Grandmother’s clock

grandmas-clock-caseThe old hall clock struck four at twenty minutes to six this morning. And then five at six. It’s almost like a code – but, as my wife points out, without that element of consistency which codes require to make them really useful.
I mention this because, endearingly, the old thing behaved itself perfectly all through this Christmas. I had finally given up on it a couple of years ago (when it struck something like twenty five at something like seventeen minutes past three) and since then it had stood, a beloved but silent sentinel, in the hall of our home. But this year, when I was putting the seasonal holly and tinsel in its hair, I suddenly had a whim to give it another try.
I hauled the weight up on its chain and circled the ancient hands to set the time, and as I did so I noticed with surprise that the correct number rang out as they passed each hour. So I gave the pendulum its little push and tiptoed away, pleased that I had restored, if only for a short time, the house’s ticking heart. But, as I’ve just said, it then surprised us by keeping time and striking the hours correctly right through the new year, asking only to be wound each night on my way upstairs to bed.
The way this happened was really quite weird, because now the festive season is over and we have hit 2017, it immediately reverted to being just as erratic as ever.
It used to stand in the hallway of the Cotswold farmhouse when my wife’s deceased mother grew up a hundred years ago, and she used to tell us it never worked properly then.
grandma's-clock-faceIts face proudly proclaims that it was made by S. Simms of Chipping Norton, a town a short distance away from them by their horse and cart. So this was never a Thomas Tomkins masterpiece, yet it has a kind of rustic honesty which we can’t help respecting and cherishing, even when it doesn’t go. And not just because of its family connections.
Not that we haven’t tried: We sent it away to a clock-maker once and he said it was ‘dry’ and oiled it. His cure didn’t last long and one of my brothers repeated the process when he was staying with us. It was the sort of thing he was good at and, removing the pendulum and weight, lifting the mechanism out of the case, removing the face and hands by pulling out various little metal pins, he cradled the gleaming brass mechanism in a cushion on the dining room table and then spent ages delicately touching all the bearings inside with a little paintbrush dipped in 3 in 1 oil.
Mysterious inner workings

That worked for a time as well, and after it had once again been playing up I eventually plucked up courage and made the effort to take it to bits myself and copy what he had done. I may even have done this a second time a few years later, but in the end I gave up and the poor old thing seemed to have fallen silent for good.

Until, that is, I did the most dreadful thing you can imagine – in a moment of wild irresponsibility I just lifted the top off the case and blasted aerosol WD40 into the movement from both sides.
To my utter shame this cowardly, lazy and sacrilegious act restored the clock immediately and completely to perfect health, which lasted at least as long as any of the previous attempts to do the job properly had done.
When we moved home three years ago we propped the clock carefully upright in our new hall (we found that old pennies were perfect for putting under the feet to make it vertical, in case you ever find that helpful) and once again had a few goes at getting it going. But in the end our patience flagged and we gave up the struggle and left it silent from then on.
Until this Christmas in fact. Which is why, with no further intervention at all, it seemed so strange that it ran properly for almost two weeks before reverting to its former eccentricity.
And now I have to tell you the shameful truth that since starting to write this little piece I decided to repeat the WD40 treatment. I absolutely soaked the whole mechanism until it was dripping.  And once again, ever since, the clock is chiming all the right hours at exactly the right times.
S. Simms of Chipping Norton must be turning in his grave on every accurately signaled hour.
Naturally, this story raises all sorts of important philosophical points. For one thing, it reminds us how rare and precious it is these days to be able to actually see how something works. At least in theory, and when the reasons they don’t work, as here, are so deeply mysterious. It is the same when you take the front off a real piano and let the grandchildren see the hammers and the dampers and the chain of beautifully crafted intermediaries which follow from their pressing the ivory keys.
It would be quite worrying if a generation were to grow up who had no expectation that they might be able to understand how a thing works. And I think showing kids the insides of a ‘real’ clock does something to compensate for this.
And another thing – the modern world does have many wonderful innovations – like WD40 – which really are progress. Provided we use them wisely and try to understand what we are doing, they help us to combine the best of the old with the best of the new.
The final solution

Entente Cordiale never more important

How to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our twinning with the town of Pertuis, Provence, way down there in the glorious south of France? And return the compliment of their having named a major roundabout

(circle in American, Rond-Point in French) after us, showing the genuine warmth of their appreciation of the link with Alton.

Well, by a sheer stroke of serendipity, there was a second bird, as one might say, just waiting to be killed with this stone. Because, by a curious historical anomaly, Alton has for some years rejoiced in the possession of two parallel roads both called Whitedown Lane. That’s more Whitedown Lanes, you must agree, than any town strictly needs.

OS map showing too many  Whitedown Lanes

And, by a further happy chance, one of these two Whitedown Lanes was completely devoid of houses, so that nobody would have to change their postal address were it to be renamed – obviously a no no if it had been otherwise.

So, the responsible authorities swiftly agreed the proposal, new road signs were ordered and erected, Google (if not as yet the OS) updated their map,

Pertuis Avenue on the (Google) map

and the unveiling of the new road sign was arranged for the Saturday morning of the Anniversary visit by two dozen of our friends from Provence – the 22nd October. Just over a week ago.

First thing that morning I loaded the car with potted greenery and set off to join Don in decorating the sign, leaving Lesley to finish breakfast with our two French house guests

Not quite the breakfast Ramond and Simone  gave us in Pertuis last year

and then take them to the Mayor’s reception in the Town Hall.

Nearly ready for the unveiling

It is an amusing thought that Altonians will have as much difficulty pronouncing Pertuis Avenue as  Pertuisians presumably have with Rond-Point d’Alton.

But less amusingly, while I was bending to plant the flags you see on the left of this picture, a bag of rubbish thrown from a passing car bounced off my shoulder. Which interested me, because the marksman either showed astonishingly quick reactions coming round the corner, or, much more probably, took the trouble to get his driver to turn round and come past again for the sole purpose of expressing his (I assume his) xenophobic venom. Which suggests a level of calculated malice sufficient to raise an appreciative editorial eyebrow  at the Dailies Mail or Express. Indeed, should either of these publications wish to award a prize, the till receipt from the Petersfield MacDonalds which the lobber thoughtfully enclosed in his grubby bundle might help them in tracking him down. (Funny that – Petersfield says more ‘Telegraph’ to me, but ‘Daily’, just the same.)

I had these thoughts during the hour I spent guarding (yes, in these Brexit times it did seem to be necessary) the site,


while Don, in his capacity as Twinning Association Chairman, joined the meeting in the Town Hall.

Passers-by, hearing why I was grumpy, fell over themselves to cheer me up – “Here – let me take the rubbish so that you can forget about it” “That sounds wonderful, I was just setting off for Dartmoor but I love France and I’ll stay for the ceremony” (She did, plus her dog) “Can I get you a cup of tea?” To which – “How very kind of you, but there isn’t a loo…”

The happy Ceremony

That afternoon, in the town, was endlessly heart-warming. Everyone seemed to know about the Anniversary visit. Walking with our guests around King’s Pond, we introduced them at random to a lady with two children feeding the ducks near us and found that she was an enthusiast for twinning, and that her son was corresponding, through school, with a contact in Pertuis. And the little son who was with her, probably no more than five, had learned a few words of French and exchanged them, in an utterly charming scene, with our visitors.

Happy faces at the dinner at the end of the weekend

On the way back from leaving Simon and Raymond at their coach on Monday morning, I stopped to photograph the three flags flying on the Alton War Memorial flag poles, a symbol of our better selves, and of hope for the future.

Entente cordiale never more important

Tomorrow’s EU referendum- the need to listen to the experts

Does the panel agree with Michael Gove that we’ve had enough of experts?

That was the question I submitted in advance for the EU referendum debate in Alton Assembly Rooms this Monday evening. Unfortunately it was left to the very end – in fact five minutes after the very end (timed for the England/Slovenia match) – and the panel were asked to give it a one-word answer.

I had been hoping for more than that.

I had chosen my question, after much thought, specifically to Continue reading Tomorrow’s EU referendum- the need to listen to the experts

Las Vegas to Calgary in four weeks, and a story with a moral

Our route

Our Route
Blue – self-drive car    Red – rail   Green – bus

The above image is a still from the interactive Google map of our route which can be accessed by clicking this link. If you do that you can zoom down to the detail of where we went and/or superimpose the Satellite view.

Some facts and figures

Modes of travel:
Plane:London to Las Vegas 10 hours BA
Calgary to London 7½ hours Air Canada on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Continue reading Las Vegas to Calgary in four weeks, and a story with a moral

Technical gadgets and gizmos on the trip

I do have some technical experience to share if anyone is contemplating a trip of the kind described in these posts of the last four weeks. And the usual disclaimers apply that I am not an expert and this may all be second nature to many readers. However, here goes: Continue reading Technical gadgets and gizmos on the trip

Reflections while flying home – and afterwards

We booked our flights economy through Opodo but we find ourselves flying home Air Canada on the very latest Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Everything state of the art, including a USB outlet for me to keep this phone charged and me writing the whole way (if I completely lose my senses). Best of all, we have three seats for the two of us! Continue reading Reflections while flying home – and afterwards

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