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Alan And The Clockwork Man

“What's the time?” asked Robin.

I glanced at the clock on the wall. “Well the big hand is pointing at the II and the little hand is pointing at the IX so it must be ten past nine.”

“That can't be right,” said Robin. “Midsomer Murders has just started on the TV and that always starts at 9.30.”

“You're right,” I said. “Perhaps the clock needs a new battery.”

I changed the battery and adjusted the time. We settled down to watch the television.

Time passed. The clock ticked. Almost without us noticing, today turned into tomorrow.

“What's the time?” asked Robin.

I glanced at the clock on the wall. “Well the big hand...”

“We've already done that,” said Robin.

“Sorry.” I compared the time on the clock to the time on my watch and the time on my computer. “The clock's about ten minutes slow,” I said. “The new battery doesn't seem to have helped. I think the clock might be broken.”

“How can we get it fixed?”

“There's a shop in Wellington that specialises in fixing clocks,” I said. “I'll take it there.”

The next day I went into the clock shop clutching my clock. The walls of the shop were covered in things that went tick and things that went tock. Occasionally, much to my annoyance, one of the things went cuckoo.

“Yes?” said the man behind the counter.

“I have a clock that is greatly in need of repair,” I explained.

“Well you've come to the right place then,” said the man. “That's all I do, day in and day out. I fix broken clocks. I don't do anything else. Let's have a look at it.”

I laid my clock on the counter and explained my problem. The man sneered at it.

“It's got one of those battery driven movements,” he said contemptuously. “Modern rubbish. They're always breaking down. It can't be repaired. I'll have to throw the old movement away and replace the whole thing. Not that it's worth bothering. Cheap, nasty things. Can't be relied on.”

I started to get the feeling that he didn't approve of clocks with electronic cogs. “But you can fix it?” I asked.

“Just said that, didn't I? Not that I really want to. Waste of time if you ask me.”

“But we really like it,” I said. “It was one of the first things we bought ourselves after we got married. It has great sentimental value. And besides, the face is really rather attractive. We like that fact that the clock is oval rather than round and the Roman numerals are particularly elegantly presented.”

“Alright! Alright! Leave it with me and I'll see what I can do. But it will take at least two weeks, I've got a huge backlog. And it will cost a fortune.”

“How much?” I asked.

“$70,” he said, obviously pulling a figure out of thin air in the hope that I would go away and stop bothering him.

“Righto,” I said. “Let's do it.”

He sniffed and sneered and tore a couple of inches of paper off a pad that was lying on the counter. He picked up a green felt tipped pen. “What's your name and phone number?” he asked.

I told him my name. He wrote it down wrongly, as everybody always does.

“No,” I said, “that's not right. The name is R-O-B-S-O-N not R-O-B-E-R-T-S-O-N.”

He scribbled over the E-R-T. “And the phone number?”

I told him my phone number. He wrote it down wrongly.

“No,” I said, “that's not right. The last four digits are 6-3-3-5 not 6-3-5-5.”

He changed the first 5 to something that might have been a 3 if you squinted at it just right, and the wind was from the west. But we only get northerly winds in Wellington, except when we get southerlies. I was not hopeful that future communications would be fruitful.

“I'll ring you when it's ready,” he said as he sellotaped the scrap of paper to the clock face. I left him to his ticks, tocks and cuckoos.

Time passed. Three weeks to be exact. I went back to the shop.

“Three weeks ago, I left a clock for repair,” I explained. “You said it would take two weeks. But since I haven't heard back from you, I thought I'd come and see what was happening with it.”

“I've been phoning you, but nobody answers. The phone just rings and rings and rings.”

“Funny,” I said. “We've not had any calls at all.”

“I've been ringing and ringing. You're never bloody there. Anyway, what does your clock look like?”

“It's sort of oval shaped...” I waved my hands vaguely and looked around the shop for inspiration. “There it is! That one over there, hanging on the wall.” I pointed at my clock and he unhooked it from the wall and brought it over.

“Here you are.” He plonked it down on the counter. There was a scrap of paper sellotaped to it. I looked at the paper and read the green felt tipped words.

“My name isn't Mr Carruthers,” I said. “And that's not my phone number.”

“Well no wonder you never answered the phone if it isn't your number,” he said. He didn't sound very surprised.

“But who is Mr Carruthers and why didn't he answer?” I asked.

“I've no idea who Mr Carruthers is,” said the man. “I imagine he's someone who wanted a clock repaired.” He looked around the dozens of clocks hanging on the walls. “I wonder which one is his?”

“Probably the one with my name on it,” I suggested.

“I doubt if it's that simple,” he said scornfully. “Oh well, it'll sort itself out. He'll come in one day asking for his clock. I'll find it for him then.”

“Does this sort of thing happen often?” I asked.

“Oh yes, all the time. You get used to it. That'll be $70.”

I took out a credit card.

“I don't do credit cards or eftpos,” he said. “Nasty, modern electronic ideas. They'll never catch on. Cash or cheque only.”

“I'll be back in a little while,” I said. “I'll have to go to a money machine. I don't usually carry that much cash on me.

“Hurry up,” he said. “If you're not back here in five minutes I'll give your clock to Mr Carruthers.”

Fortunately there was a money machine just across the road and I was back in the shop very quickly.

“Here you are,” said the clockwork man. He put my clock in a plastic bag and I took it home.

“What's the time?” asked Robin.

I glanced at the clock on the wall. “Well the big hand...”

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