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The Scrivener: The Personal Face Of Time

Do read Brian Barratt's entertaining article on clocks. It will probably be the best time you spend today.

One day in the dim and distant past, I arrived home from school to find that Dad had bought a small electric clock. There it was on the top of the piano, in the dining room. The piano was sometimes in the dining room and sometimes in the front room. It and the settee were swapped over from time to time for reasons I didn't ask about. I was curious about dragline excavators, diving suits and dinosaurs, but not about our peripatetic furniture.

Nearly everything in the house came from the Edwardian era. That included a small selection of clocks which fascinated me.
We had a real wooden cuckoo clock which was sometimes wound up. One of childhood's small pleasures was to see and hear the cuckoo pop out and do its stuff.

There was an large ornate wooden mantel clock with an elegant face, high up on top of a tall cupboard. It was never wound up. I suspect it might have stopped short, never to go again, when someone or something died many years earlier.
A smaller polished wooden mantel clock sat, appropriately, on the mantelshelf above the fireplace in the dining room. Until the arrival of the electric clock, that was our main time-telling device. Well, that was the theory. In fact, when the electric clock started emitting a loud ceaseless buzz, and needed repairing, I seem to recall that it was relegated to second position in the horological hierarchy.

There were several clocks on the mantelshelf in the front room. The one that amused me, as a child, was in the form of a small lamp post, with the clockface at the top and a drunken gentleman leaning against the upright pole. Another was what I believe is called a balloon shaped mantel clock. If you aren't sure what that is, I'm afraid you'll have to look it up. Its squeezed-in-the-middle design is difficult to describe clearly without a picture. There were other clocks on that mantelshelf. They stood unused. They were merely decorative mementoes of a bygone era.

Now, 60 to 70 years later, in my own home, my bedside clock-radio has died. Its only value was during the years when I had to drive into the city every day and therefore rise from my slumbers at a regular time. The radio was set to start playing at 6.28 a.m. Not 6.30, note, but 6.28. That gave me two precious minutes to plan the process of getting out of bed.

Not long ago, a wooden imitation antique clock on the parlour wall also gave notice of its demise. About 40 years ago, it replaced a mains-operated chromium-plated plastic thing it was a good example of extinct 1950s design. The battery-operated imitation antique kept fairly good time, gaining just a few minutes each month. And then it started slowing down. I installed a new battery. In the following week, it lost five minutes. I reset it. In the second week, five minutes. So I let it keep its own time for three weeks and it lost over a quarter of an hour. Out it went.

There's another, rather beautiful, imitation antique wall clock in the dining area. Its pendulum used to sway gently back and forth but lost that ability some years ago. It will still chime, with an electronic Big Ben type chime, but that uses quite a lot of battery power and, with my severe hearing loss, I can't hear it unless I'm standing close to it. I'm not inclined to switch my hearing aids on once an hour just to listen to it.

In the septuagenarian phase of life, we have more time to do what we want to do but, oddly enough, less time left in which to do it. Unless there are good reasons why we need to be reminded of the time and to follow a particular sequence of actions, we don't really need clocks all over the place. But some of us still hang on to them.

There was a vacant space on the wall when I removed the imitation antique wooden clock. It has now been filled with an elegantly framed print of a portrait of my great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Ordoyno, whose seminal work 'Flora Nottinghamiensis' was published in 1807. When I look at his determined expression and gently defiant eyes, I am looking back 200 years and pondering another aspect of the personal face of time.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2013


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