Friday, September 15, 2017

The pocket watch, resurrected

One of the antipodean effects of growing up with computers is a love of the analogue. Vinyl. Paper. Pens. 35mm film. 

Last week was pretty stressful, or at least tiring. I decided I wanted a way to reflect and flag up my tiredness levels. I thought about mood rings - then I looked them up (never having had one before) and found they didn't work. Something else then. 

Search for "mood jewellery". Same thing. "adjustable jewellery". Nah. I wanted something like a pendant, but I'm too shy to wear things externally. Something I can secrete in a pocket world much better. A personal sigil, hidden like jade. 

The jewellery search threw up a few things though - cheap fitbit watches, and some other watches. Ambient feedback, right kind of area at least. I wasn't sure about an automated monitoring device though. Feedback is so... Personal. Plus, I've come to realise that half of the Art of Feedback is in the doing, not in the feedback itself. A manual process forces us to pay attention. So not a fitbit. 

The search overlapped, chronologically, with the image of a pocket watch which had come up when thinking about steampunk style after the Eastbourne Steampunk Festival a few days earlier. Yeah, a pocket watch. A portable clock, but... not used for time. Stress lives like the threat of an explosion. North Korea and the Doomsday Clock made the silver link, invaded the arena. A stopped clock tells the time twice a day, especially if you set it. Yeah, a pocket watch I could set, to indicate to myself how close to implosion I am. On to something. 

It happened that I actually had a stopped pocket watch. My wife bought me one years ago, before kids. At some point in its era, the tick-tock got jammed, and the pulsing heart stood still, pregnant and primed, yet blocked. I could still set the time though. I dug through my cupboard and pulled it out. Still stuck, excellent. 

I tried it out on Monday - stuffed it in my left trouser pocket, replacing the jagged hills of my keys with the pocket watch's smooth circles and ruby pink gems. I ran through the week's tasks, and fiddled with the watch's hands. Mentally calibrating 12 o'clock as death, I started at 6 purely for its cultish symmetry. Up to 7, 8, 9 o'clock as the morning came flooding in. 

At lunch, I pulled the watch out again. The morning had gone well, I moved the hands back down to 7.30. The silver finish captured and contained the tiny smile I let out, emerging from the emotions derived from a new tool, a successful morning, and the silver finish itself. The circular smoothness entertained and comforted me. 

At the end of the day, I brought the watch back down to 6.30. I had two days off coming up. 

The next day I had to take son 1 to the doctor. We had wrangled a cancelled appointment, but had to divert from school, march up the hill and arrive in under 10 minutes. 

It was on the way out of the surgery that I looked down and noticed the miracle - the watch was beating again. Its spring had unstuck, the tiny wheel bouncing back and forth like a genie fresh from the bottle. I was amazed, relieved and disappointed all at once. Real, analogue time. Jarring with my new sense of purpose. Now with each oscillation, I was apparently getting incrementally more stressed! I set the time and carried on. 

Now I'm counting the days, the hours, until the energy in the spring dissipates, the jewel-studded mechanism winds down, time becomes static. And then, once again, I can find out how stressed I am. 

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