Clocks work

Last week, I found a photograph of an old friend in his room in the student hall of residence in which he lived forty years ago.

On the shelf above his head was his alarm clock. It had an alarm bell so loud that it must have exceeded noise pollution guidelines and a tick that would keep awake all but the heaviest sleepers.

A ticking clock was a feature of my childhood.

When the house was quiet, the ticking of the clock was clearly audible. There would have been many quiet moments.

Television broadcasting hours were limited and there were only three channels to watch during those hours.

The idea of a television being a constant background noise would have seemed odd. Why would anyone switch on a television if they were not going to sit down to watch a specific programme?

The television page of the newspaper would have been scrutinised to decide if the set should be switched on, electricity was not for wasting.

There was a radiogram in the living room, with four wavebands. On the Long Wave, there was BBC Radio 2 at 1500 metres and on Medium Wave there was Radio 1 at 247 metres. Radio 3 and Radio 4 were somewhere on the Medium Wave, if anyone had chosen to listen to them, not something that happened frequently.

In teenage years, Radio Luxembourg would be found at 208 metres; its programmes rising and fading according to the climatic conditions. Pressing the Short Wave button allowed you to find strange stations, some were foreign language and meant nothing; others, like Radio Moscow, had programmes in English that were full of strange names and ideas.

There was an FM frequency, it was interesting sometimes because you could eavesdrop the conversations of the local police force: it was a lesson in how boring was the life of a country policeman.

In the majority of hours, when neither television nor radiogram were turned on, the house would be silent and there would just be the ticking of the clock.

There were three clocks in the house; one was part of the electric cooker in the kitchen; one was a metal alarm clock that rang very loudly if not switched off before the time for which it was set; one was the clock that did the ticking.

The ticking clock had brass numerals and brass hands mounted on a round wooden face. The clock was mounted on a wooden base and sat in the middle of the mantlepiece above the fireplace in the living room. It was the authoritative clock, the clock that provided the right time for leaving  the house, the clock that declared whether or not you were late home from wherever you had been and whatever you had been doing.

At a time when there are constant reminders of the time on every electronic device and when noise accompanies every moment, the gentle ticking represents a world of tranquility.

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