Tick Tock Me

4 Jan


HMV Gramophone, Wind-up gramophone

This is my favourite mechanical gramophone, bought after my famous collection was started!

For me, it all started many years ago at a boot sale when I spent not very much on a record player.

I had a few 45s and LPs and I thought it would be nice to have something to play them on, especially something that cost not very much. But when I got it home and examined it more closely I discovered that, though electric, it was only capable of playing records of one speed (or a close variant of that speed): 78 rpm.

I had no 78 rpm records. Do you remember them? Before vinyl, they were pressed into brittle and easily damaged shellac, so despite the vast quantities that were created between the turn of the twentieth century and 1960 when production finally ceased, relatively few have survived.

Their longevity as records wasn’t enhanced by a children’s television programme that encouraged creative little ones to heat them up and bend them into fruit bowls. Mummy, the presenters (probably) said, would love a black shellac fruit bowl! They don’t get taught things like that these days because of health and safety concerns, so any surviving 78 rpm records may have a chance of surviving intact and playable a little longer.

Since then I have accumulated quite a pile of old 78s and a couple of proper wind-up machines to play them on!

Anyway, that’s when it all started.

What, you may ask, was “it all”?

Well, I do have a fair sized collection of 1950s 78s, having pompously decided to collect the “soundtrack of my childhood” and subsequently created a list of all UK top 40 records since the charts began in 1953. It was a big year, was 1953: the present queen had her coronation, I had my tenth birthday – and the charts were established. Three fairly significant events there, and no mistake!

But as my collection of 78s grew and finding new ones was becoming unbelievably difficult without paying through the nose for them, I got diverted.

What is it in a man who is approaching that famous “certain age” that makes him take an undue interest in time?

Smiths watch, Smith's English watch

This is possibly my best mechanical watch and I really ought to wear it more often.

To start with it was watches. You can buy brand new watches, the quartz variety, for almost nothing and they are astoundingly accurate, but the second hand turns round in monotonous one-second jerks. You can visit flea markets and so on and, if you’re lucky, buy a fifty or sixty year old mechanical (ie wind up) watch for not much more, and its second hand will be of the gentle sweep variety though the chances of it being anywhere near as accurate as the cheap quartz watches you (if you are anything like me) have accumulated in indecent quantities are approaching zero. There are, indeed, scores of watches out there and you forget, for the moment, that you only have one left wrist and consequently hardly need a tin filled with watches-in-waiting.

But that’s to start with.

It doesn’t take long for you to discover the rich variety of clocks that abound, and before we moved to a tiny home a year ago Dorothy and I had accumulated far too many. She was tolerant, I was obsessive. I guess I still am, and if her tolerance gets stretched too far I remind her that it was she who bought the cuckoo clock when we were in the Black forest a few years ago.

There can be few things more loveable than mechanical clocks that actually keep an approximation of the correct time, chime resonantly every hour and tick without deviation for eight days at the time. And they invariably have wonderful time-enhanced wooden cases: nothing plastic, nothing tacky or cheap.

Sibsey Trader windmill clock

This lovely oak-cased clock (circa 1940) was actually bought by me from a clock enthusiast who uses the tea-room of the Sibsey Trader Windmill as a show-room for his collection of clocks.

Sibsey Trader windmill

And this is the very windmill with the tea room off-picture, to the right.

All night long in this little house the cuckoo makes its spirited hourly call from just outside the bedroom door, a magnificent 31 day clock (inexpensive, probably made yesterday in the Far East) dongs its echo from the porch and elsewhere, out of earshot, an oak-cased wall clock replies, unheard but none-the-less stentorian.

That’s time, that is: our lives, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

It’s good to know that it’s being measured.

© Peter Rogerson 03.01.13


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