The clock maker (Gloria)

At the top of the road where I grew up there was a clock-repairers. I spent many an hour staring in at its window, finding myself fascinated with this grouping of dozens of clocks all sitting in the window waiting to be fixed. After many years I plucked up the courage one day to go in and ask the owner, John Kendall, if I might be able to interview him; I had no idea why, or what I might ask him at that point – but I knew I wanted to spend longer in the shop, and I had no clock that needed fixing.
Fast forward to 2012, maybe five or six years on from that impulsive visit, and I found myself working with Hide and Seek Theatre on ‘The Clock’. Initially the piece came about through exploration of half a dozen objects brought to the first rehearsal, one of which was a clock in the style of Dali’s painting ‘The Persistence of Memory’. One year into the process, after the story and the piece had been created and developed, and long after I had moved away from my childhood stomping ground, I passed the clock-repairers one day and realised that I never had gone back for that interview.
I went in and again met John, who was incredibly generous in answering all of my (sometimes rather strange!) questions and allowing me to poke my camera into the insides of various clocks. Here is an extract from the interview:

Describe your concept of time in one word.


How long have you worked with clocks?

About 30 years. I used to, um, a couple of people bought clocks in to me, I used to do woodwork and then I repaired them and I got started that way. I ran a craft centre and then people started bringing them in and when the craft centre finished I started this full time.

Has there ever been a clock that you haven’t been able to fix?

He laughs. Close to it, a couple of times, close to it.

His daughter: ‘There was a boomerang clock that you had, wasn’t there, that kept coming back.’

On the whole we get through most things, but then sometimes it’s not worth repairing something, you advise someone it’s not worth spending the money. If they insist then we do it. Certain ones, you get into them and you think, well, this is going to cost a few hundred quid and the clock’s worth about forty, if it doesn’t have any sentimental value, a lot of people just forget it.

If you had to personify the mechanical system within a clock, how would you describe that grouping of parts in human terms?

That’s a difficult one really, I mean, people tend to use clocks, or cogs, as caricatures of humans. Like a face with the hands and so on, and also cogs within the body and so on so it’s more the other way round, so human terms to describe a clock, more than it’s used to caricature the other way round. It’s interesting how people describe clocks, are they male or female . . . I find it quite interesting how people describe their clocks in terms of their sexuality, some people talk about her, or about him. People often describe a wall clock for instance as a, well, ‘she’ – ‘she’s not doing that well’ ‘she’s suffering’ ‘the old girl’s . . .’ interesting, sort of depending on people’s background I think, there’s no fixed rules. Like a lot of people describe their cars as ‘she’s’ . . .

Are you able to able to switch off from hearing the clocks?

In a sense I never hear them. It’s one of the problems because in a sense you get used to them. You get used to everything. I mean that’s man’s inherent nature isn’t it. It’s like Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead. What is extreme or different, becomes normal. Man has the ability to adapt which is probably our unique characteristic. We adapt to most things don’t we. So yes, uh, it can get a little . . .if you’ve got four or five clocks and you’re waiting for things to tick. It can be a problem hearing the bells go because I can’t remember if I’ve heard it or not. So sometimes if things have a problem I can be waiting for it to go and it doesn’t, or I think it doesn’t . . . Ah, that’s just done exactly what we were talking about, it’s gone out of beat. . . right . . .ah so you adapt and you don’t hear them or sometimes something happens like you have a big clock and you sometimes sit there quietly of an evening and you hear it, you know, it comes in and out, I think that’s true of everything, people say that about telly and the radio.

Extract from an interview with John Kendall at ‘Number Four’ in East Finchley.

23rd March 2012