23 Sep, 2020

The Sound of Silence ……

On a wall in my flat is a clock, and this is the face:

Yes, it’s a round face, but photographing it accurately was a little tricky.

A few blog entries ago, on 6 September, I wrote this: “My father was brought up by his widowed aunt and her daughter in a house in Smethwick that I remember very well.  Similar to hundreds of thousands of the same design, it was a small Victorian terraced home, with one ‘front room’ that was rarely used, then a back room with a fire place, a couple of chairs, a small sofa and a small dining table (and gas still piped in to the lamps), a small narrow kitchen beyond with a door into the garden – a narrow strip of land with the toilet in a shed half-way down.  Upstairs two bedrooms, each with a double bed.  No bathroom. That was it.”

My parents and I left that house when I was 3 or 4 years old, but we returned to visit Dad’s aunt and cousin every few weeks for many years afterwards, well into my teens.

The four adults would sit and chat in the back room, the ‘living room’, which was cosy.  I was generally bored – perfectly normal for a young boy or girl, especially if there were no brothers or sisters – so I would often sit in the front room alone, and read.

In that small front room, which was hardly ever used, there was a little sofa, an armchair, a tiny bookcase, a hat and clothes stand, a small table at the window with an aspidistra, and on the wall pictures of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, and of George V and Queen Mary.  I can visualise it vividly.

Also in the room was a clock – this one.  And silence, almost.

Why do we remember things in different ways?  Picturing in my mind’s eye the many many hours I spent in that room, alone and bored, and the silence, the other memory is of the clock, its pendulum and the regular ticking.  The feeling I had then was one of a quiet, austere, safe, reliable world with a monarch to guide the nation; an unchanging, secure, piece of eternity.  And indeed nothing did change in that room, ever.  In the cosy back room, eventually they gave up the gas lamps, and later a TV was installed.  But the front room – furniture, silence and ticking clock – remained, marking time yet timeless, the steady ticking adding to the sense of permanence.

The clock is now on the wall in my living room.  It works perfectly but I don’t wind it up. The ticking would be pleasant but I don’t need it.  Also, occasionally friends sleep on the sofa bed and it disturbs them.  It is a reminder though of that closed, safe, eternal world for a young boy.

To see it more clearly click on it, and then click again to magnify it if you wish.

There are no manufacturer’s markings on the clock.  I’ve no idea who made it.  And there’s just one story about it that I remember.  I was told that such clocks were quite common and were seen in many homes.  The styles were reasonably similar and an eagle at the top was a popular feature.  In the First World War things changed, however: in the popular mind an eagle signified Germany, the enemy, and so the families removed the eagle.  For some reason my aunt and her mother did not.  That was the story.  No one explained why they kept it, and I didn’t ask.

Friends, I’m not suggesting that there’s another mystery here, similar to the accordion invoice in the September 2 and 6 blog entries.  It’s just a story that I remember well, but can’t explain.  Anyway, the clock is intact, eagle ‘n all.

That’s it except for one thing: I mentioned the aspidistra.  It was there on the little table in front of the window in the front room when I was a small child living there in the late 1940s.  It was there when my father was born in 1911.  My great aunt said it was there well before the turn of the century, 1900.  In my later life it stayed with me.  It was in my current flat for years until about 10 years ago when it started to decline. I took it to a good garden centre, they tried to revive it, but finally they admitted defeat, saying, “Sometimes it’s just time to go; it knows its life is over”.  So it passed away, aged at least 120 years.

——————————

And a footnote for the well-wishers who wrote here and privately regarding the recent health saga.  I’m coping well.  No news yet.  Keeping Calm and Carrying on.  Thank you so much.

4 Comments

  1. You will remember I’m sure that some time ago (20 years? 25?) you felt the aspidistra was getting a bit big and needed splitting. You split it and then decided you didn’t have room for the second, smaller, part inside your flat and so put it outside on your roof terrace. There it sat getting sadder and sadder for eighteen months until you asked me if I wanted it. It recovered quickly and is still going strong now. At some point it flowered and I have a photo or two of the flowers somewhere. Given how well concealed the flowers are it may have flowered at some other times which I simply missed. Cast iron.

    Reply
  2. I always said I’d read these Comments but wouldn’t get involved in replying to them. On this occasion however, I think I must say something. Naturally I know who wrote that. Unnaturally I had completely forgotten what happened all those years ago. Quite amazing that it’s still around … and flourishing ….. and probably over 140 years old. Thank you!

    Reply
  3. Three cheers for 140 years!

    Reply
  4. Lovely piece. Lovely epilogue… Viva l’aspidistra!

    Not forgetting the eagle too 🙂

    PS – so glad that room encouraged your reading, and the comfort you get from it. This philistine hadn’t read Invictus before – brilliant stuff, thanks for sharing, Captain (previous post)

    Reply

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