After a run of heavy posts on politics, sexuality, and God knows what other serious and worthy matters, a little light relief in the form of a much more trivial, but also more personal, interlude.
From as early an age as I can reliably remember, I’ve been obsessed with watches. Clocks, too, to a lesser extent, but it’s watches that really do it for me. I have no idea whatsoever about the trigger for this odd fascination. Perhaps, as a baby, I saw someone wearing one and was captivated by the sparkling reflections in the glass. I don’t know. But I do know that long before I could tell the time, perhaps before I even knew that watches had anything to do with time, I wanted one. My dad told me that I was too young, and although that was probably both reasonable and true, it had the effect of cementing in my mind the notion that watches were intimately related to growing up. I assumed that there would be an age, just as there was for going to school, when it would be permissible for me to possess what I coveted. But whereas with school the correct age was pretty well defined, that didn’t seem to be the case with watches. In answer to my constant questioning about whether or not I was now old enough, and if not, when would I be, my dad was unfailingly evasive.
At the risk of revealing more than I intend about my mental health in childhood (and now, for that matter) when I was small I developed a theory that in order to get things you wanted, you had to wish for them with a dogged determination, and an almost moral fervour. In fact, if the wished-for thing did not materialise, then it could only be because I had not wished hard enough, or for long enough, or very possibly both. So I remember when I was about 6, and coming home on the 7-mile bus trip from school (and as an aside, could anyone imagine allowing their 6yr-old to travel alone on a bus these days? Especially on a bus with a 2 hour gap between each scheduled service?) I would often spend the entire journey repeating endlessly to myself the magical incantation, “When I get home I’m going to find that I’ve got a watch!” It never worked, needless to say, but that merely made me the more determined to try even harder the next time.
And then, one day, I did get a watch. But not the watch I was expecting. Instead of the small but perfectly formed wrist-watch that I had desired so earnestly for so long, my dad bought me a pocket-watch. I have no idea what he was thinking of. It was a good 3 inches across, and weighed a ton. I was aghast. And yet as he pointed out this was, for all that, a watch. To love it, or to hate it? After a decidedly rocky start to my first watch romance, I eventually embraced it with the love and attention it deserved. But the romance was not without its difficulties. One day, whilst jumping off some step or another during a game of “off-ground touch”, the watch flew from my pocket and smashed onto the playground tarmac, the watch-glass tinkling away before my horrified eyes. That was bad enough, but the worst bit was that my dad wrote to the school to complain about their allowing children to play such rumbustious games, from which embarrassment I never fully recovered. And then, on another occasion, I left the jacket, in the breast-pocket of which the watch was nestling, at a roadside café 12 miles away. I vividly recall getting up in what seemed to me the middle of the night to go downstairs in floods of tears to express my desolation at the loss. I learnt a good lesson though: that tears can melt the heart of the sternest dad, since mine, who’d sent me to bed with his disapprobation of my carelessness ringing in my ears, was transformed by my distress into a kindly and sympathetic consoler. Useful…
Eventually, I got the wrist-watch I wanted so badly. Strangely I can’t remember it anything like as clearly as I can recall that pocket-watch, and that may well be connected with the fact that wanting something and not getting it is almost better than eventually getting it. It’s the hope, more than the consummation, as much in watches as it sometimes seems to be in sex.
But watches have not let me go so easily. I still have the same endless fascination with them. I can even now look at a jeweller’s shop window with as much interest as my wife would a designer clothes display. When quartz watches first came out, I bought one and was immediately captivated by their uncanny accuracy. The mechanical watches I’d had would gain or lose at least a minute a day, and putting them right with the pips on the radio was a daily chore. But my first quartz watch was accurate to within 15 seconds a week. And, shame though it is to confess it, I know this not from the manufacturer’s specification, but from checking it myself! Later, I bought a watch with a photo-cell in the face. The latest innovations were the ones that I wanted.
And then, quite suddenly, I didn’t want the latest innovations. I wanted a proper watch. One with cogs, and gears, and all the things I remember from the great watch coveting of my youth. I very much hope that I have now slain forever the dragon of my watch obsession. God, I really hope so. But my release has come at one hell of a price. £1,500 to be exact. The biggest, and most crazy impulse purchase of my life. Here it is. I do hope you like it. I most certainly do.