February 21, 2014 6:46 pm

Why I prefer old-fashioned clocks – and when to thank a waiter

‘That tick-tock sound in the silence of a room is magically soothing, and a perfect backdrop to reading a good book’

Are mechanical clocks going out of fashion? Do you think they will soon become obsolete and be replaced by electronic ones?

I have always liked an old-fashioned mechanical clock, especially one with a pendulum which chimes. That tick-tock sound in the silence of a room is magically soothing, and a perfect backdrop to reading a good book or a prelude to a slumber. The only drawback of a mechanical clock is that it requires winding regularly and a few calibrations to keep good time. There is nothing more annoying than a clock that has stopped, or one that goes too fast or too slow. The royal clocks at Sandringham were famously made fast by half an hour because Edward VII wanted to pretend there was more daylight for the shoots. This time warp continued through the reign of George V until Edward VIII ordered for all the clocks to show the correct time – an act which has always puzzled me because he could have seen Mrs Simpson half an hour earlier each day.

But British royalty are not the only lot who interfere with time. Uighurs in the Muslim province of Xinjiang in China continue to set their watches and clocks two hours behind the single timezone of China. It was very confusing when I wanted to find out the starting time of the Sunday livestock market in Kashgar and was told various times between 6 o’clock and 8 o’clock. But I am sympathetic to their defiance on such a basic matter in order to demonstrate their distinct ethnicity.

The main problem with modern electronic clocks is that they are produced without any sense of craftsmanship. Most are made in cheap plastic or wood. Even expensive brands have failed to make electronic clocks desirable. And of course, worst of all, the second-hand of any quartz movement is an awkward tick without a tock which makes its entire movement a constant series of jerks – probably not unlike their owners.

. . .

If you were prime minister tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would do?

I would immediately make sure that whoever irons my shirt remembers to iron the collar into its centre and not away from it. Ironing inwards would result in extra material gathering on the edges, thereby creating wrinkles at the ends of the collar, which suggest slovenliness and are easily noticeable on today’s ubiquitous hi-definition screens.

. . .

I was having an argument with my wife when she maintained that one only thanks a waiter for bringing something to the table, not for taking stuff away. She asked me to prove my argument, but to no avail.

Just don’t argue with your wife, especially when she is wrong. And of course your wife is wrong: it’s always polite to thank your waiter. He is standing around waiting on you all the time, and that alone deserves thanking. Besides, it takes a lot more skill in deciding what to take away than having to bring simply what has been ordered. The former requires smart common sense, the latter none whatsoever.

. . .

What would be your personal choice for a formal and everyday watch?

I always prefer a thin watch to a thick one, if only because I want to wear it comfortably under my cuffs. The great Gianni Agnelli, who owned Fiat and was probably as stylish a man as Coco Chanel was a stylish woman, always wore his watches over his cuffs which eliminated the use of cufflinks which I rather like. Nowadays, the fad is for watches to be obese, not unlike most of the Russians and Arabs and Eurotrash who are invariably seen to sport these huge chunks of watch.

I also bemoan the disappearance of the fluorescent watches using radioactive sources. In these days of pathetic health and safety, the mere suggestion of radioactivity would send regulating busybodies spinning, even though the amount employed was always infinitesimal. But, thankfully, the use of gas has managed to replace the radioactive method, and there is now a handful of watches which indeed fluoresce brightly in the dark.

But one must be careful about such efficient illumination. A friend of mine once woke up in the middle of the night, looked at his brightly lit dial and shouted out alarmingly: “Oh my god, I have got to go, I have to get home, it’s so late.” Then a familiar voice was heard to say: “Darling, you ARE home.”

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I would like to encourage readers to post comments and questions online at the end of articles rather than via email. That way we can have a debate of spontaneous and dynamic responses, an arena for opposing views

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