Jonathan: With all the heavy lifting and carrying – boxes, more boxes and yet even more cardboard boxes, and then of course there was all the furniture, it seemed likely my watch would get snagged against a doorframe, so I took it off and put it safely aside. That was 5th December 2002 – the day we moved in to An Gàrradh Mòr. And I never put that watch on again – until today, more than thirteen years later. Like so many others, back then, I was finding that a mobile phone was not just for emergencies or for work or when away from home, but for any time, any day. And with a mobile phone always in the hand or at least in the pocket, what need was there for a watch? But what goes around comes around, and now wrists are once again adorned with watches – of one sort or another. For some it’s a question of fashion, for others a justification to get out grandad’s gold watch and do more than just look at it and see if it still works, and for others it’s a question of simple practicality. It’s true that as phones have got smarter they’ve also got bigger, more expensive and more susceptible to theft or damage … and so less attractive as timepieces. But though that may be true for many, my reasons for reverting to watch-wearing is much simpler: I no longer need – or want – a mobile phone. Not that I’m a technophobe or something – certainly not! Though long a first-adopter in matters technological, I’ve never been altogether comfortable with the intrusiveness of a mobile phone, and if it wasn’t for the fact that, as a self-employed professional in construction a mobile phone was absolutely essential (and even by 2003 that was mainly for connecting my laptop to the internet wherever I happened to be), I’d gladly have gone without. So, now, retired from construction work, and with mobile reception here in Uist being patchy, intermittent and slow, when my latest smartphone started boot-looping (a fatal disorder resulting from a faulty bios update), I simply let the contract expire and … now I am at last MPAD-free. [Mobile Phone Anxiety Disorder. Okay – I made that up!]
But … I’ve recently been finding myself away from the house without much idea of what the time is and how long I’ve got before I need to … whatever. (Alas, even in retirement there’s appointments and obligations.) So when, very recently, Denise was sorting through some of her father’s things (he died more than ten years ago, but some things just have to be boxed up for a better time), we were looking at his watches. Two were good quality Accurist watches (one gold) probably dating from the 1950s, and one of these was his father’s watch. I picked up the older: one slight twitch of the winding knob and the second hand set off on its rounds – after maybe 15 yrs of use and 50yrs in a box. The third (photo left – with a new strap) was a cheap electronic watch with an analogue face – and a dead button battery: he’d worn that for the last several years before he died. Why on earth did he bother with that when he could have enjoyed the use of those far better old watches? And that got me thinking of my own watch, bought more than thirty years ago when we had very very little money to spare, and for that very reason held to the principle of buying the best quality we could afford. We also supported craftsmanship and ‘repairability’ – just as we do now.
It was 1983, we’d just bought our first house with a 95% mortgage, the amount borrowed was way more than three times our household income – and interest rates were in double figures. The south east of England might have been frothing with the ‘easy money’ of the first Thatcherite boom, but the economic mainspring of Barnsley – coal – was on a one-way downhill ride to the 1984 miners’ strike. Money was very short, and anyone buying a watch then was buying a cheap electronic watch – which at least had the kudos of being the very latest technology. The proprietor of the old-fashioned family clock and watch repairer advised me that, though the new-fangled quartz watches would very soon make both him and his shop a relict of a bygone age, it was nonetheless his professional duty to recommend to me the accuracy, convenience and above all value for money of an electronic watch. He pressed many upon me, yet I clung to my request – though by now it seemed little more than a wish – for a good quality traditional watch, the best he could offer for the budget I had. It was my 26th birthday, and we’d made the trip into town for this purpose. Sensing our disappointment, the old gentleman pulled himself up straight, took his glasses off, and looked me straight in the eye. He’d just be a few moments, he said. The silence of the empty shop – there were no other customers, or for that matter sales attendants – filled with the muffled thrum of traffic, the clack-clack of passing pedestrians, overlapping ticks and tocks, the clanging of miniature gongs, and clockwork cuckoos taking it in turn to call the hour. Our legs began to ache from waiting. As the more expensive wall clocks chimed the quarter hour, the old man returned with a watch which, though not in a jewel case or packaged or enhanced with anything more more than a simple card stock tag on a string, was clearly new and unused. It was a Tissot, with a gold case, dark tan leather strap, stainless back (of course), with sweeping second hand and a date bezel. He offered it for our consideration, though it was clear it was the only thing he had to offer us within our budget. We agreed to buy it, and as we wrote out a cheque he screwed his watchmakers glass into his eye and carefully inscribed into the back of the case a customer number (560) and the date – 22.6.83. That watch became my trusted daily companion for nineteen years, through five more homes in three countries, up until the moment I put it aside for safe-keeping on the day we moved in to our present house, here in South Uist.
With dreadful weather keeping us from any outdoor work, I’ve granted myself a little leisure time to find out more about the watch. Despite the lack of any receipt or any other paperwork for the watch, the internet has told me more than that receipt ever would have. But the key was what I found under back-plate: the serial number.
The shop was Harrals, Jewellers, on Eldon Street, Barnsley. In fact, much as the old man had foretold, it closed down in 1984 – as the miners’ strike turned from political confrontation into a violent struggle for survival, and the South Yorkshire coalfield and everything dependent on it ground to a halt.
The watch movement is a series 2164 – made from 1972 to 1980. The body does not bear a model name, and I’ve been unable to find an exact likeness on the internet. However the serial number dates it to 1975. A very similar Tissot watch at that time, bought new, would have cost at least twice what we paid in 1983 – after eight years of inflation in double figures. Which reveals a mystery that we were completely unaware of until now, and we’ll no doubt never solve. What was it doing between ’75 and ’83, and why did old Mr Rhymer sell it to us at such a low price? There’s no defect apparent – not even cosmetic, and even though never serviced it’s never let me down. And already I can see it still keeps good time.
You know, that watch deserves a complete renovation and a new strap (Tissot themselves offer an all-inclusive cost of £110 including new crystal, any parts needed, a certificate of servicing and a guarantee). And more than that, it deserves to be used!