Saturday, 16 February 2013

Tick tock tick tock

Mention of the legacy from my marriage has put me in mind of other things that W--- introduced me to, such as Matt Munroe, Doris Day, and the Rolling Stones - or at least the Stones in their psychedelic phase, numbers like She's A Rainbow. (Although M--- was the real Stones Expert and Devoted Fan, and it was she who taught me most about them, and turned me into quite a fan as well)

But W--- did something that M--- didn't do. She gave me a late nineteenth-century pocket watch for my birthday in 1986, when I was thirty-four. I was very pleased to have this astonishing gift. The only other person I had ever come across who'd been given a pocket watch by their wife was a colleague who went by the unlikely name of Byron Blower. He was serving in Southampton 2 tax office around 1976. I'd been intrigued and impressed, and greatly lusted after a pocket watch to call my own. At some point I must have mentioned BB's watch to W---. She bought it at an Antiques Fair in Wimbledon.

Here are some photos of my watch, which I still have on display in my lounge:

As you can see, it's a thing of beauty and fascination, if you like precision-made mechanical things that make quick little movements all the time, and are actually useful.

And yet this was no celebrated marvel from the hand of Breguet or Harrison. It wasn't hand-made. It was a bog-standard watch that an ordinary citizen might purchase, made in a factory, with a movement (the clockwork innards) made by an American company, the Elgin National Watch Company; and a brass case made by another American company, J Boss. The movement can be dated to 1895.

It was then common to buy the movement and the case separately at the same shop, and simply marry them together, so that you could for instance have a showy case with an inexpensive movement inside, or a high-class movement inside a plain case. This catered for a wide range of customers, well-off or not so freespending. It was no disgrace to own a moderately-priced factory-made watch, as opposed to the very expensive bespoke handmade article from English makers such as Dent. The Americans had mastered the technique for mass-producing identical tiny parts that could be fitted together without extra finishing. They could therefore manufacture dependable and accurate timepieces in great quantity. Mine is middle-of-the-road in terms of quality, and probably gave good service up to the first world war, then got put away as wristwatches came in - and Swiss makers, prestigious or mass-market, became dominant.

I became very interested in both clocks and watches during the late 1980s, and acquired a litte library that I still possess, these books being uncommon and not to be parted from:

That's my watch at the top, on its stand. I wore it for three or four years on and off, but bought the stand in 1991, after W--- and I had split up, as by then I wanted to display it, rather than wear it:

The trouble with pocket watches was that they were designed for gentlemen with a waistcoat pocket, and any other method of wearing them - such as in a trouser pocket, on the end of a leather thong lopped around a belt - was to some degree unsuitable. I banged my watch against hard furniture more than once. Thankfully no dents resulted. But knocks of any kind weren't good for the mechanism. Apart from whatever effect those knocks had, the movement had over the years become worn out, even if it did still seem to be shiny and pristine. My watch stopped dead several times, and was professionally 'repaired' several times, but it was inevitable that I'd grow tired of those inconvenient stoppages and buy a regular wristwatch. In 1992 I got a modern plastic-strapped sports watch, by Tissot I think, with badminton and other activities in mind. (It was a ladies watch, really, but I don't think anyone noticed)

Watches represent an interest that fizzled out. Nowadays I can't seem to get enthusistic about them. The historical development of timepieces is interesting, as are the scientific theories of time itself, but it's just not 'me' any more. I'm hanging on to all my watch-related stuff just in case I ever get keen again. But I probably won't.


  1. I bought a watch about twenty years ago, a delicately coloured Swatch, because we went on a european trip and parted ways for nearly two weeks whilst I worked on a project. it did not last too long but I had started to use it in the car to time parking so bought a replacement. It is in the house somewhere I am sure but has not been seen for over fifteen years.

    That is the extent of my watch owning history! There used to be many public clocks and I knew which to trust and later with a clock in the car I was never late for any work appointments.

    There is a long case clock in the house, two were bought by my partner's father for £1 each but her mother insisted one be sent back. It only looses a couple of minutes per week and beats out a heart beat for the house. Amazing what can be done with lumps of lead for weights to drive it for eight days and cat gut to wind up those weights...

  2. Well you might get re-interested given TIME LOL. It is a nice watch but I'd have to be really into watches to have ever wanted one like it. Any mechanical watch I wore didn't last very long, they all seemed to stop for no apparent reason. The only watch that didn't stop was an electronic one made by Casio which would happily work under water to a depth of 100 metres so they claimed though I vever took it to that depth but did take it scuba-diving to 20 or 30 metres a few times and it continued to work ok. It was also fitted with a thermometer which would work both on the wrist or as a stand alone ambient temperature measuring device, often very useful in my former employment when I was involved with environment controls in computer rooms and the like. I gave it to my eldest son years before my transition but I don't think he kept it.

    Shirley Anne x

  3. I am sure that everyone has expectations that marriage will be forever. It's however a hard road at times, harder still if gender confusion muddies the water, whether acknowledged or yet to be understood.

    I know that much time has passed and distance travelled but can't help feeling sad after reading this post. I don't doubt though that the expression of good luck was true. You strike me as someone who tried hard and W surely bears no ill will.

    As for the locations - I think the Plough is now a Harvester, the Morden Hall a beefeater but the National Trust grounds are still growing strong. I didn't expect to ever read a blog mentioning Worcester Park ..... it's been a while but I lived there for 13 years


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