When people discuss the pleasures of life, they often neglect a very important one: obsessions. Yes, I know, obsessions are usually regarded as a Bad Thing. They sap your energy, ruin your finances, wreck your health, annoy the neighbours and keep possibly earn you a jail sentence. Well, so some people think. The reality, I submit, is often more benign.
Consider, as an example, that much maligned bunch of obsessives, train spotters. Now, I have never train-spotted in my life and would be hard pressed to distinguish one locomotive from another except for the obvious differences between steam (good) and everything else (boring). But that is not to say that I do not understand the train spotters passion and his or her joy at spotting one of the objects of his or her devotion. I don’t doubt that spotters derive hours of pleasure from their obsession.
Or consider monarchists. I don’t mean the political sort who endlessly debate the pros and cons of monarchy versus republicanism; no, I mean those entraptured souls who turn up at any royal occasion, hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols and even, joy of joys, to thrust a bouquet into a royal hand. The passion seems to me frivolous, pointless and, in a word, stupid, but fair’s fair, and as long as they indulge their whim without harming or inconveniencing the rest of us, good luck to them.
Of course, gentle reader, you know full well where this is leading. You are agog to know what my personal obsession is. Go on admit it. Well, since you ask so prettily, I will tell you.
My own obsession is with time. Not so much time-as-it-passes, time under the aspect of “I swear the years are getting shorter” and “Six years ago! Good grief, I could’ve sworn it was only last week!” No, my obsession with time is with time as measured by clocks and watches. I have already mentioned that clocks fascinate me. If I had more money, I would fill the place with clocks of every kind.
But that’s still not quite it. You might regard clocks as a subsidiary obsession of mine. No, the real obsession is with accurate timepieces. I have spent my life trying to obtain a clock or watch that will ensure that I always know the right time. Picture the scene: three or four persons gathered together and one of them innocently asks what the time is. “Ten past three,” says one. “I make it nearer quarter past,” says another. “Well I checked mine with the talking clock this morning and it says 3:12,” says a third. This is a common enough scene but it always makes my toes curl. I want to shriek “Doesn’t anyone have the RIGHT time, dammit?!”
I have had many clocks and watches in my time and I have checked them continuously against the talking clock, the radio pips, other clocks. It has always been a losing battle which in the end has come down to determining that my clock or watch loses or gains so many seconds or minutes per day and trying to apply this “equation of time” whenever I look to see the time. Finally, I thought I had found the solution: radio controlled clocks, hurrah!
A radio controlled clock, controlled, that is, by radio pulses from the atmic clock at the National Physics Laboratory in Rugby should be the ne plus ultra of time keeping, shouldn’t it? Well, yes and no. Generally speaking, clocks and watches advertised as “radio controlled” call home (or “poll”) once in every 24 hours, typically around 2 am, and set themselves according to the time signal received. The rest of the time, they run as ordinary quartz timepieces. That’s good enough for most people since the divergence of the quartz crystal over a 24-hour period is tiny. In any case, with most clocks and watches, you can force them to “poll” at any time, ensuring accurate time whenever you want it.
But never fear: a true obsessive will always find a way to be disgruntled. What if you can’t get a signal (a problem familiar to mobile phone users)? What if you go abroad to a different time zone? How accurate is the atomic clock, anyway, given that it has to be adjusted every so often because the earth itself doesn’t keep perfect time? And what is time and what does it mean to say “yesterday at the same hour”, for example? Once you begin to look into it, you realize what a mare’s nest the concept of time is and to question the very principle of making mechanical devices to measure this said “time”.
For the true obsessive, endless fun awaits.