Just recently two of our clocks have been causing concern. The concern is over the noises they do or don’t make; or more honestly, to the noises that I can or can’t hear.
Sensitive readers may wish to skip the rest of this paragraph which describes a critical but personal component of this saga. For many years my ears have been secreting too much wax and, were it not for my six-monthly hospital encounter with a tiny vacuum cleaner that sucks out the offending concretions, I would be deaf.
For this reason, my hearing capacity follows a six-month cycle and recently I was entering one of the bad patches. At such times it is difficult to tell how much of my impairment is due to wax and how much to inattention. Whatever the underlying cause it was this fluctuating deafness that led to my difficulties, both with the clock hanging on the kitchen wall and with the one sitting on a bedside table.
On the hour, from six in the morning until nine at night, our kitchen clock chimes – not in bells but in birdsong. For good measure the chime sounds two refrains on each occasion. Wherever I am in the house, hearing the birdsong is enchanting and well worth listening out for. In keeping with the bird theme, the figures on the clock face have also been modified so, instead of the numbers eight and eleven, there are pictures of a blackbird and a robin respectively. If there is a blackbird singing in our house, it must be eight o’clock, if a robin it must be eleven, and so on.
But nothing is foolproof. Sometimes the mechanism gets out of synch, perhaps when the batteries run low, and the songs are sung at the wrong time. That is exactly what greeted us when we arrived back from France in October. To make things worse, thanks to my position in the wax cycle, the birdsong was already sounding muffled. The combination of birdsong out of synch and my impaired hearing resulted in my listening brain turning off. For several weeks I was deprived of the hourly songs I love so much.
Meanwhile, as if the kitchen clock’s misbehaviour were not enough, my bedside alarm clock had given up completely and needed to be replaced. Having bought a few such clocks over the years I knew exactly what to look for. Apart from the obvious – an alarm that is easy to set, a face that is easily read in the dark – the clock must also make no sound. A clock ticking through the night is the stuff of nightmares. A clock at our local jeweller met all three criteria and, at £18, I snapped it up.
Then, two things happened that changed my clock-world.
First, my outpatient appointment fell due, my wax was removed and my hearing returned to normal. Second, it was the time of the year when clocks are turned back from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time. Whilst making this adjustment to the kitchen clock, I replaced the batteries and managed to correct the mechanism so that each song was sung at the right time. My delight at being able, once again, to tell the time by birdsong was immense.
The alarm-clock story has not ended so happily. With my improved hearing it soon became obvious that the bedside clock was not at all silent. Although I can get to sleep, if I wake in the night the tick is loud enough to be annoying, even to stop me nodding off again. Clearly, when I checked the clock out in the shop my hearing was so impaired that the tick escaped me. The infuriating thing is that I actually asked the shop assistant to confirm that the clock was silent. He held it to his ear and told me that there was not a sound to be heard. The most generous interpretation is that he too might have had difficulty with hearing, but I imagine his answer was more driven by his desire to make a sale.
As always, it is a great relief to have my hearing back, even though hearing the alarm clock’s night-time tick has its downside. Then, of course, hearing clearly is not just an advantage to me, I expect it also extends to my neighbours. Being able to turn down the sound on the TV is quite probably a relief to those living next door too!