Old clocks are slightly mysterious things. I’m talking about real clocks with springs and pendulums and little parts that whirr and click and mutter to themselves; not the modern electronic marvels that record the passing minutes and seconds with complete accuracy, but no soul or personality.
Long ago, when I was about to join the crew of a yacht on a voyage across the Atlantic, I attended a course on astro-navigation.
A significant part of the programme was about how to keep accurate track of the time.
You had to know exactly how fast or slow your ship’s chronometer was, so you could add or subtract the daily error, and then you could check the position of the sun above the horizon and work out where you were on the vast ocean.
A good chronometer was an essential navigational aid.
The thing about a chronometer is that it may not tell the exact time, but it has to be consistently inaccurate. Of course none of that is necessary today. Electronic devices tell us exactly where we are and when we got there.
I find that a little boring and totally unromantic, but I suppose it prevents sailors from bumping into rocks. I own two old clocks, both largely hand-made and not particularly accurate.
They each offer an individual opinion of what they consider the time to be, and they can be a little moody at times.
My long-case clock (grandmother clock to you) took a holiday break over the Christmas season. It kept telling the time but its chimes became slower and slower and eventually stopped.
I cleaned it, oiled it, nudged it and spoke quite severely to it, but it remained dumb.
I made a note to call a horologist as soon as the holiday rush was over. Then, without warning, my clock decided to end its holiday.
On January 5 at around midday I walked past the silent clock on my way to the kitchen when I heard a soft “bong”.
I stopped in amazement and said: “Hello. Are you back?” Then, at 12.15 it cleared its throat, so to speak, and has been chiming merrily and loudly ever since.
I am tempted to believe it was on strike, but being a clock it was probably off strike.
My other antique clock - a 150-year-old dome clock - is a miracle of horological engineering.
It needs winding only once a year and sits on the shelf silently its revolving pendulum spins hypnotically clockwise then anti-clockwise endlessly, day after day, month after month.
It has its own idea about time and is currently four hours fast (or eight hours slow, depending on your attitude).
I do not adjust it. At its ripe old age it is entitled to its opinion and who am I to argue? I’m a bit slow myself.
After a lavish dinner in a smart restaurant the bill arrived and the young man examined it with a glum look. “You don’t look well,” said his pretty young companion. “Was it something I ate?”
* "Tavern of the Seas" is a daily column written in the Cape Argus by David Biggs. Biggs can be contacted at [email protected]
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.