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Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
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The watch header




Bought myself a new watch.
OK, nothing very special about that - while I wouldn't say that people buy watches every day, it's not exactly an uncommon purchase. But there's a bit of a story behind this watch...and something of a journey.
If you've read any of my technical articles over the years you've probably worked out that I'm quite a particular sort of person. I like things to be what I call 'just so' - which is to say that I have a set of preferences that I like to stick to, and these preferences are typically borne out of either experience or a recognition of the needs which any item has to fulfil.
It's not that I can't 'slum it' or try new things, rather it's that I have a fair idea of what's likely to appeal to me - and when I'm otherwise not engaged in pushing boundaries or experiencing new things, I like to fall back on the tried and trusted. This applies as much to a cup of tea as it does to screwdriver or a power tool. Again, nothing so unusual in that - and there's much joy to be had in throwing out the rulebook and jumping in at the deep end. That's precisely how I progressed from listening to mellow big band jazz and on to the edgier giants like Parker, Dolphy and Coltrane etc.

Kimmeridge Bay, DorsetBut every once in a while I set standards that are immutable, and it's usually because I have a very definite bunch of requirements. I mean, let's face it, you wouldn't rush out and buy an electric hover mower if you had a couple of acres of lawn to sort out - and nor would you spend half a grand on a high-baffle Dukoff if your next gig was playing second alto in a 1930's dance band. No, there's a time and place for everything and we all make decisions based on suitability. But even when you follow the rules assiduously, it doesn't always guarantee that you'll end up with you what really want or need.
Take, for example, my last watch. It was a Mondaine. In case you've never heard of them they're the folks that make the clocks that tell the time for Swiss railways. They're by no means an expensive brand, but they're kind of quirky, certainly distinctive and generally very reliable. I had three criteria that I wanted to fulfil; I wanted a watch that wasn't too bulky (I'm not wearing a bloomin' clock on my wrist), I wanted one that I could see in the dark...and I wanted one with a date on it that I could see without having to don a pair of reading glasses and still have to squint at the damn thing.
And Mondaine provided a watch that ticked all these boxes.

At least on paper. Yep, the watch was undeniably discreet...and indeed, quite elegant. It had a set of tritium tubes - which, if you're not up on such things, provided full-time illumination of the hands and numerals by virtue of a decaying radioactive particle. Fortunately (and rather reassuringly) the amount of radiation these things chuck out is tiny, and certain nothing to worry about unless you're the kind of person who never steps out without a tinfoil hat on your bonce and a bottle of smelling salts in your hip pocket. And it had a nice large date. What's not to like?
What wasn't to like was that if I woke up in the dead of night and glanced at the thing, my eyesight meant that the brightly-glowing illuminations all tended to blur into each other. This wouldn't be so bad if there had been a way to determine a particular point on the face of the watch (let's go wild and say the 12 o'clock position) - and indeed there was, but it was so small as to be completely useless. So I'd either have to reach for my glasses or take a punt on whether the time was half past three or four thirty five depending on the angle of my wrist. It was all a bit pants. On the plus side the tritium tubes glowed with such brightness that I could at least use the watch as a sort of torch to help me find my glasses.

As to the large date, what a complete waste of time that turned out to be - and not because it was useless or insufficiently large, but because it must have been imbued with a lifetime's supply of Sod's Law from new.
Y'see, the date was at the 3 o'clock position, and every time (and I'm really not exaggerating that much) I needed to look at the date it was always either a quarter past the hour, or three o'bloody clock. If you've ever stood behind a chap at the counter of a post office in Hampshire and heard him exclaim "Quarter past nine!? It's always the bleedin' way!" - well, that would have been me.
The thing is, I quite liked the looks of the watch and I supposed I resigned myself to putting up with its annoyances for the sake of some misguided notion of fashion - but over the years the tritium tubes began to grow dimmer and dimmer. They were supposed to have a lifespan of 25 years, but that turned out to be a load of old codswallop - and it got to the point where I couldn't even use the thing to find my glasses in the dead of night...and ended up having to put a light on. It was all rather silly.

For this and some other reasons I decided I needed a new watch - but I was still convinced that the parameters I'd laid down a few years ago still held some value, and I began my search.
I find that shopping for new gadgets is something of a mixed bag. Yes, it's all very exciting to set yourself a budget and see what's out there, but it's also quite nerve-wracking when you consider that you might end up buying a pig in a poke. And so I set about reading watch reviews and watching endlessly tedious videos on YouTube - all of which led me to the unavoidable conclusion that I should maybe give up writing horn reviews and start writing about portable appendage-based timepieces. You could at least be assured that none of my reviews would start with "Wassssupppp people!"
At least not very often.

Oh, I searched high and low. I peered into shop windows, I browsed endless websites and trawled the forums but pretty soon came to the conclusion that 'elegant and usefully functional' wasn't really in vogue these days...unless you really pushed the boat out. I had a reasonable budget (£500) but there was no way I was putting something on my wrist that cost more than my last car. And I was beginning to realise that there was hardly anything out there that ticked all the boxes. The closest anything got to it was a fifty quid Timex - and, y'know, I was kind of OK about that. On my budget I could buy ten of the things - which would more than see me through to the point where it wouldn't matter what the time was anymore, just as long as someone fed me and threw the odd bucket of water over me. It would do, and that was probably all it really needed to do.
And then a chance search result changed everything.

At this point I'd like to take you back on a little trip through...well, time. You might want to grab a tissue in case what follows tugs at the old heartstrings...as it does mine.
Back in the days when my pocket money would come in shiny pennies and silvery sixpences, my parents used to bundle we kids into the car every summer and take us off to stay with our aunt and uncle down in Bournemouth. They were halcyon days - filled with sunshine, sandy ham sandwiches, choc ices, sunburn and something that started off the day as tea in a flask...but which ended up like lukewarm water that had been pulled out of a swamp. They were beautiful, carefree days - and none more so than the time that my uncle announced that a place called Kimmeridge Bay was open again. If I remember rightly (and it was a very long time ago now) the place had been inaccessible due to the MOD having purloined large swathes of the Isle of Purbeck for military training exercises. It's a bit of a long story, and one that still rankles the residents to this day - but the upshot of this news was that we were were heading out to this place in the morning.
I fell in love with it as soon as the car turned a corner on one of the many steep hills that surround the bay. Oh, there was no sand to speak of - but it took a young lad all of about three nanoseconds to see that there were likely to be crabs, shrimps, fish, anenomies and monsters galore nestling in the hundreds of rock pools, nooks and crannies that stretched off into the distance as far as you could see. And indeed there were.

Me at Kimmeridge, 1970'sBut way, way better than that...there were fossils! Real, live (well, you know what I mean) fossils.
Sure, it's a bit of a downer if all you want from a trip to the seaside is the chance to build a sandcastle - but if you were hopelessly curious about what was under the next rock, it was a paradise.
But were we allowed to rush down the steps to the shore and set up camp for the day? Oh no. Dad made us trek all the way around the bay which, if you look at the opening shot, is the one around the corner from the farthest point. It's a very long way, over rocks large and small - many of which were as slippery as hell if the tide had just gone out.
And the tide was the key to this place. When it was in the place was actually fairly dull - you had just a short stretch of 'beach' and pretty quickly got fed up of turning rocks over only to find a bunch of insects. But when the tide went out it became a marine wonderland.
Among the most remarkable features of Kimmeridge are the vast 'benches' of slate that stretch out into the sea - and as the sea pulls back it reveals giant rockpools, easily big enough to swim around in and absolutely teeming with sealife. I had the time of my life, even though at the end of the day we had to face that epic trek back to the car...and those stairs up to the carpark that seemed to get steeper with each weary step.
But it was always, always worth it - even if you just sat there, as I am doing here almost 50 years ago, and waited for the tide to go out.

My dad passed away back in 2008, and rather than listen to someone I'd never met waffle on about what a good chap he was I decided to write and read a eulogy at his funeral. I wanted to to get across the fact that my dad was just an ordinary bloke with ordinary foibles and failings, but one who had an innate sense of fair play and whose advice was always considered and balanced. And a very cheeky sense of humour. I spent quite some time composing the eulogy, and even more time reciting and rehearsing it. I don't mind acknowledging that I can write a word or two, but I'm not so good at actually voicing the things that I write. Or rather I'm good in my head, but not so good in person.
To this end I printed out the eulogy on two sheets of paper and rehearsed it whenever I had a spare moment.
Come the day I stood there at the lectern in the church, looking down at the congregation and the coffin in the centre of the aisle - my shoulder still hurting from the expectedly heavy weight as I helped to bear it down to its resting place. I had absolutely no idea how it would go. Sure, I'd bunged in a couple of humorous anecdotes (dad liked a laugh), but I always had it in my mind that I'd have to get to that point where it 'got serious'. I didn't honestly know whether I could make it - and even as I sit here now and write this I find I'm really struggling to hold back the tears. I miss him so much, damnit....

I got through my eulogy, with rather more decorum than it took to write the above paragraph, and settled into coming to terms with the loss - part of which was a trip back down to Kimmeridge. He always loved it there too, and it sort of felt like a part of him is still there somehow.
So I made the trip down, somewhat slightly hesitantly. On my arrival I parked up on the top of the cliff and set to getting my bits and bobs out of the boot prior to trekking down the the shore and stepping in those places where I had stepped before, all those decades ago.
It was a brisk day, as it often can be up on the cliffs there, and as I opened the boot of the car a gust of wind flew up over the cliff and blew straight in. It caught two pieces of paper that had been tucked away. The eulogy I wrote.
They briefly whirled around in the back of the car before shooting out with the wind, and I watched with amazement as the wind carried them off and over the cliff.
Funny thing is, the first thought that came into my head was "Oh no, I'm so embarrassed at littering up the place!!" - and then it was as if someone had whispered "Let it go....let them go". And they were gone.

I think by now it's probably pretty clear that Kimmeridge is a very special place for me - which brings me back to that chance search result.
What with things easing up on the covid front I felt it was high time I took a trip back there - something I do at least once a year - and it was while I was trying to find out whether the place was actually open that I spotted a link to a watch in the search results. A watch called the Kimmeridge. Of course, I had to look.
It's made by a Dorset-based company called Elliot Brown, and what immediately impressed me about them was the integrity with which they designed and built their timepieces. There was a passion there, and that sort of curiosity that makes someone say "Well, I know people say you can't do this...but what if we could??"

Elliot Brown Kimmeridge watcheOn that basis alone they struck a chord with me. I know some of my clients tell me that they like the work that I do because they feel I put some 'soul' into it, and while I'm truly flattered by that I can't help but think it's perhaps a bit, well, hippyish. I care about what I do, I care about my work. I try. And to see that same ethos coming from other craftspeople is something I can't but help to be drawn towards.

So there was this watch. Not just made, but built. I wasn't that bothered that you could take it 200 metres underwater, or that it was built from marine-grade stainless steel. I wasn't even that bothered that while it did have a date function, I'd probably never been able to see it - and nor that while it has something called 'SuperLuminova' I probably wouldn't bet my life on the chances of being able to read the time in the pitch black of the wee small hours. I wasn't even bothered that they called it a 'ladies watch' - in fact I rather liked that.
No, what 'bothered' me was that it looked simple and effortlessly elegant in spite of its impressive ruggedness - and that it wasn't a watch you would just wear...it was a watch that could become a friend. And yeah, OK, maybe that's a bit hippyish. I can live with that. And it wasn't called the Kimmeridge just for the sake of it - there were reasons behind that choice of name that are just as powerful as the reasons that take me back to that place time and time again. Not so much the icing on the cake as the whole cake itself, the box it comes in and van that delivers it to your door.

I've gone on long enough (already) to plague you with the remarkable set of circumstances that had to come into play in order for me to get my hands on this watch on a very particular day - but suffice to say I managed to do so. So many amazing things have happened to me over the last couple of years that have been down to such coincidences that I've learned, like the eulogy in the wind, to simply let them go...and to go along with them. I made it down to Elliot Brown's, took one look at the watch on my wrist and bought it on the spot.
I then took the short drive up to Kimmeridge. It's the anniversary of my father's passing tomorrow, and I suppose I wanted to be there at that place at this time...and to be able to say "Hey dad, look! I got a new watch!" - and just to hear him say "Mmm, nice watch son".
And, incidentally, and in case you were wondering...it's just coming up to......3.27....now!


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