Having the time of my life

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When I was around 12 years old I embarked upon a lifetime of mechanical curiosity based upon a great need to know how things worked.

I recall this start date fairly well as it involved me taking apart the family Woolworth’s alarm clock which, until that point, had functioned quite well in getting everyone up in the morning in enough time to get us kids scrubbed up, fed and off to school.

I had seen my dad giving that and earlier clocks a seeing to when they packed up. But I neglected to take into account that those timepieces rarely worked for much longer after faither’s attempts at basic horology, consisting of taking off the back, blowing out any dust with a bicycle pump, then anointing the works with sewing machine oil applied with a feather. Technical or what?

Sadly, my dismantling of the clock was clumsy and left me with a small pile of bits, a rising sense of panic and anticipated retribution. To be fair the clocks concerned were always cheapos and thus more or less worn out by the time they got the treatment – and in most cases would, after a short time, only function if laid either face down or on one side.

Another common cause of failure in our clocks could be traced to an excess of energy applied when winding the deshed things. No clock was considered wound up until the key could not be forced to turn any more, so frequently a loud ‘boing’ and whirring sounds would signal the breaking of the mainspring and the need for a new timepiece.

As a family, our ownership of clocks or watches was rather limited. Dad had a pocket watch which lived in a protective case in his jacket. I recall it and its successors were made either by Ingersoll or Smiths, and in common with other timepieces, enjoyed only limited lives before being replaced with the defunct ticker hoarded in a kitchen drawer where a fair number of similar duds were stored.

In a moment of boredom I once wound them all up and was astonished to discover that a battered-looking watch actually started to work again and kept good time for me for a couple of years. I guess it just needed to rest.

My first real watch was acquired via the limited funding of my holiday jobs and lasted for a number of years, including army service, until it expired from Hong Kong humidity. At that time my comrades were all investing in tax-free posh watches at what seemed like ridiculously-low prices – and that included those who got what they considered a bargain, only to discover their new prize was a fake.

We devised a fake-detecting system using the simple trick of dropping the watch into a pint of San Miguel lager. A genuine watch would take no hurt, but a fake would soon emit a stream of air bubbles and sometimes the glass would pop out, putting the issue beyond all doubt.

To be sure of myself, I saved up and bought an OMEGA Speedmaster wristwatch, which cost me a month’s wages, including beer money. That was 47 years ago and that watch still keeps good time, although it is now retired, but for special occasions. My current watch, made by a firm called Casio, was a Christmas present from my wife about 25 years ago and, apart from occasional battery changes by that nice Mr Turnbull at the cobblers, is entirely trouble-free.

But times have changed and with the advent of the digital watch, nowadays nobody can claim ignorance of the right time. A few minutes ago I sat still with my eyes shut and mentally calculated the number of timepieces owned by our household (between 30 and 40). I even had to include all the electrical devices we have, most of which have a timer of some kind – even the microwave oven and kitchen stove!

To be honest, most of them are not set to any given time, as the task of changing them twice every year would be a daunting prospect. In any case, I did once set them all going to the correct time (isn’t that sad?) and found that within a single week no two of them indicated the right time.

Not surprisingly, over the years I have developed into a person who is far too conscious of time. I have a horror of being late for anything and get angry if anything or anyone makes me late.

You already know I am usually ridiculously early for medical or dental appointments, only to spend long periods leafing through magazines or kiddies’ comics, or trying to chat up people I do not know.

A watch is not essential for me in any waiting room, but the longer I wait the more frequently I check the time. For a clock-watcher I am a remarkably patient person, although I have had my moments. After all, is it not the case that people sitting in the waiting rooms of doctors and dentists are categorised as “patients”?

Time passes at varying speeds, according to what we anticipate in our future.

For me time passes slower in winter than during the summer months, which seem to flash by faster every year. Extending summer with a fine, dry autumn is a bonus, just as a cold spring such as we had last year keeps the winter blues going for far too long.

I cherish the dream of being seriously minted in order that I might follow the warm weather around the globe – but somehow I fear there is a flaw to such ambitions. Walking a dog on a cold frosty morning is real pleasure, as is watching snow falling outside knowing there is no need to go out for a day or so.

Nope, I think I’ll just have to stick it out the way it is right now and as a concession I think I might try something recommended to me by an old friend.

If time passes too slowly, stop wearing a watch and turn your clocks to the wall – rise when it gets light and retire when it gets dark, and time will not hang heavily on your hands.

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