The watchmaker of Woking-way
Woke as he did everyday
To a-thousand dings and dongs
Calling out their clockwork songs
With ticks and tocks in calm collision
Keeping time with tuned precision
Cawing like a cockerel’s call
All at once, and once for all
To announce his daily shower
Six-a.m. Upon the hour.
Then to breakfast. O-six-twenty.
Eating much but never plenty.
Then downstairs to clean the cases
Watches watched in proper places
Working-order, well maintained,
Chains all polished, dials unstained
Then as the strikes of seven chime
He’d carefully hang the open sign.
And none would come till past eight-ten,
Except the postman, now-and-then.
And in this hour and one-sixths
He’d sit and listen to the ticks
Of each-and-every watch and clock
Noting every tick and tock.
For there was nothing more sublime,
To him, than simply taming time.
And all was always ever-well;
He’d clean, and mend, and fix, and sell.
And some would call him strict or bland,
For he lived life by second’s hand.
Sixty, sixty, twenty-four.
Nothing less and nothing more.
His one complaint was quite concise:
He wished he could be more precise.
He wished a watch he could have been,
For watches kept to their routine
Where humans run both slow and fast
A well made watch will always last;
A watch well made will always last;
A will well watched will always last—
Or so he thought.
But that changed fast.
As soon as he awoke he knew that something was very, very wrong. For the whole place was silent. Had he really missed the chimes; the dings and dongs, the dings and… dimes? Dings and times, dimes, rhymes?—something was off.
What was the time anyway?
Down he rushed, skipping his shower,
To find out the second, and the minute, and the hour.
And into the shopfront, and up to a clock…
hmmm… that’s odd.
He checked another clock…
Now the watchmaker was starting to fret.
So he gathered the watches and checked them all
And found, to his horror, it was no time at all.
And then—he fainted.
He awoke hoping it had all merely been a dream.
It hadn’t been. For there he was, sprawled out on the floor of his own shop.
How long had he been out?
Then the bell above the door rang out and in came the postman with the papers. ‘You alright?’ asked the postman, with concern, for the watchmaker was still on the floor.
The watchmaker gave a polite nod, but his eyes told a very different story.
‘You don’t look alright’ said the postman, ‘Coffee’ll do you good.’
The watchmaker rose to his feet very carefully, but almost fell again as his eye caught the large grandfather clock by the entrance, its pendulum completely still, and its numbered dial displaying not a single trace of the time.
‘Sorry I’m late’ the postman went on, dumping the morning papers on the counter, and searching through his sack of parcels, ‘Or I might be early I suppose—No time today, ye see.’
‘No time?’ asked the watchmaker, his voice coming out weak and squeaky like a slightly squashed mouse.
‘Ay—no time.’ said the postman, and he slapped the front page of the Times, where a bold headline read:
‘strange times, eh’ said the postman, ‘well, morning—or…’ he paused confusedly, then nodded, and off he went.
The watchmaker, still feeling very feint—for he had also skipped his breakfast—picked up the newspaper and begun to read:
Time has vanished. The incident is believed to have begun at some point, lasted for what has felt like a while now—thought we cannot be sure—and is still ongoing, as far as we know. The first to report the incident was a local Woking fishmonger, Mr. Pascadore, who described the moment time vanished as ‘rather peculiar’.
‘One minute it was there, and the next—well… there weren’t a next one, see.’
Mr. Farland, of Farland Farms claims to have seen this coming:
‘my cows have been acting funny all week’ he claims, ‘I knew something were up.’ Mr. Farland also added that the sheep seemed alright with the change.
Mr. Farland is not alone, with many experts and scientists now claiming to have foreseen this crisis. ‘It’s a disgrace’ says horologist Holly Hampton-Horace, ‘the government had plenty of time to prepare for such an event. We’ve warned them time and time again of this possible danger, and now there’s none left. It is simply too late. Time’s up.’
The Minister for Transport has made a statement reassuring commuters that trains and buses will continue to run, though they may not run on time, as there is none.
The source of the phenomenon is yet unknown, but it is spreading worryingly fast. Time has already vanished from most of the UK, and has started to disappear from parts of Europe and Asia. Some nations, such as France and Spain, have banned all foreign imports of clocks and watches, fearing that poorly made timekeepers are to blame for time’s disappearance. However this theory has yet to be proved, as the British Guild of Watch and Clock Makers has been adamant to point out.
The PM is due to address the nation today at 4pm, but since nobody knows when that is, we are still awaiting a response.
The government say they are responding to the emergency as quickly as possible, though there is no longer any way to prove this. An army cordon is already in effect around the whole of Greenwich, where horologists are hoping to find out the time. The Metropolitan Police are asking anyone who thinks they might know what the time is, to come forward by calling 101.
The watchmaker dropped the newspaper, which fell open to an article rating various brands of toilet paper.
No time, he thought, no time…
He suddenly noticed he was still in his nightgown. Should he change and open the shop? Or close it? Should he polish the watchcases now, or later—or is he already late? And then the obvious finally struck him: what was the point anyway? For who would buy a watch when there’s no time for it to tell? All his wears were worthless now, his watches but bracelets, and his clocks but dull circular artworks; meaningless, worthless, useless.
And what am I? Thought the watchmaker, what am I in all this? What does a watchmaker do in a world without time? He couldn’t bare to think on it any longer. So he opened the shop, then closed it again, and finally went back to bed. Best wait it out, he told himself, it can’t last long… it can’t last long…
Night and day still came and went, of course. But no one could tell what time of night or day it was. And nights and days became weeks, became months…
It can’t last much longer, the watchmaker told himself in the mirror, mumbling the words through his unkempt beard. His tangled nest of hair fell limply over his sauce-stained night gown, and were it not for the fact that the mirror was copying his every move, he would never have recognised his own reflection.
It had been at least nine weeks since all sales of timekeepers were banned, and all watch shops ordered to shut down. The watches themselves, by law, had to be locked away, never worn, or touched, or moved. Shortly after that there had been another order from the top: all watchmakers to remain in their shops at all times, except for essential shopping and emergencies. This was so that they could be on stand by, in case any of their watches happened to show the time.
Time had now disappeared from the entire world. The last place to experience the disappearance was a small island in the South China Sea, where the locals had been counting down to the lunar New Year, when suddenly the countdown ceased altogether, and time vanished. In response to this, many people throughout Europe began celebrating New Years Eve whenever they felt like it, just in case they missed it. And so the daily sounds of fireworks were added to the list of constant irritations which now defined the watchmaker’s working life.
The world was beginning to adapt to timelessness. Parents were starting to accept that schools simply started whenever the teachers turned up, and sports fans were getting used to their teams winning simply because the other team hadn’t known when play began. Travellers and commuters were becoming more forgiving when it came to boats, and trains, and planes departing from their points of call whenever, and arriving at their destinations at some-point.
But while the world was getting on with it, the watchmaker himself was becoming lower and lower all the time, sinking into himself, and away from all the life outside. He felt just like his watches; meaningless, worthless, useless. And on top of that he felt hapless, and helpless, and hopeless.
He was merely watching the world fall apart, day by day, and doing sod-all to help. Worse yet—he may well be the cause of it all. After all, most people still blamed watches for the disappearance of time in the first place. And the watchmaker was started to believe them. Everything—all his work, his entire life, and everything he stood for—was now utterly futile.
Who wants a watch now, he moaned, what use is a watchmaker in a timeless world?
He began to seriously consider retraining as something more meaningful, worthwhile, and useful. He could train up as a plumber, or an engineer, or a nurse, or an officer of the law. Or he could join the Royal Mail—post still needed delivering, on-time or not.
These constant questions and inner doubts tormented him as he went about his monotonous, timeless, routine-less day. He now ate whenever he felt hungry; breakfast, lunch, and dinner having now been replaced with inconsistent grazing. He washed when he felt dirty, and sometimes not even then. He cleaned the flat when it smelt, but never touched the shop, for what was the point of that. And so the floors became filthy, the watchcases grew grey, and dirty, and the windows formed their own curtains of dust, shutting out the light. And the place was entirely, eternally silent. Not a tick or tock in all the world.
Each day felt like the same single empty movement of a second hand, being played and replayed, over and over, never moving, never changing, disappearing tick by tock, and one-by-one, from nothing, through nothing, to nothing-at-all.
Each passing week he’d look forward to the arrival of the postman, for he was all he had left for company. At least he’d have someone to talk to.
One morning—or evening—or afternoon—the postman arrived looking rather more chirpy than usual. ‘Good news’ he said, plonking down the large case of off-brand red-wine the watchmaker had ordered.
But the watchmaker no longer believed in good news.
‘What?’ he asked, bluntly.
‘Watch-bans been lifted.’ And he threw down the newspaper from underneath his arm, ‘The horologists proved that watches got nothing to do with timelessness after all. Thought you ought to know.’
The watchmaker was silent. He merely stared, blankly, at the front page headline of The Times which simply read: Opening Time.
‘You know what that means’ continued the postman, apparently rather hurt not to have received more of a reaction, ‘you can open up again!’ The postman beamed.
The watchmaker sulked. This was not good news. For what good was it to open a watch shop if there still wasn’t any time. Who would buy a watch nowadays? At lease the watch-ban had given the watchmaker an excuse for his idleness and failure. Now he had only himself to blame; his decisions in life, his dreams, his passions.
He bid the postman a polite-enough farewell, and plodded over to the drawer in which he kept the open sign. He blew it, and a cloud of grey jumped up at him. He coughed.
The shop was very dusty. The windows were layered in weeks’ worths of street dirt, and the floor was scuffed to pieces from the watchmakers nervous daily pacing. And the watchcases were worst off of all: dull, and dirty, and downright disgraceful.
But he didn’t care anymore.
He hung the open side on the door, turned it to face outwards, watched it a while, sighed heavily, and plodded back up to bed…
The watchmaker of Woking-way
Woke to the sound of incessant dinging.
He leapt out of bed, believing briefly that time had finally returned. The clocks are back, the clocks are back! he thought, in a sleep-hazed state. But a quick look at the clock in the bathroom proved him wrong. Time had not returned. But still the dinging continued.
Ding-ling-ling, ding-ling-ling, ding-ling-ling.
It was coming from downstairs; from inside the shop.
Down he went, in search of the source. To his astonishment, upon entering the shop, he found a crowd of people, stuffed in tight, all trying to get through to view the dusty cabinets and cases. And behind the crowd was a long orderly queue, snaking endlessly down the road and out of sight. The closest crowd member, an old-man in a tweed-jacket and flap-cap, was repeatedly ringing the bell on the counter.
‘Wh—what are you doing here?’ stammered the watchmaker. He was not used to speaking much, and his voice came out rather broken.
The one who’d been ringing was first to respond: ‘I’m here to buy a watch, please.’
‘A watch?’ asked the watchmaker, bewildered.
‘This is a watch-shop, en’t it?’
‘And you are open, en’t you? I saw the sign.’
‘Yes, but what do you want to buy a watch for? There isn’t any time.’
‘Oh I know, but…’ and he let out a little chortle, ‘Well, tell you the truth, I miss ‘em. Miss the feelin’ of wearing one. Got rid of all mine during the watch-ban.’
‘Same’ said another
‘And me.’ said a rather plump, overdressed woman, in a hat so large that it was causing those around her quite a bit of bother, ‘I just feel utterly naked without a watch on.’
‘I just like them for my bedside.’ admitted someone else.
‘I’m here for a clock, actually.’ said a someone who wasn’t even in the shop yet, and so had to shout to be heard.
‘So—’ said the first one, ‘Can I buy a watch?’
The watchmaker was still rather stunned.
‘Y—yes… yes, of course.’ he said, at last, ‘just a moment.’
And he worked through the crowd, one-by-one, serving each and every one a watch or clock, or both, or two, or three. And the next day he shaved, and showered, and dressed, and cleaned the cases, and opened the shop again, and felt himself again—for the first time in a long time, without any time at all.
For he realised now that time was something you make for yourself, and make the most of yourself. And he smiled, and wiped a happy tear from his eye, as he fastened the strap of his watch around his wrist, and got ready for work.
The watchmaker of Woking-way
Found there was no time one day
But rather than just waste away
He made his watches anyway.