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Friday, August 13, 2010

Writer's Journal (exercise): The Watch

My grandfather wore a fob watch. It was silver, it was big, it was round, and the case was carved with strange symbols. I supopose they weren’t strange; perhaps they had pattern or meaning, maybe they were even words. But when I was little, they looked like arcane curlicues, magickal and mysterious. He wore it in his pocket on a little chain. His waistcoat pocket, that is. He always wore a waistcoat under his jacket, and over his shirt. He would fish the watch out of his pocket by the chain, click open the case by the little snib thing at the bottom of the circle, and look at the face, which had large, black Roman numerals. He did this several times a day. It had a formality to it, this slow series of actions, a deliberateness. Time was obviously very important, and the knowing of the time.

How I loved that watch! I coveted it. I hoped my Grandpa would leave it to me when he died. Not that I wanted him to die; he was my great companion who told me stories and went for walks with me, pointing out the shapes of the hills, the colours of flowers, the kinds of trees we passed. He was in a sense my playmate, only we didn't play games, we played with ideas and shared experiences of the world. That was when I was little, of course. When I got older, he wrote me letters on his typewriter; long letters about all sorts of things much too old for a little girl to understand, like politics and art — but I did understand and reply. He also gave me many of the books I grew up on, for birthdays and xmases: I read most of Dickens and Dumas as a child, and the Bronte sisters too, all presents from Grandpa,

He did die, when he was over 80, and he didn’t leave me his watch. I don't think he had any idea that I’d have wanted it, but in any case it would surely still have gone, as it did, to my Uncle Ian. He left me his typewriter, because everyone knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up — in fact that I already was one, even as a child. It was a big black Remington and I loved it. I still see it in my head without even trying; and I can still see his watch too, and him taking it out of his pocket to look at the time. I always wear a watch myself except in bed or under the shower. Not for me the New Age disdain for telling the time, the leaving off of watches.  I know that time and the telling of it is very important.

Like so many, I am writing my memoirs, or at least bits and peices that may become that if I persevere and do enough of them. This too is a way of telling the time, and telling about my times, and my Grandpa’s times, and my Grandpa himself. Strange, he wasn't my Grandpa — as my cousin who was his true granddaugher was keen to remind me — only my step-grandpa. I didn’t care, nor did he. To him, my Mum was his daughter and I was his grand-daughter anyway.

That cousin was a child of his only actual daughter, and she loved to claim that true inheritance. She must have felt insecure in some way, I realise now, but at the time I just thought she was being nasty. (Well, she was.) Late in life, she had a lovely studio portrait of Grandpa copied, and gave copies to her sister and brother but not to me or to my other cousins who were also his step-grandchildren. For years I begged her to give me a copy; she always swore she would but never did. She’s dead herself now and I could ask her widower, and he probably wouldn’t have a problem with giving me a copy at last. But after all, I don’t need it. I was the oldest grandchild, the one he took for walks and wrote to. He probably did that for all the rest too, but that's beside the point. The point is that I need nothing to remember him vividly. I don't even need a copy of that studio portrait. My parents got a copy at  the time, and I can see it just by thinking — a white-haired man, dark-skinned and smiling.

Interesting, that dark skin. I often wonder of he was Anglo-Indian too, like my Nana, even though they met in England. He went back to India with her after they married and that's where Aunty Franki, my cousins’ mother (my Mum's half-sister), was born.

‘My cousin’ I say, as if she was the only one. She was the sibling cousin.

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