Dear Dave

Friday 1 August 2008

Tick tock

Dear Dave,

Some rites of passage go almost unnoticed.

I remember very clearly receiving my first watch. I think it was a hand-me-down from one of my sisters because it had an unconvincing home-made, plaited strap which needed tied in a knot. Obviously, this was unsuitable for a seven-year-old so I went to Norwich market with my dad and got a very patriotic red, white and blue strap with a proper clasp. I remember being quite proud of it but I don't really remember it being that much of a big deal.

In some ways, though, it was one of the most significant events of my life. I started wearing the watch throughout the day. Suddenly, I always knew what time it was. I was freed from uncertainty and the need to rely on others to get me places on time. Conversely, I was constrained by time itself. The day became divided into hours and minutes that could be cherished or squandered. I knew exactly how many seconds of a tortuous lesson remained and could watch the last moments of a sunny playtime tick away. Punctuality became my responsibility. With it came planning, organisation and responsibility itself. I had to start using time wisely.

Thinking back, getting that watch was the first step to adulthood (or the beginning of the end of childhood, depending on which way you look at it).

By my late teens, I had a digital watch and wore it every waking minute. I couldn't imagine not wearing it. Its alarm woke me in the morning; its crude numbers told me when to go to bed. In between, its hourly bleeps kept my activities tightly bound to the prescribed routine. On the rare occasions the batteries went flat, I was adrift in a sea of chaos...

It was only in my twenties, I learnt the error of my ways.

Well, a little...

I got an analogue watch. I was more sophisticated but still a slave to the machine on my wrist.

It was only when I had children that things changed. Digital watches tend to be water resistant. Analogue watches - not so much. I discovered this when giving a baby a bath. I went several days without a watch and, when I did get another one, it spent most of its life in my pocket or being chewed by a toddler.

Children don't live their lives like clockwork and, all at once, neither did I. It was liberating. For a few years, life happened when it happened. (Which was handy because it mostly seemed to happen in the middle of the night accompanied by crying, and I really didn't want to know what the time was.) We muddled along blissfully.

Now, of course, there's school and nursery and clubs and bedtime. Life is more constrained than ever. The cycle begins again.

Fraser kept asking me, "What time is it?"

I kept replying, "Time you started wearing your watch." There was no point it sitting on his bedside table while I acted as his speaking clock.

He started wearing his watch more. The second week he wore it to school, the lens fell off the front.

We got him another one. It has Scooby-Doo on it and he wears it all the time. Now he, too, can watch the hours slip by. He will learn punctuality and responsibility, organisation and planning.

That will be very useful but, somehow, I can't help feeling a little sad at the thought...

That said, my sympathy is limited. He may be more resistant to adulthood than I was:

It's been suggested that there are two certainties in life - death and taxes. I would like to add the ability of families to wind each other up. Fraser no longer constantly asks me the time - he constantly tells me the time. I now have my own speaking clock at my side that complains when we're late. Turns out that punctuality will still be my responsibility for a while yet...

Oh heck, is that the time? Got to go...

Yours in a woman's world,


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