Friday, December 28, 2007

The Nursery Clock

Have I written before about the nursery clock? I may have done. It's a beautiful mantel clock, perhaps twelve inches high, quite elegant in shape, its oak wood body sweetly inlaid with other woods in a simple deco pattern. A plain white face, now slightly damaged, with numerals in black. It has a mellow, gentle strike on the half hour and the hour, and its sound reverberates pleasantly throughout the house. It's called the nursery clock because it stood on the mantelpiece in the room that my sister and I shared, as very small children, in the big old brick Victorian rectory at Aspley Guise, in Bedfordshire, where we spent our earliest years. From its perch on that shelf, it witnessed those yearly appearances of Santa Claus--in England at that time we called him "Father Christmas": I wonder if that has changed?--and many a squabble between us siblings.

The nursery clock comes to mind for a number of reasons. It has been temperamental in recent years. Despite significant expense and lengthy stays at our local clock expert, it refused for long months to work at all, sitting on the mantel in decorative silence. Then, a couple of months ago, after I had lit our first wood fire for the winter, it decided to come back to life and started up with its familiar tick-tock. We took that as a blessing, and rewarded it with a rewind that kept it going for a good few days. Then equally mysteriously it went back to sleep. And awoke again in time for a visit from our daughter, Sarah, who complained that its hourly and half-hourly strike was keeping her up at night. I reached around behind the clock and stopped its pendulum, to ensure a good night's sleep for everyone.

Obviously offended by my action, the clock refused to start again after Sarah left. It went, as it were, on strike. Or no-strike. It seemed to have returned to its former dormant state. I tried everything. I tickled the pendulum back into its swing, and the clock inched forward for a minute or two, then yawned to a stop. I resigned myself to the possibility that the nursery clock had finally given up the ghost.

But no. Just recently, for the Christmas season, perhaps, it re-awoke in response to a gentle nudge and, give or take a hiccup or two, has been working ever since. It made its presence known last night, when we stopped back home for a cup of tea after dinner at a restaurant with friends. The clock struck ten, and its sound drew appreciative comments from our guests. It drew my attention again this morning during meditation, when it dutifully struck six, and again its single strike at six-thirty to remind me it was time to get to work.

I'm wondering whether in some strange way the nursery clock remains sensitive to that old sibling relationship. I mention this because my sister and I have been mostly out of touch for years now, chiefly because of the vast geographical distance that separates us--she still lives in England. That distance set our relationship, recently, on a rocky course but it is showing signs of healing, thanks in part to my decision to make the trip to England in February to help celebrate her birthday. Does the clock's on-and-off performance reflect how things stand between us? An absurd notion, of course, but you can't help but wonder. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy... quoth Hamlet, right?

1 comment:

robin andrea said...

I love this story of your nursery clock. Why and when it stops and starts is really the stuff of mystery, isn't it? Makes me wonder if any object is really inanimate, especially one that ticks like a beating heart.