When I went into Colchester before Christmas I had a new battery fitted to my wristwatch, which had stopped. For the past few years I've been to the little stall in what used to be Williams and Griffin, and was relieved to discover that it had survived the transition to Fenwick. They have always been pleasant and efficient, with no hint of capriciousness. I used to go to a jewelers in Eld Lane that was part of the Co-Op group and that I felt on that basis ought to be reputable, until they suddenly announced they would not open any watch to change the battery unless they were agents for that brand. I fled from another Colchester jewelers without letting them touch my watch when in reply to my query whether they could change the battery in a gold watch the two girls behind the till looked at each other and one said sportingly that she didn't mind giving it a go.
Watches are personal. My gold watch was a present from the Systems Administrator. It is a small and absolutely plain Accurist and I always wear it on an absolutely plain slim leather strap. The glass has got lightly scratched over the years, which I suppose I could have replaced if I felt that strongly about it, and it loses time slightly, but I am very fond of it. It is a testament to how well the SA knew my tastes, because a small plain watch was exactly what I wanted. Come weddings, funerals, posh parties and any other rare social occasions when I can dress up in clothes that are not cat proof and the Accurist will be silently ticking away losing infinitesimal amounts of time on my wrist.
My other watch is for gardening, country walks and other activities where the gold watch might get damaged. It is a Mondaine which I saw featured in the Guardian, and instantly fell in love with the second hand. And the red strap, but straps can be changed. It was the second hand that did it for me. It is based on the Swiss railway clock, red, and the tip ends in a little red circle. The rest of the face is very, very plain. A total design classic, in fact. Psychologists may argue that buying things does not in the long run make people happier, and in general they are right, but I felt enormously cheerful when I yielded to temptation and bought the Mondaine, and the red second hand (and the strap) still cheer me up each time I look at them.
According to a snippet on today's Today programme, watches are an example of a dying art form, because in the future everybody will have the time on their smartphones. Maybe, maybe not. Things have a habit of sticking around for longer than you think they're going to. Radio is still with us decades after the invention of television, and Colchester is even going to have a new Curzon cinema and perhaps an out of town multiplex. I don't take my smartphone into the garden with me, and anyway it doesn't have a red second hand, and there are lots of social situations where sliding a quick glance down at your wrist seems more tactful than whipping out your phone.
It was the Mondaine that needed a new battery in December. Watch batteries are not cheap, which makes running two watches even more of an eccentric indulgence. Never mind, it was worth it to get that second hand ticking forwards again. Except that when I got home I found the watch had fogged up. It had looked fine in the warm air of Fenwick's basement, but moisture condensed out of the air inside it as soon as it got cold. I tried putting it in the airing cupboard to dry, but alas, the woman in the shop had done a very thorough job of resealing it. It has been in the airing cupboard for most of the six weeks since the new battery was fitted, but when I put it on this morning it fogged up again in the time it took me to let the hens out.
It is now back with the menders. The woman on the little stand was apologetic, and had various theories as to how it could be fixed, but none of them could be done on the spot. That means I'll have to go back into Colchester, which is a bore, since normally I save up all business in town until I have a haircut, which is only once every six weeks. I must remember that it wouldn't really be easier to rely on the smartphone to tell the time, though. Even apart from the fact that I like the Mondaine it would only be easier relying on the phone up to the point where I dropped it or knelt on it and broke it.