Sunday, 21 April 2013

Tempus Fugit - and an obsession with all things horological

My late Grandfather owned an old-fashioned jewellers shop. 

He wasn't my favourite Grandad and I say that with no sense of guilt or shame. I saw him rarely - and I mean once a year if he (or should that be me?) was lucky - so I never truly got to know him and him to know me.  

For reasons best known to my parents this annual trip would seemingly come out of the blue and lasted but a few, fleeting hours.

It was always an agonising  afternoon for us four boisterous children, trapped in a dark, spiritless, two bedroom flat above the shop. We whispered in hushed tones and were 'seen and not heard'.

 On the rare occasions we visited, which was always on a Sunday afternoon, we were treated (being the operative word) to high tea. Sadly it was never  one of those home-baked affairs with dainty, moist sandwiches and tiers of luscious cakes, more the corner shop affair with tasteless, bought in cakes and a disgusting trifle produced from a box sprinkled far too liberally with slivers of stiff almonds and teeth-crushing silver balls, all presented and served by his 'new' wife. And by 'new' I mean 20 years or so. A cold, steely-haired Welsh woman with a tangible dislike for children and mess. She wasn't our real grandmother and I refused to call her that, so avoided any conversation beyond the  polite please and thank you.

Our real grandmother was immortalised in a single faded, black and white photo. 

A woman of middle-age, worn down by life  or family or both. I never had the pleasure of meeting her though, she died well before I was born. On the very rare occasion when her name was mentioned the well-thumbed photo came out once more and was passed around. 'This was your grandmother.' 

I always felt a loss and a deep sadness for her and for me. Those empty eyes and  tight lips where no smile ever seemed to have played, not even in a photographers studio. A woman who seemed to have the whole world on her shoulders. As a 7 year old, I sensed her sadness and felt her palpable pain.

The only pleasure derived from the yearly visit - and I'm sure it was just that - was an invitation after tea to  visit the shop below.  It was only a short skip and a tumble down the stairs to a wonderful treasure trove of delights - for a little one, that is.

A somewhat dusty, trapped in time shop, filled to the rafters with every imaginable precious metal, sparkling gem and exquisite jewellery, though surprisingly these never really held any interest for me.

I was more charmed and bewitched by the cornucopia of time pieces that covered every inch of the faded, flock-papered walls and crammed shelves,  spellbound by their boings and clangs and soothing ticks.

From handmade wooden cuckoo clocks made in far away Switzerland to majestic, polished grandfather clocks that stood soldier-like staring down at me - I loved them all.

I distinctly recall on our very last visit, (though at the time us wee ones had no inkling that it was to be the final visit to see a dying man) standing stock still, eyes  closed and drinking in the soft, soothing, comforting sounds of the clocks as they marked time in their own time, out of step. 

As perhaps as a parting gift, though we knew not of the impending doom that would soon befall him, Grandfather gestured towards  the glass fronted cabinets and asked us all to select something from them. There was no proviso attached or a ceiling on price, just an invitation to choose something to our liking. Slightly suspicious of this sudden and out of character gesture, we awkwardly perused the crimson velvet-lined trays of sparkling delights. I so dearly wanted to say that actually I'd much prefer a clock but felt unable to speak to or communicate with this stranger, my Grandfather.    

Contrary to popular belief I am no keeper of time as my husband often laments. So why should I therefore have surrounded myself and filled my home with a plethora of time pieces? 

I simply cannot answer that. But I do recall a brief moment in a jewellers shop one late Sunday evening  when time for me, stood still.

Can you  spot the wee mouse?

I did eventually get my own cookoo clock.



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