October 15, 2014

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Above is the photo that was used on the front of the order of service that was given for Mum at Perth Crematorium on January 20, 2014, nine months ago now. Note the mantel clock which you can see about half of, on top of a wall-mounted electric fire in the bottom right corner of the image.

That photo was taken in 1976, when the McLaren family (Ian, Mabel, John and me) lived in a detached house on an owner-occupier estate in Hemel Hempstead, the Hertfordshire town from where Ian used to commute to London and John and I sat for our A-Levels.

I found another photograph showing the clock on a table in our front room in Hamilton in 1970, when Dad worked for British Gypsum in Glasgow and my brother and I went to Townhill Primary. And a third showing the clock on top of the mantelpiece in our lounge here in Blairgowrie in 1994, the home town of both Mabel and Ian and the place they retired to.

I think of it as the clock that has witnessed the home life of our nuclear family. One day recently I asked Dad about it, referring to the copy of the order of service that still stands in his room. He told me that the mantel clock had been a wedding present for him and Mabel from his Aunt Daisy, and that Mabel had always looked after it, winding it up once a week and re-setting it when the clocks changed in autumn and spring. Year in, year out, it had been our source of the time of day in one, two, three, four, five, six, seven eight homes up and down the country. Ian thought it probably still worked, wherever it was, but suspected the key had been lost.

I found the clock on a shelf in a shadowy corridor upstairs, where Ian can’t get to now. I’d walked past it every day for however many years without noticing it. I looked at it with fresh eyes and, of course, wanted it to be working again. So I took it to the local jewellers. The clockmaker told me he would clean it up, replace a part and would soon have the clock as good as new. A few weeks passed before I got the call saying the clock was ready, but I hadn’t forgotten about it and I immediately went out to collect.

With the clock ticking away inside a plastic bag on the front passenger seat of the car as I drove home, I suddenly got a new perspective on what I’d done. The repaired clock was an attempt to bring Mum back to life. After all, her heart too had ticked all the way through my life until it had stopped on the 12th of January of this year. I know it stopped then, not least because I was in the room when she took her last breath... Her last breaths... Oh, the last beats of her failing heart, the heart that had served her so well all life long… It was not an easy drive back to the house.

But it’s been easier since. The clock is on a shelf in the room in which I work. I hear it now. Its tick is loud but it doesn’t disturb me. After all did not this same tick sound throughout my childhood and adolescence? The face of the clock is marked with dividers symbolising the twelve hours of the day, though only the quarter hours - ‘3’, ‘6’, ‘9’ and ‘12’ - are enumerated. The clock chimes once on the half hour and it chimes out the hour on the hour.

If I’m sleeping in this house and I’m awake in the night I hear the clock from where I lie in the bedroom and count to four or five or six, whatever. Again, it does not disturb me. For did I not lie in bed upstairs as a child in Hamilton, listening to the clock strike downstairs in the lounge? A chime that implied the words: ‘You are lying in bed in a Wimpey-made house chosen by your father… You are lying in bed in a home created by stable, loving parents… Fall asleep, boy... Rise again in the morning, young man.’

Almost the day after I collected the clock, the time needed to be changed, British Summer Time ending for another year. In order to put the clock back an hour, I had to gently push the minute hand in a clockwise direction, pausing to let the clock sound out each hour and half-hour. Maybe I overdid the pausing business, because it took me almost an hour to put the clock forward the eleven hours that were needed. But that gave me plenty time to remember Mum, dressed in ‘slacks’, crouching down in front of the clock doing the same job. Perhaps one October she thought: ‘That’s Duncan settled down at primary school now.’ And a few years later: ‘That’s Ian’s promotion in the pipeline, we’ll be moving again next summer’. And a few years later: ‘Both my boys out in the world now, but I’ll be seeing them again at Christmas.’

Now responsibility for the clock is mine. That’s how it seems anyway. So here goes. ‘This is the first of all the 57 winters I’ve experienced where Mum hasn’t been alive too. This might be Ian’s last winter, but if so he is prepared for it. Prepared to join his partner in what I’m going to call life beyond time.’

There is something Dad’s said in the car a couple of times recently, at least once as a result of me mentioning the family clock:
“Tak tent o time, ere time taks tent o thee.”

I will Dad. In so far as it’s possible to do so, and in my own way. I will try.

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