Pete Davison: I Hear the Ticking of a Clock

Posted on April 13, 2011 by


Certain things are just naturally irritating or set your teeth on edge. That horrible sound polystyrene packing makes when you take it out of a cardboard box. That accent chavs do when it’s clear they very much want to be black gangstas but instead are pasty, skinny white dudes from Portsmouth. The sight of the “roadworks ahead” sign on the motorway.

Or having several mechanical clocks in your room, all of which are slightly out of sync with each other.

It’s the kind of thing you tend not to notice until you either 1) suffer from insomnia and find yourself fixating on every tiny little sound or 2) have it pointed out to you and consequently find it impossible not to notice.

Regardless, it’s a little bit irritating. And sometimes not entirely understandable either, because surely a clock’s a clock and should tick at the same rate. But I had two clocks in my room that ticked unevenly and managed to somehow drift apart from one another, then slightly back in sync, then back out again. This is arguably beyond the laws of physics until I tell you that one of these two clocks has a minute hand which is affected by gravity and thus is not the most useful timepiece in existence when stood upright.

Needless to say, I removed the batteries from one of the two clocks (the not-terribly-useful one) and now have no trouble sleeping through the night.

Actually, that’s a complete lie. Mis-ticking clocks weren’t enough to keep me awake at night—my brain does an excellent job of that itself. But unevenly-ticking clocks are a genuine annoyance and a public menace that would surely be enough to drive lesser men to distraction and/or violent acts involving hammers.

Although if you live with it for a while, you eventually find yourself getting used to it, the semi-predictable rhythm of the misaligned clocks becoming something comfortable and familiar, the sign that you’re “home”. If you get to this stage, then suddenly upsetting the status quo by removing one of the clocks could completely throw off the balance of the universe and ruin everything in your life.

All right, it probably won’t ruin your life. But when you’re presented with something as familiar and regular as the ticking of a clock and suddenly that’s not there any more, it changes the whole feel of a room. What once had a comfortable familiarity about it becomes something altogether different—and this is where the context becomes important.

It’s particularly noticeable if, say, someone close to you has died, and they were in possession of ticking clocks—particularly misaligned ticking clocks. When that person’s gone and the sad business of dealing with their possessions comes up, taking the clocks away is like taking the “pulse” of their room away—it’s a sign that they’re finally gone, and that room is going to find a new purpose, a new future without them.

Of course, whatever songs like Grandfather’s Clock that we learn as children try and tell us, people dying doesn’t automatically stop clocks or anything—but those sounds that we hear and take for granted or get annoyed by every day? You’ll notice them as soon as they’re not there any more.

Hmm. That drifted in an altogether more melancholy direction than I intended. I’m very tired, so on that note, it’s off to bed with me!


Posted in: Pete Davison