A fob watch waited patiently upon the oak counter.
A chain of gold lengths shone like the fire of industry from which it was made. The watch itself had a masterly handcrafted pattern of clad bronze leaves engraved upon its back, and a swirling golden pattern on its front, leading to a beautifully cut circle in its centre: a window onto the smooth crystal glass that complimented the perfect white face and the ticking hands that danced across it. Inside it, a message engraved in gorgeous running writing: “To Robert”, completed the piece. The golden hands moved with the purpose and power of a well-oiled machine, ready to click into life with the twist of the handle, and a wind of its spring.
Its father, a humble watchmaker with half-mooned spectacles gazed upon every detail articulately, before giving it away to its new owner. After picking up the watch, feeling it in his thick-skinned hands and running a last thorough look-over with his old-seasoned eyes, the watchmaker smiled decisively. A masterpiece, if he didn’t mind saying so himself.
A tall man in a tailor suited jacket came in the front door, out of the smoke from the bustling high street. The Watchmaker welcomed him, showing him the shining timepiece. The watch felt the smooth but cold glove of the Tailored Gentleman as it was picked up and held in front of appreciative eyes.
‘If I may’ said the Watchmaker.
The Tailored Gentleman passed it over, and murmured his approval. The Watchmaker touched the watch’s knob, and twisted it. The spring took power from its maker’s hands, and the watch’s hands in kind clicked into life, breathing in the elixir of pumped up kinetic-motion.
The Watchmaker placed the timepiece into a small box, surrounded by red velvet cloth, and placed a lid upon it. It was the last time the watch ever saw its maker, for it had begun its journey.
The watch waited patiently in its dark tomb, feeling the motion of the Tailored Gentleman’s brisk walk. It could feel sickening, eerie brown smoke from outside force its way into the box to greet it. It ticked away, feeling every second go by.
Finally, the ceiling of the tomb rose. The Tailored Gentleman looked down upon the watch, smiling at its beauty and his own genius for finding such a gift. He pulled it gently out of its snug red velvet cocoon with his cold gloves, and handed it to a slightly scruffy, but well-dressed man with a thick moustache.
“For the good times Bobbie, I owe you a lot”
The Scruffy Gentleman’s face was filled with gratification. “I’m honoured Will, thank you for such a thought” he replied.
He took the timepiece in his clean, but warm hands and gazed upon it with dark, hazel eyes. The golden chain hung daintily from his fingers. The watch looked at its new master; ticking away with pride at the thought that it would spend its life as this gentleman’s timepiece.
Bobbie clicked the watch open and gazed upon the ticking clock inside, stroking his moustache thoughtfully. “Such detail” he admired, as he ran his fingers over the bronze engraving. Finally, he clicked it shut, slipping it gracefully into his dirty pocket. The watch was again alone the darkness, and made itself at home in its new world.
Bobbie was a hard-working individual, and the timepiece became well-used as it entered into working life. From the time it sat on his bedside table as he woke to the days down at the shipyard as he ordered workers caked in mud, blood and rubbish to bash white-hot rivets into steamships, the watch worked ferociously, alongside its master.
At night though, the watch took on a different role from its working day job as partner to Bobbie. At night, it would become a guardian, a protector and Bobbie’s worst enemy.
After work, Bobbie would often go with associates and friends (including The Tailored Gentleman, among the gentleman the watch recognised) to drink at the local tavern. The watch observed as these men, who only hours ago were channelling their creative willpower into empire- building; were now reduced to brawling creatures of alcohol and testosterone.
The watch would often be caught in the crossfire, frequently falling from the height of tables to greet less fortunate materials of cobblestones and Portland cement. The higher grade bronze scratched and bruised, and with every fall the watch’s springs and cogs weakened.
Bobbie would always leave these events early, stumbling beside the clogged artery of the Thames before navigating the smoggy streets of the Isle of Dogs. He would always come to the same brick walk-up residence, painted with whitewash dirtied from days in the cities smoke. He knocked, and a golden-haired lady in a silk gown would always answer. He and the watch entered together, heading past painting after painting of The Tailored Gentleman.
As always, the watch felt the same delicate whispers echo through the large residence’s crevices: “he’s not here tonight… he’s drinking”. The Lady would lead Bobbie into well-lit bedroom, place the watch from his sweaty, alcohol stained hands upon her bedside, and they’d embrace passionately.
Finally, as its cogs turned, the watch saw them upon her bed, clicking together in time with the watch’s ticking. They would speed up, faster and faster, so fast the watch’s ticking could not follow; and finally they’d break apart.
A few hours later, as day seeped through the curtains, Bobbie would turn to his loyal watch and say “Cussed timer, why do you tell me that time? Why?!” And so the watch’s day would begin again.
As months went by, the watch obeyed Bobbie without question, but still found itself to be not far from his anger. Its clad bronze became dented and its golden chain lost its shine through layers of coal dust and dirt. But the watch still remained loyal to his master.
Over these months, Bobbie would see the Lady more and more, until one night in a drunken state, he arrived at her home to find her holding a baby boy. Bobbie started shaking nervously; the watch knew this kind of shaking; it was the same shaking he had before he whipped a worker for being lazy; a bubbling, building anger.
“I’m going to tell Will it’s our child” said the Lady. Bobbie’s shaking grew and grew; the watch felt his angry, sweaty grip tighten around it, its ticking hands shaking in fear at the pressure its master was exerting on it.
“Don’t destroy me” the watch felt its master whimper. The Lady put the child down. “Goodbye Bobbie”. She walked past him.
Suddenly the watch felt warm wetness as Bobbie’s fist flew into contact with the Lady’s face, and she fell to the oak floor. The watch felt its golden chain caress her neck, quivering, and it was twisted round her.
“Let me go!” her voice box vibrated along the golden lengths, which shuddered at her words. With sudden force, Bobbie yanked the chain, and the Lady screamed as her life vibrated along the gold, but there came no sound. The watch felt every touch of that moment. It had never felt so close to someone before, as its golden chain cut into her throat.
As the last gasp of energy strained from her throat, the watch screamed as its golden lengths broke, preciously chattering along the floor. Bobbie fell back, whimpering at what he’d done. The watch felt his master loosen his grip, whimpering as he let it fall, limp out of his hands, clattering onto the oak floor.
The watch never said goodbye to Bobbie. It was placed in a soggy, grease-stained cardboard box found by the road with the baby boy, and folded shut. They were together carried for hours; the only sound they could hear was of sobbing and breathing, locked in their tomb together.
Finally, the cold stone ground shivered through the cardboard beneath them, and the movement of footsteps away proved to the watch that its master was gone. Now, it and the boy were alone, it’s ticking heart the only sound.
As light crept through the cracks of their tomb, the watch’s co-prisoner began to cry. The box opened, and an elderly lady in a white cloaked dress stood over them. She gasped, touching the cross that dangled around her neck.
Together, they were brought inside out of the cold smoke, and into the old stone building’s warmth, taken past the little children that played around them, and into a dank catacomb. The white-cloaked woman called to her compatriot: “Sister, we got another one”.
The boy was given the name ‘Robert’, from the engraving on the timepiece he was found with. As watch looked upon the small lump of life lying next to it, it began to see love in the child’s eyes; a fellow soul that was abandoned.
Robert soon became keen to see what this possession could do, and touching the watch with his young tiny fingers. Every touch, the watch could feel Robert gaining experience; and soon Robert knew the watch better than Bobbie ever did: every scratch, every gash, and every dent.
And so the watch watched him grow. Every day, around the other orphans, Robert grew, his eyes grew wider the more they saw; his mind grew keener in kind. He would often explore, escaping the orphanage’s watchful eye to join local pickpocket gangs and ply a trade up near Trafalgar Square.
But he would always come back, and every night would cradle the watch like it was the only thing that mattered in the world. The timepiece by this time was ticking wearily, its cogs beset by years of service. But every time the boy rewound it, its spring choked with new energy and life.
Robert finally grew and left the orphanage, and the watch joined him as he went to the docks and acquired himself a job as a ‘basher’, banging rivets into the hull of Brunel’s Great Eastern. Robert learned fast; the watch counted the hours he worked away, harder and harder, until he was banging the white-hot rivets into place like he had been doing it his entire life.
The timepiece continued to tick away quietly in his pocket, barely audible above the heavy machinery of progress. It saw and felt the fires of industry from where new life came, burning in the melting pot of progress.
Life with Bobbie by comparison was a dream. It was truly alive when seeing the relationship of Robert, the bashers and their masterpiece: a huge monolith built with the love of master craftsman. A masterpiece of industry.
As Robert grew, his appetite grew too, and not just for food. Many nights he would pay a visit to a famous whorehouse, the ‘Silver Cross Tavern’, across the river near the palace at Whitehall.
The watch always knew he was going there when it was accompanied in his pockets by dozens of coins, each making their own journey. During the night the coins make themselves welcome, then would bid farewell one-by-one until only the watch remained, once again alone in the darkness with only lint to keep it company.
With drink and women, Robert’s fascination that once filled his eyes with life and wonderment was dumbed down slowly to that of the lower-working class Londoner. The little money he got he spent where he should not: the brothels and the taverns. He barely showed love for his loyal timepiece anymore, hardly ever winding it up, and often casting it to the floor when he was back with his favourite ginger whore.
Slowly, the watch’s ticking began to slow. But it had accepted its fate. One day, Robert would break it, open it and see the damage, and discard it into the river. That would be its story.
As the watch prepared for death; it didn’t realise it had caught the eyes of the ginger whore its master was sleeping with. She had customers of all sorts come and have their way with her, so she knew something that had value when she saw it. One night, she grabbed the watch off her bedside table and hid it while he slept. He left the following day, oblivious to what he’d left behind.
The Whore dressed herself in a dirty, ripped red-velvet dress, hid the timepiece within her bosom and made her way out into the smoke. The watch had never felt the bosom of a woman before, its warmth a delightful alternative to small, dank pockets.
As the Whore wandered past Nelson and the roaring lions of Trafalgar Square, the watch breathed in the Square’s glory. It had never seen the Square before. It had always seen the working man slaving away on unfinished works, an industrial cycle where a work was never completed, nor admired. Now it finally stared upon a finished masterpiece, and smiled.
The Whore paid little attention to the sculptures. She focused on her job, to distract the gentlemen of London while members of the local gang from the orphanage pickpocketed them. A risky business; but one that yielded rich reward and heavy purses.
However, as she began hunting along the Strand, she approached a young fair-haired looking gentlemen. The young man turned, and seeing the watch in her bosom; stopped her.
“Pardon me m’lady” he said politely, for he was a well-educated individual. “But may I have a look at that timepiece?”
The Whore, initially hesitant, suddenly saw an opportunity to make some money for herself, and so handed over the battered watch.
As the watch was looked over once again, it felt it was being looked on with seasoned, experienced eyes, deceptive for the boys age. It had only ever been looked upon in that way once before, a lifetime ago. It couldn’t even remember those eyes; only just the half-mooned spectacles.
The Young Gentleman felt every mark of damage, smiling at the watch’s battered beauty. He opened it; its hands still barely ticking like a faint heartbeat.
He took out his own brand-new shiny timepiece and checked the time: this old timepiece was a good three hours behind the real time! “Still working away aren’t ya?” he kindly laughed at it.
He turned to the Ginger Whore, and queried “would you part with this watch?” She agreed, and was paid a wealthy bounty for it. As they parted, the Young Gentleman he slipped the watch into his clean, spotless pocket. The watch had never seen a pocket so clean, it felt unkempt to be in such a pocket.
The Young Gentleman delivered the watch to a huge stone building in the city centre. It was washed and polished profusely, its grime from years of labour swiped away. Finally, it was placed within a tomb of glass, labelled “The Great Watchmakers of Arnold & Dent”, and presented on view, illuminated in shining light.
Every day the upper classes would come to marvel at the watch and its counterparts around it, all together entombed in glass. The watch felt their appreciative eyes scan over it and listened to their judgements on its capability and history. But it quietly wished someone would touch it, wind it back up, and just hold it.
As the days and crowds came and went, the watch saw its fellow timepieces accept their fate. One-by-one, their ticking ceased and they silently stood tall like trees after a storm; as shell of industry’s past gone before. But the watch kept fighting; hoping that one day a master will hold it again.
Eventually, one night, the watch realised why they had all stopped. It was love. It realised that every day it worked alongside its masters was a day of partnership; in love. The master was life, was love; was everything that mattered.
And here in these huge gothic stone halls where people could appreciate it, the watch realised this was its reward. Its time had come to an end, now it was time for people to love it back. It knew it had achieved what it had set out to do.
By the time dawn came, the watch’s ticking had finally ceased. Its beautiful gold hands stopped with its short hand facing the twelve and its long hand facing the five, joining the husks of its brothers and sisters around it. Now it was a masterpiece for all to see.