Unsung icons: Timepieces

Comedian David Smiedt takes an irreverent, but appreciative, look at the classic things that define you-beaut Aussie life
Matt Cosgrove

About 15 years ago, two things happened to timekeeping. Mobile phone ownership spread from being primarily the domain of grown-ups to a family-wide phenomenon. And cutting-edge decorators realised their shabby-chic, indoor-outdoor entertaining area wasn’t complete without an oversized wall clock that looked
as though it had been salvaged from a Marseilles antiques store. It didn’t really matter if the clock stopped working after only a month – it was more about aesthetics than temporal accuracy. And besides, everyone had a timepiece embedded in their Nokia anyway.

To anyone born in the iPhone era, it can be difficult to understand the role that the clock once played in Australian homes. Functionality aside, the earliest models were a status symbol, akin to today’s yoga rooms, home cinemas and lap pools. The intricacy of construction was reflected in the clock’s price, and one’s prosperity was reaffirmed on the hour, every hour – and sometimes even more often – when
the mahogany grandfather clock chimed sonorously in the hallway.

If you had neither the space, nor the cash, nor the REM patterns that allowed sleep through a sequence of dongs every 60 minutes, the carriage clock was a preferred option. Compact enough to sit
on a sideboard or mantelpiece, it was a lesson in graceful symmetry, and its petite size meant luxurious finishes, such as mother-of-pearl and gold leaf, were affordable. Going for baroque, if you will. The carriage clock was usually a gossamer-fine balance of form and function, able to complement changing tastes in decor. Which is why it happened to become a sought-after heirloom when dear Aunty Dot popped her clogs and the reading of her will approached.

Not all of our clock fancies endured like the carriage version. For a period in the 1970s and ’80s, we couldn’t get enough of the cuckoo clock. It was a wonder of engineering, and what fun there was to be had when that vociferous wooden bird sprang out of the casing and announced his two-note presence to the world. At least for the first couple of days anyway, after which it become an investment of diminishing returns as the hilarity of the avian melody moved into the realm of the profoundly annoying. It was also around this point that you realised that its red, green and white colourway actually clashed with pretty much every other item in your home.

Later, clocks migrated from communal areas to the bedroom, specifically the bedside table with those flip affairs where a series
of 12 or 24 cards on the left and 60 on the right signalled the passing hours. Kind of like a Rolodex for insomniacs. These gave way to the digital version, which featured numerical lights seemingly designed to be just bright enough to prevent sleep-inducing darkness.

It didn’t if the clock stopped working – it was mare about aesthetics than temporal accuracy

Which brings us to now and the reality that most Australian homes feature few – if any – timepieces consulted by more than one person at one time. It’s just a matter of plugging in your mobile beside your bed and going from there. Back in our day, the only battery-operated toys we used in bed were… well, never mind.

However, we are glad to say there’s been a kind of resurrection
in the clock world – or at least evidence of resistance, depending
on your point of view. In the pages of this venerable magazine, you may have noted the lingering presence of the wall clock in a newly renovated home as they are actually intrinsically beautiful, and fulfil the paramount function of any item in your house – they provide
a service and look damn fine doing it. Absolutely, a quick glance will tell you that there’s 20 minutes until school starts or your train leaves, but there’s also a poetry to the hands sweeping by elegant numerals on a contrasting face. And at the very least, they serve
as a reminder that what they measure is best enjoyed in this most personal of spaces, with those who matter most.


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