I love clocks and have done for as long as I remember. The clock in the picture may well have inspired this love. It has accompanied me all my life. For the last two years, it has been lying in a plastic bin bag in the bottom of a wardrobe but last weekend we finally made room for it in our living room and I celebrated the joyful reunion.
The last time I had it serviced, the clockmaker described the clock on the receipt as “German strike with barley twists”. This, being interpreted, means that the clock was made in Germany, probably in the early 20th century, strikes the hours and half-hours and has decorative wooden spirals on the front corners. From its appearance, I would guess that it was not an expensive clock. The vaguely boot-shaped panels on the front are slightly asymmetrical and the barley twists differ slightly for one another.
The movement, however, is solid. It has been working now for the best part of 100 years. It has been cleaned and oiled a few times but, as far as I know, no parts have been replaced except the mainspring. This broke one day as I was winding it. This was a somewhat frightening experience because I was left holding a key under tension with no idea what to do next. In the end I withdrew the key because if I had simply let go of it, it would have spun and possibly damaged my fingers. As it was, as the key came out and the spring unwound, it kicked the key against my thumb which was painful for several days.
What is it that charms me so much in this and other clocks? In the first place, their faces attract me. To me, clock faces are almost as unique and expressive as human faces. Each one is different. Whether they have Roman numerals or ordinary numerals, each has an individual character. They smile or frown, look severe or welcoming. Some are shy and retiring, others bold. Some are decidedly sinister while others are warm and reassuring.
Another important characteristic of clocks is that they have moving parts and make sounds. Apart from their chimes, clocks emit clicks, clunks and whirring sounds as they adjust to the changing pressure of the springs, prepare to strike, etc. They are almost like living things. I am here talking about what I call “proper clocks”, clocks with clockwork- or gravity-driven movements and pendulums or some similar regulatory device. There is something comforting about the ticking of a well set up clock*. I like to hear the clock calmly striking out the hour when I wake up in the night.
I would like to extend my collection of one but the cost of fine old clocks is prohibitive. It would be good to have a wall clock, not a long-case, but a round clock, striking if possible, the sort of clock that used to grace station buffets, RAF messes and pubs. You can buy reproductions but that is not the same.
Or perhaps a marine clock, one of those lovely brass clocks designed to be attached to a bulkhead. I once saw an advertisement for one that had been salvaged from a wreck. Imagine a clock that had sailed the oceans, then sat at the bottom of the sea for years, had been rescued and cleaned up, and was now ticking away contently on my wall, a clock with history.
In the meantime, I am happy to be reunited with my old clock and to hear him (for some reason “he” is male) ticking away and striking the hours and to perform the weekly ceremony of winding the clock.
*Owners of pendulum clocks don’t always realize that whenever you move them to a new position, they need “setting up”. If not set up properly, their ticking is uneven and they will perhaps run slow or keep stopping. You may be able to remedy this by putting wedges under the corners but the proper way to do it is as follows.
Open the back of the clock so that you can access the pendulum. Listen to the beat. It should be absolutely even like the steps of a healthy person walking, not like someone limping. If the tick is uneven, push the pendulum gently to one side until you feel resistance, then give another gentle push.
Set the clock going again. Is the ticking now more even or less so? If less, then you pushed the pendulum the wrong way. Try pushing it the other way. If it is better but not yet perfect, give it another gentle push in the same direction. Continue until the ticking is absolutely even.
This process requires patience. All clocks are different and react differently. You may have to carry out the setting-up process several times until you achieve the final result.