Some people feel about clocks pretty much the same way they feel about cats. They either love em or hate em. I fall into the former category and will spend time and effort keeping both in working order. Okay, the lovely grey cat died last February from diabetes and general old age, but it was his time. Yep, his number was up and the V.E.T did the rest. Now I’ve finally got the grandfather clock working again, thanks to a great clock repairer nearby who, I can tell by his pale, unworldly eyes, a slightly averted gaze, has a mind that is interested in mechanics, in things that whirr and spin, in ratchets and hammers and wheels and pendulums. And he’s done the business. The clock, made by Alexander Morton of Armagh sometime around 1740 (we know this because Morton was born in 1715 and died in 1750), strikes on the hour, its brassy, black-enamelled dial shimmering and slightly battered at c. 270 years of age. The case is ebonised wood, and the clock as a whole is smaller than a contemporary grandfather. But it’s lovely. The old thing preceded Beethoven and Mozart, and was around when young Emmanuel Kant hadn’t even begun to think of the nature of reality. It came into existence around the time of one of the earlier Irish famines (preceding the great calamity of the 1840s), possibly during the 1740s. Alexander Morton was a young man when he died, so one can assume he was working on clocks from c. the mid 1730s onwards.
The concept of time fascinates me deep down, and deeply. It is etched into our bodies, into all our rhythms. Perhaps the solid, warm, heavy tick, and the hourly metallic DING! (in the case of my clock) is reassuring and companionable, echoing all the other echoes of our unfolding lives and the strange, often human-invented ‘divisions’. But heart-time and clock-time narrate a story. About where we have come from and where perhaps we are going. Well, we all know where, right? More meaningfully, there’s the wonder of time itself – the concept – and the many reflections on time which are available, sometimes in dreamlike fragments, half-articulated notions, othertimes in rigorous philosophies. I don’t always subscribe to the idea of time as being linear, especially as it’s a concept anyway. Human’s don’t move through it like a steady train burning itself out while time soldiers on. Time can only be an idea, a mental formaline in which we paddle away our existences on the planet, sustaining us with its sometimes kind, othertimes cruel illusions. The French philosopher Henri Bergson viewed time rather like a huge unravelling ball of wool. In that case, he saw the HUMAN as the one who was static, and TIME as the movement which, in a way, got ‘pulled’ through us. Well, life certainly passes through places. The evidence is everywhere, and the evidence of outcomes is also there, Ozymandiac, in the deserts of our explorations. But I don’t think of time – and the ticks of the clock – as necessarily marking a passage away from the past and ahead to death. I think of it as a forwards-movement undoubtedly, one which works like an accompanying sound to existence, to heartbeat, to all the rhythms that surround us and work through us. It is a microcosmic echo of other rhythmic sounds that have yet to be heard when scientists and astronomers and physicists get to grips with time, space, and gravity.
Once when I was a child, I pestered my mother continuously about WHY we couldn’t know what lay ahead in the future. Eventually she replied ‘Because if we knew the future, we would have no hope.’ I didn’t fully grasp what she meant at the time. I found it unsatisfying as a reply, but of course it was a perfectly good, if fatalistic, answer. I don’t subscribe to that view today. Awful as the world is, ghastly in size as its population is (with worse to come in say, fifty years), there seems to be an inbuilt mechanism in the human system that says try again, try again, try again … And if we are to try again, to think again, to invent yet again and again, we must be aware of rhythm, of patterning, of the template and logic that is embedded in our imaginations. The reminders surround us, and are in us: heartbeat – menstrual cycle – menopauses male or female – the duality of human features (eyes, ears, arms, legs, kidneys, adrenal glands, ovaries, testes); and clock, iPhone, watch, clockradio, and grandfather clock standing in halls, on landings, in back kitchens, in room busy or quiet, ticking and turning over the hours, the pattern, the template . . .