What time is it?

This is quite an exciting question to be asked, when one has a brand new watch with a radical time-telling layout.

For years I refused to wear a watch (far too oppressive) but I was given a beautiful watch for my 21st birthday, which I will always lament and sing eulogies for, having lost it a few years later (it had an unreliable clasp, even if it was otherwise perfection personified on a wrist, and once was delivered by the very concerned postlady, who’d found it on our driveway; little villages have the best postladies). It was white gold, had a mother of pearl face that shone like the moon at certain angles, and was so delicate and fine overall, with tiny seashell-esque links, it was like wearing a slither of pure, understated elegance.

It has taken me the best part of a decade to complete the sulking mourning process and find a replacement watch that I actually like. One could argue that I’m quite fussy about these things. To misquote Cher from Clueless as she likens choosing new shoes to choosing from her several male admirers, ‘You see how picky I am about my watch and it only goes on my wrist.’

Watches for women these days are horribly chunky. They are otherwise horribly glitzy. I have spent years – literally years, actual literal years; not even metaphorical or figurative or hypothetical years – glancing/gazing hopefully/dolefully at jewellery shop displays in town centres, capital cities and airports, waiting for the right watch to hit me square in the eyes (metaphorically) with its dazzling splendour, but have always been disappointed. I am devastatingly patient, of course, and in the meantime have worn, for years (and gratefully), my great aunt Edith’s 1944 gold watch, which was given to her on her 21st birthday (clearly hers has a better clasp than mine ever did, or a more careful owner, and never got left on driveways). But it has conked out, yet again, after yet another fit of artful, improvisational impressions of what may or may not (usually not) be the time at any given moment. (See here for an ode to its frequent rebellion.) I am getting it re-mechanised, partly out of duty but mainly because it deserves to live on even stripped of its eccentricity, and also (actually mainly) because my great aunt Edith was the most brilliant old lady there ever was. (Seriously, I took part in a mystic ‘circle’ the other month during which we were each asked to ‘call in’ a woman from our lives, and I called her in. Good old Edith.)

Anyway, telling the time is a bit like learning to tie shoelaces; both are learned with cardboard at primary school. The latter is a baffling art; holes punched in a pretend 2D shoe have laces strung through; you have to figure out which bits to pull and which to hold briefly with your index finger while you create a bow with loops that may or may not pull through and disappear completely.  (You are most likely wearing velcro.) Time, meanwhile, is presented as a circular idea, which you are taught to see as something that has a ‘face’, and two spinny bits that convention (the nearest adult) has imagined to have meaning; one ‘hand’ has drawn the shorter straw and has to move terribly slowly around the numbers while the other spins around declaring ‘quarter pasts’ and ‘quarter tos’; and if you’re lucky a third (on a real, non-cardboard clock) ticks at you to stop you having to practise saying ‘elephant’ to imagine the length of a second.

My new watch surpasses all convention (/all nearest adults) by nonchalantly having only one hand, which takes 24 hours to perform its circular dance. The lone wolf rises in the west and sets in the east, triumphing over ’12’ at the top of the face, where it howls at the midday moon, and slinks down to ’00’ at the bottom to have a little sleep. It’s rose gold (completing my colourific triathalon) and massively chunky (to challenge my notions of self; and also because after a quick conversation with the Swiss designers during which I may have slightly offended them by asking, I established that they aren’t releasing any smaller, more delicate, designs anytime soon, if ever). It takes a bit of getting used to, and each 1mm fret marks the vast, panic-inducing freedom (for some) of 15 minutes, leaving you to guess the exact current minute in between posts rather than pin-point current reality to a socially-accepted degree; the company’s ethos being that we should savour moments and the progression of a day rather than rush about to align our minutes with other people’s minutes, or judge our reality by, um, reality (OK, I am slightly putting words in their mouths, but their slick adverts would suit this sort of voice-over).

The fact that certain people I’ve shown my new watch to have been horrified by its radicalism has only cemented my process of bonding with it (that and the fact that I saw a version of it in a vision a few days before I saw the advert for it in the newspaper on my breakfast table – time’s funny and non-linear like that) and has also made me sure that taking out 6 links to make it wearable for proper admiration and rehearsal before even knowing for certain that I would keep it was a very good idea (I asked the man at the jewellery shop counter if he could perform the surgery in such a way that the link-removal could be imperceptibly reversed should I decide, after all, to take advantage of the 30-day refund policy; by my return to pick it up, he had decided, for some reason, and whisperingly, not to charge me the £20 he’d originally quoted for the effort; perhaps he, too, was a maverick).

Anyway, I was going to write about time itself when I started this, not watches, but got massively distracted. Maybe next time I will propound some theory or other; maybe even the sort that warrants wearing rebel jewellery and baffling everyone around you who asks such innocent questions as the one in the title of this post.


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