Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The face of time... and home

Key to a time when clocks were not such silent companions
as today.
I LOVE old fashioned clocks with numerals. And if they go tick-tock-tick-tock, so much the better.

The clock which dominated my childhood was a simple, round clock with a white face and silver rim. A Seiko, it hung on the wall of our living room -- not exactly a centre of attraction but more a presence that provided comfort and a sense of home.

It had to be wound once a day -- my job. I needed to carry a chair to where the clock was to do this. Each time, mum would say "remember to wind it to the direction of the kitchen..." I would break the clock's spring if I were to wind it in the opposite direction, hence mum's caution each time. And I should not over-wind it as this would also "break the spring". Just 12 times -- full cycle, towards the kitchen.

The key for winding this clock was a unique key, shaped like a bow and a short stem that would fit into the clock's keyhole. Come to think of it, today it would make a lovely pendant. You needed to lift up the glass cover of the clock to insert the key for the winding. I see it so clearly now in my mind's eye that I can almost hold it. You take the key that was always kept in the drawer of a metal desk where the typewriter sat -- in my mum's "office" in the house. A room in the house was used as the office for her to mark scripts. My dad started a correspondent school in accountancy when he came to Singapore with my mum. When he died, my mum took over and single handedly ran the school.

I think it only broke down twice in its entire life serving our family at Serangoon Gardens for the time we lived there. I could still recall the sad stillness of afternoons without its "tick-tock" for company. My dad rushed the clock to the watch/clock repairer who had a stall along the corridor of the row of shophouses along Serangoon Garden Way. Its tick-tocks were essential to the whole household.

But sometimes its tick-tock could also give a desolate feeling, especially when you were up in the middle of the night, alone in the living room, waiting for mum to return from visiting dad in the hospital. Or when you are waiting for a very important phone call.

Then there was the clock -- a pain diversion -- at Dr Fernandez's clinic. It was hung on the wall that faced the entrance and it had this chrysanthemum at its centre which "burst" with every second. As a child, I was always so fascinated watching the flower grew bigger and bigger and then splisssh, went back to its original size and then grew bigger again -- an exercise in continuity and stability. Feverish head and bone aches were momentarily forgotten looking at this clock.

Another clock which stayed in my memory, was my neighbour's cuckoo clock. I only saw it once when I went over to their house to take a bundle of dumplings which the grandma made for us. Being Peranakan, she made absolutely gorgeous dumplings. Every day, she would be squatting at the backyard, rhythmically pounding chilli. Then the delightful smell of nonya cooking would waft over to our side. We didn't mind the sound, and the smell. They were homely and comforting.

However, her clock didn't go tick-tock. It went cuckoo, cuckoo...followed by dong, dong, dong (the number of dongs depending on the time). I could count the number of times it "donged" and I would know the time of the day. I had badgered mum to buy a cuckoo clock. But I was glad she didn't, because I would definitely miss that big round clock with the silver rim on our living room wall.

No comments: