When we moved into our current house, we moved a number of boxes in the attic. Some were genuinely for long-term storage—brass nonsenses originally collected by my parents do I suppose count as heirlooms—but others were a manifestation of that trick: put something in storage; if you haven’t opened it by the time you come to move again, you don’t need it.
Buried at the bottom of one box, I knew, was a wind-up alarm clock given to me by my Grandad when I went to university. It was loud: not just its bell, but also its tick. Its pedestal was unforgivingly hard, and it would use any surface it was placed on as a resonating board, amplifying every clank of its internal machinery. I think it might have been responsible for the end of at least one relationship. Its brassy roundness, its luminescent dial, its functional heaviness: in my mind it was a cross between an alarm clock and a steampunk submarine.
Now that we’re planning to move again, I’ve felt a need to find out exactly what’s in the loft, and have probably spent more time up there in the past few days than in all the years since our arrival here. One of the things I unearthed, indeed planned to unearth, was this legendary clock. And what I found was, well, a disappointment.
The base I remembered was cracked, and rather badly at that. The gold rim and cream backing was chipped and scuffed. The fonts on the dial were scarcely part of a submariner aesthetic, and more a kind of 1970s missed shot at cool. When I first wound it up, it wouldn’t tick: hard shaking didn’t fix it, but actually setting the alarm off, by manually turning the hands around, got the works going just about. Essentially, it was a thing of the past, a thing from my past, and utterly unwelcome in my present: its damage was enough to prevent it selling even in a charity shop; and it went almost directly from attic to bin.
Luckily, soon afterwards I was emptying a bookcase so that it might be hidden upstairs and make our living room look ten times as spacious, when I rediscovered my old Penguin Classics copy of Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds. This made me inordinately happy. Ars longa, clocca brevis.