Watchbore and the Story of Time
In which Watchbore reveals the most significant
wristwatch of all time and brings the story to a grateful conclusion.
Readers will recall that they left Watchbore in conclave
with his new part-time personal assistant, Miss Gloria Luscious, a lady whose
secretarial skills, as Watchbore was discovering to his gratification, were
proving to be quite remarkable for one so young.
But Watchbore must draw a veil over the boring minutae of
his day-to-day business activities, and take you to the Somme battlefield in the
late summer of 1916, where Private Harold Watchbore 8760, 3rd regiment of the
South African Infantry Division, is about to lose his life in another futile
attempt to take Delville Wood.
“The bombardment will cease as soon as I begin my
afternoon nap,” commanded a well-lunched general several miles from where
Private Watchbore sat cowering in a malodorous trench.
Whether Private Watchbore advanced into his own barrage or
the machine-gun bullets of the opposing team is a matter of small importance in
the similar fate of a million other soldiers. Like most of them, Private
Watchbore was a victim of bad timing.
The vital necessity being in a position of military
advantage in the crucial time between the lifting of the barrage and the opening
of enemy machine-gun fire is what persuaded soldiers in the front line
reluctantly to adopt an item of female jewelry – the wristlet watch.
Extensive horological research conducted by Watchbore
proves that the very effeminate wristwatch would have never won the male wrist
and become the symbol of the 20th century without the noble sacrifice of Private
Watchbore and millions like him. Thus, as he stands, hat over his heart, before
a cross in a field of crosses, listening to the haunting notes of the Last Post
fade away over the Menin Gate, Watchbore draws great comfort from the knowledge
that they died for Omega.
It is fitting, therefore that the watch chosen as the
single most significant wristwatch is the one that crossed the gender barrier to
become the icon of our age. It’s a 1916 purpose-made military wristwatch, with a
protective cover over the glass, black dial and luminous markings. Equally
fitting, is that it is displayed next to the timing device of a Polaris missile
There were two other timepieces that held Watchbore’s
particular attention at the exhibition. One represented the highest achievement
of medieval time-keeping in a working replica of the amazing 14th-century Dondi
clock, constructed according to the detailed instructions and drawings of the
original maker, Giovanni de Dondi of Padua, Italy. It has seven main dials
showing the cycles of the moon, sun and five planets, a complete religious
calendar, including moveable feasts, and the time of night and day, sunrise and
sunset. Completed in around 1375, the original vanished sometime after the 16th
Watchbore also had the privilege of admiring one of the
best expressions of Breguet’s genius – the superb action of his twin-movement
regulator with the pendulums swinging in anti-phase – the one owned by Britain’s
Queen Elizabeth (the other being in the collection of the Ecole des Arts et Métiers,
Paris, France). Watchbore is at a loss for words to describe the emotions
aroused by this most beautiful instrument – the first to explore the phenomenon
of resonance in timekeeping.
It is well known that the depiction of time results in
some astonishing examples of human intellectual ingenuity – but not only in
calendars, clocks and watches. Time is also the subject of powerful art, notably
Titian’s disturbing Allegory of Prudence and Poussin’s masterly Phaëton
asking for the Chariot of Apollo, both of which held Watchbore spellbound in
Among the exhibits relating to personal experiences of
time, Watchbore could not help but be moved by the poignant photographic record
of a bourgeois German couple, Anna and Richard Wagner. Every Christmas
from 1900 to 1945, they sent a photograph of themselves in their parlour with
their Christmas tree and presents. We see them as a young couple starting out in
life, their years of hardship and abundance, Richard growing a prosperous
outline, Anna receiving her first vacuum cleaner in 1927, wearing overcoats
during wartime fuel shortages, growing old. The last photo, in 1945, shows the
white-haired Anna alone – no tree, no presents. Richard had died that August.
While Watchbore knows that his readers are avid for a few
thousand more gem-like words on the various interesting artworks and objects on
show, and eagerly await full details on the similarities and differences between
the Iunuit and Australian Aboriginal concepts of time, he must regretfully
disappoint them by bringing this cliff-hanging tale to its ignominious
He will thus gloss over the many other fascinating facts
learned at the exhibition, such as the alarming news that Vishnu will destroy
the entire universe in 311,040,000,000,000 years, and that Panquetzaliztli is
the 15th day of the 20-day Aztec week. He must also deprive his expectant
readers of the full epic of his Herculean production of 20,000 words of
eyeglazing drivel in record time, and fast-forward to the day when an envelope
bearing the symbol of the world’s most feared media empire is delivered to
It was from the Editor.
“Dear Watchbore,” it lied.
“Congratulations. Your 20,000-word piece on “How I set My Watch to the
Ancient Greenwich Time Signal” is just the kind of unreadable trivia that
we knew we could rely on you to produce. In fact, I will go so far as to say
that even if I ate prodigious quantities of alphabet soup1 followed by a large
Vindaloo curry I would be incapable of voiding myself of copy as appalling as
It is indeed so dreadful that it will at last enable us to make our long-planned
breakthrough in publishing history.
Instead of going through the expensive and unnecessary process of publishing new
articles to keep the same old ads apart each month, we will print the same text
every issue and simply change the ads. This is what our advertisers have been
demanding for years, and market research has shown your text is totally
unreadable, so nobody will notice.
Among the most immediate cost savings will be you, as it will have by now dawned
upon you that we no longer need your so-called literary services. In other words
you have written yourself out of a job.
Watchbore was last reported to be engrossed in reducing
his 20,000 word text by a word each day, until he had distilled it into a phrase
of unparalleled wisdom, expressing all that will ever be known about time and
watches – a task that will keep him agreeably occupied for the next 54 years and
nine months. However, before he was led away by the two gentlemen in white
coats, he managed to smuggle out to Richard Paige a selection of his more
accessible works, the less subversive of which might be published for the
entertainment and edification of TimeZoners.
In the meantime he heartily recommends that TimeZoners put The Story of Time
Exhibition, which closes on September 24, on their itinerary. They will find it
in the splendid surroundings of the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime
Museum in Greenwich, just 7 1/2 minutes of arc east of downtown London, England.
Copyright © Alan Downing, February 1, 2000