copy it here if I could find it, but never mind. If you read the book I'm sure you'll find it.


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