by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

My paternal grandfather was hooked on watches. He had something like forty of them when he died. I inherited several – an 18K gold Pochelon Frères, Genève dress pocket, another very large coin silver railway pocket and a Benrus wrist watch.

 

I also acceded to my grandfather’s affection for horological devices generally though I enlarged the focus to include clocks – mantel, wall and grandfather clocks. If I recall correctly at our house at one time we had no less than seven clocks, most of them with chimes on the hour and many on the quarter-hour as well.  You can imagine the cacophony!  Plus I had another three clocks at my law office.  When however we sold the house and office I kept only two clocks, a grandfather and a Sligh mantel clock.  The grandfather clock performs well and we have acclimatized to the gongs on the quarter-hour.

The Sligh mantel clock has not done so well.  To begin with it is a strange clock in spite of its traditional appearance. Even though it is a manual clock (equipped with key winds for time, hour and quarter-hour) it has in addition a battery operated control mechanism which – as one might expect – maintains very accurate time.  The uncanny part is that it is still necessary to wind the clock. It worked well for many years. But eventually the battery component stopped functioning. I was able to have the mechanism replaced by the chap who took care of the grandfather clocks in our family.  He found a used replacement part but warned that if it failed again it would be near impossible to find another. Though the battery gizmo still works, the hour chime does not.  As it turns out this is not a catastrophe because we were finding the chimes of the two clocks annoying. I ended by allowing the mantel clock to wind down and then removed the battery from the mechanism so the clock stopped entirely.

For months the Sligh mantel clock sat inert on the bookshelf, its hands frozen at five minutes to four. That didn’t matter much when we were in South Carolina for the winter but upon our return I found myself routinely looking at the clock for the time only to be exasperated. Besides, I abhor any device which does not function properly. By degrees of frustration I resolved to give the Sligh clock away.  I refused to spend any more money on it to attempt to repair what I considered an endless money pit. Admittedly I harboured the possibility of getting a brand new mantle clock – something which was mechanical but which only told the time, sans the chiming features- but I was having trouble convincing myself of the propriety of the expenditure. Something about perpetuating the cycle of purchase and decay was nagging me.

This morning I took the clock off the shelf and stuffed the key and manual into the back of the clock for transportation to a nearby clock shop I had found on the internet.  As a precaution to my adventure I telephoned the clock shop and discovered that the owner was on holidays for the next two weeks.  This was just enough of a deterrence to examine the clock with a view to getting it to work to some extent.  I began the reincarnation by replacing the battery, a new one naturally.  Immediately the ticking started.  I then wound the clock (though not the chimes for the hour or quarter-hour) and to my surprise and unanticipated delight the clock responded as one would hope. It was soon apparent that the clock would keep time without the benefit of the chimes.  Though this was clearly a compromise – and less than integrity – I was pleased with the result since I had indirectly accomplished my goal of getting a clock without chimes and I hadn’t to endure the nuisance and expense of doing so.

What is even more absorbing are the life lessons:

  1. the material world will inevitably decay and fall into ruin (the first of life’s blunt faceoffs);
  2. new things are marvellous but the novelty is short-lived (the intellectual equivalent of pulling the rug out from under one’s feet);
  3. no thing is really a game-changer (perhaps the most disheartening message for those who pine for constant rejuvenation);
  4. accommodation – while some view it as an unpleasant and condescending compromise – can be a good thing (the unwitting accretion of wisdom with age);
  5. even old and damaged goods have life in them (a tepid confession which admittedly borders on the Pollyanna);
  6. temporary set-back can be turned to advantage with resourcefulness (perhaps nothing more than strategic compensation);
  7. the burden of stress can be avoided by the application of reason (when all else fails, think); and,
  8. there are always better things to do with one’s time and money (an unhappy alternative for the more visceral members of society).

As a hopeless materialist this private drama awakened in me some disharmony.  I won’t pretend that the outcome is completely satisfactory. But that too is a lesson of its own – that life is indeed imperfect. As a further and final elucidation of this particular escapade I note that it is all about balance. There is no question in my mind that this is the best conclusion to the original dilemma.  Nor do I anticipate losing any sleep as a consequence.  Meanwhile I can enjoy the very methodical ticking of the clock and its astonishing accuracy. Besides the restrained and sensible confluence affords me the enviable status of being both abstemious and practical, not an entirely dislikable recommendation.

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth when the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low — they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper is a burden and desire fails, because man is going to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 12:1