THE CLOCKSPITAL.  or Time Heals all things

Mr.Tickspring’s shop was in a little side-turning off the High Street, and he lived over the shop. It was quite a small shop, because Mr.Tickspring’s main work was as an horologist, repairing clocks, and the most important part of the building as far as he was concerned was his workplace behind the shop.

This was where he looked after all the clocks that were brought to him, and he was so fond of them all that he looked on himself as a doctor, just as he did with Edooard, and to him they were all his patients. In fact, this was not so much a workroom as a clock hospital, or I suppose you could call it a Clockspital.

Mind you, it wasn’t a shiny, bright, polished and airy place like some hospitals for humans. It was rather a dark sort of room, not very well lit, except that it had a table in the middle with a bright table lamp on it, and that was where Mr.Tickspring sat and worked, with the bright light shining right on the clock he was treating.

Most of it did. Some light spilled over on to his bright, bald head, and some of it lit up that slippery pair of glasses of his that were always sliding down his nose. So he worked in a sort of halo of light that made the rest of the workroom seem extra dark.

But if your eyes got used to the dark, or if it was a bright sunny day outside, and some of the sunshine managed somehow to squeeze its way into the room, you could see that Mr.Tickspring never sat alone, because all round the room on various shelves and cupboards sat a host of clocks of all shapes and sizes, and in all sorts of conditions.

These were all Mr.Tickspring’s patients. There were some clocks awaiting repair, some waiting for spare parts to arrive from the makers, and some that he had mended but were being allowed to tick away to make sure they were now working as they should, and keeping good time.

After the last story you might have seen a no-longer-  superior Sydney lying in a cardboard box. A cardboard box! That was the last straw for Sydney. To be transferred from a beautiful velvet slip case into a cheap little cardboard box was almost worse for Sydney than his original accident, and his damaged parts seemed to ache all over again. But Mr.Tickspring was waiting for various little wheels and springs that he would need to get Sydney ticking again, and a third second hand to replace the one that was broken. And he had sent Sydney’s bright silver case to be straightened out and mended, and without that he thought Sydney would need the protection of the box to stop him losing any more parts. And perhaps he thought that Sydney might slip out of his slipcase again if he just left him on a shelf in it.

Once your eyes had really got used to the dark, or if it was dazzlingly sunny, you might have seen, tucked away in the darkest corner, a very old, brass carriage clock; and his name was Clerkenwell.

Now, you might think that Clerkenwell was a very odd name, and it certainly is for humans. But for a clock it was not such a surprising name, although it was still pretty unusual. But Clerkenwell is a part of London where a lot of clocks come from, or did in Clerkenwell’s day, and he always felt he was probably named after his – not quite birthplace, but, let’s say,  makeplace. And though he was not as old as Edooard, he was a fairly old clock, and he certainly couldn’t remember the details now.

He was a sturdy, square clock, with no glass, but with hands on the outside, a rounded top and four little brass legs. At least, it should have been four; but a long time ago, and probably one of the reasons he  had been brought in for repair, Clerkenwell had lost one of his legs, and in its place he now  had a little wooden stump.

For some reason, Mr.Tickspring had never been able to find a brass leg to replace the one that was missing. And for some reason the person who had brought Clerkenwell in for repair had never come back for him. And for some reason Mr.Tickspring had grown very fond of that carriage clock, and he thought he would be very sorry if he ever did find a brass leg, so that Clerkenwell might have to be sold.


So much for the clocks in the Clockspital.

There was one other human in the shop six days of the week, and that was Felicity, the shop assistant. Mr. Tickspring needed a shop assistant, because if he was in the middle of a particularly delicate piece of mending, he didn’t want to have to stop suddenly and serve in the shop, so he left that part to Felicity.

She was old enough to be called ‘a Lady’ by the children who came in, and young enough to be called ‘a Girl’ by the grown-ups who came in, and Mr.Tickspring found her very helpful, because as well as being a very friendly Lady or Girl, she was very interested in all the clocks, so was also very helpful to all the customers.

One day, when Felicity was sitting in the shop waiting for the next customer to come in, the shop door burst open – not like a balloon bursting, – well, almost, – but very suddenly, and Mr.Dashabout – well, yes, he did, he burst in,too.

Mr.Dashabout was one of Mr.Tickspring’s best customers, for if clocks were Mr.Tickspring’s business, they were Mr.Dashabout’s hobby. Not that he knew as much about them as Mr.Tickspring, or was clever at repairing them as Mr.Tickspring was, but he collected them, and where people like  Householder and Mywife mainly had one clock in each room, Mr.Dashabout had them everywhere, and it sometimes seemed that he had as many striking clocks in his home as Mr.Tickspring had in his shop.

Before Felicity could say ‘Good morning’ he was at the door of the workshop.

“Is he in?” he called to Felicity, and before she could say yes or no, he had opened the door to the Clockspital and walked in. Apart from the fact that she had no chance of stopping him, Felicity hoped Mr.Tickspring wouldn’t mind, as Mr.Dashabout was a very valued customer, and the two men often had quite long conversations about clocks, not made any shorter by Mr.Tickspring’s habit of saying some things two or three times.

Mr.Dashabout put down a parcel on the table. Mr.Tickspring was working on a very intricate bit of mechanism at the time, wearing one of those little magnifying glasses that jewelers fix in their eyes. In fact, in Mr.Tickspring’s case, with all the wrinkles round his eyes, it always looked as though he was screwing the glass in like a stopper. But he unscrewed it quickly enough now, and cleared a space for Mr.Dashabout.

“I’ve got a job for you,” said Mr.Dashabout, who didn’t waste time on little niceties like saying ‘Good morning’. And he began to unwrap the parcel.”I’ve got a clock here,” he went on, “which as you can see needs a new glass cover.”

He had by now uncovered a very handsome clock which was enclosed in a glass dome <something like Angelina’s, but much bigger>, which was badly cracked and chipped.

“You can see what’s wrong with that,” he said.

“Oh, yes,” said Mr.Tickspring,” but that’s no problem-”

“But that’s not all,” went on Mr.Dashabout, who could never bother to wait for other people when he had something to say, and he put the glass dome on the table, and showed Mt.Tickspring the clock.

It was a fine-looking, silver clock, standing on top of four silver stilts on a round,silver base, and suspended between the stilts was a set of four silver balls which went round a little way, then went back the other way, and slowly span to and fro, acting like the pendulum in clocks like Edooard.

“It’s not keeping good time,” complained Mr. Dashabout, “and I don’t know if it wants a clean, or what’s wrong with it, but it certainly needs something.”

“It’s no problem,” said Mr.Tickspring, jumping in quickly when Mr.Dashabout stopped for breath, “no problem at all. The glass case I’ll have to send away for, but the rest of it may well be just a matter of adjustment, – just a simple matter of adjustment. This kind of clock, you see, is very dependent on being stood on a shelf that’s absolutely level, – absolutely level. And of course, while it’s here it will have a thorough overhaul, – a thorough overhaul and clean.”

“That’s not all,” added Mr.Dashabout. “The thing is, how long will it take? You see, I’m going away very shortly, and I just have to have the clock back in ten days, ten days at the latest. Can you promise me that? Otherwise – ”

“Ten days it shall be,” replied Mr.Tickspring, congratulating himself on managing to interrupt Mr.Dashabout. “If I send for the case today, it will be here on time. The work is up to me, all up to me, and you know me.”

“Oh, I know you,” said Mr.Dashabout, very pleased. “If you say you can do it in time, it will be done. But you do appreciate it is most important, I must have it back within ten days. –  At the latest,” he added, to rub it in.

“You come back in ten days,”Mr.Tickspring re-assured him,”you come back in ten days, and it will be ready for you, it will be ready for you, I can assure you it will be ready.”

Mr.Dashabout knew Mr.Tickspring very well, and he knew if he struck a quarter-to in conversation, he meant it. He was just about to rush out again, when his eye caught sight of Clerkenwell sitting in his corner.

“I say,” he interrupted himself, and it was easier for him to interrupt himself than for anybody else to do it; “Is that a carriage clock I see in the corner? That looks a very interesting clock. – For sale, by any chance?”

“Well, not at the moment, not at the moment,” stammered Mr.Tickspring. “It’s a foot short. – ”

“What do you mean, a foot short?” snorted Mr.Dashabout. “I’ve heard of things being a foot tall, but never a foot short.”

“No,no,no,” replied Mr.Tickspring, “it’s minus a foot, it’s lost a foot. And I don’t seem to be able to find a spare for it.”

“Well, you jolly well keep trying, you jolly well keep trying.” Mr.Dashabout thought that perhaps if he used Mr.Tickspring’s technique of repeating himself he might make an impression. “That looks a very fine clock to me, and I’m very interested. You let me know as soon as you find that spare foot.”

“Oh, yes, yes, I will,” said Mr.Tickspring. It wasn’t really a lie, because he suddenly knew as he spoke that he would probably never find that spare foot, because he would probably never try to, because he could never bear to sell Clerkenwell.

“Well, I must dash. See you in ten days’ time,” said Mr.Dashabout, and off he rushed, so pleased and excited that he actually remembered to call out “Good morning” to Felicity as he left the shop.

So Mr.Tickspring asked Felicity straight away to look up the catalogues and order a new glass case from the manufacturers, because Felicity was very good at that sort of paperwork, while he cleared a space on his worktable.

“Are you going to start work on that clock right away?”she asked, “in front of all the others?”

“Well, Felicity,” answered Mr.Tickspring, “you know what Mr.Dashabout is like. Besides, he is a very valuable customer, and a promise is a promise, and ten days is ten days. I must at least see what’s wrong if I can, and you never know how long repairs might take or what parts might be needed. I must get started.”

“Well, I think you make too much fuss of Mr.Dashabout,”               said Felicity, who was a little bit offended by people who dashed in and hadn’t time to wish you “Good morning”.

“He means well, Felicity, he means well. He just thinks he’s always busy. And perhaps he thinks he’s the only one who is,” he added, with a little twinkle at Felicity. “Anyway, I’d better get on.”

So he screwed his little magnifying glass back in his eye, and began to examine that handsome clock with the silver balls.

But somehow Mr.Tickspring didn’t seem to be examining the clock with his usual enthusiasm. And he didn’t seem to be sitting comfortably in his chair. He shifted about, and he mopped his shiny brow with his handkerchief, even more shiny than usual because he found himself sweating, and then quite suddenly he slipped off his chair and collapsed on the floor.

When Felicity heard all the noise, she hurried in from the shop, and stooped down beside him.

“Are you all right,Mr.Tickspring?” she exclaimed, thinking as she said it that that was a silly question.People who are all right don’t usually lie about on the floor, and Mr. Tickspring just gave a little groan.

Fortunately Felicity was a very helpful and sensible shop assistant, and she immediately got on the phone to call for an ambulance. And in a matter of minutes two ambulance men arrived, carefully moved Mr.Tickspring on to a stretcher, popped his slippery glasses into his pocket, and just as carefully manoeuvred the stretcher out of the workroom and through the shop, and took him away in the ambulance, leaving a very worried Felicity to lock up the shop.

*        *        *        *

Now Felicity had left a lot of very worried clocks in the Clockspital.

“Poor Mr.Tickspring!” said one. And “he didn’t look at all well” said another. And “I wonder what’s wrong with him” said a third.

Clerkenwell spoke up from his corner.

“I think you’ll find he’s had a heart attack,” he said. “Rather like a broken mainspring,” he explained.

“Do you mean he’s stopped?” asked one of the other clocks.

“Well, sort of,” he answered. “Those two men will have taken him off to the hospital.” And when they still looked a bit puzzled, he added: “It’s a sort of Clockspital for humans, where I expect they’ll carry out some repairs on him.”

They felt a bit better after that, for they knew Clerkenwell was a very old and very wise carriage clock, because clocks, just like humans, do tend to get wiser as they get older, – though you do need to be a bit wise to start with, or wise enough to learn, anyway.

“And talking of repairs, what are we going to do about our friend here?” He called across to the silver clock. “I’m sorry, we don’t know your name.”

“It’s Percival,” said the silver clock.

“Well, Percival,” he went on, “I expect you heard that your owner insists on having you back within ten days, so something has got to be done about your repair, even if Mr.Tickspring is away.”

Immediately there was a chorus from the other clocks.

“But what about us?” they cried out. “Our owners are expecting us back too, before very long!”

A voice arose from a clock on the worktable.

“Oh, you clocks and your owners! Why do you have to kow-tow to your owners all the time? Haven’t you got any sense of independence?”

This was Gordon, a stubby little clock in a small wooden surround, who had actually been repaired, but who had been left on the table to make sure he was now keeping proper time.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, young Gordon,” said Clerkenwell sternly. “What makes you think we are owned, or have lost our independence? What does a clock do?”

“Tells the time!” shouted all the other clocks in chorus, having been well taught by Clerkenwell while staying in the Clockspital. Even Superior Sydney was tempted to join in, but realised he wouldn’t get nearer than “T’s th’ime” in his present state, and anyway he realised he didn’t tell the time, he just counted the seconds, as Samuel had reminded Mervyn.

“Precisely,” Clerkenwell continued. “And what do all these humans do when we tell them the time? They rush about saying ‘Good gracious, is that the time? I must get up! – I’ve got to go to work! I must catch my train!’ In other words, the whole of their day is ordered by what we, – we, Gordon, tell them it’s time to do. If you ask me, we govern them, we own them, and they’re the ones who’ve lost their independence. So we’ll have no more of that sort of talk, and we’ll just get on with out proper job of telling them the time accurately.”

Then he turned to Percival again.

“Well, according to my own – according to the man I own,” answered Percival, “I need a bit of a clean-up inside, and I certainly do feel a bit stiff in the springs, and I’m not entirely comfortable about my feet. I don’t find it easy to keep perfect time if I’m not standing absolutely level, and I am just wondering if my feet have got out of true.”

“Well, I think we mustn’t let old Mr.Tickspring down, because he looks after all of us so well, and mending sometimes takes much longer than you think. There might be something we can do for him while he’s away. Anybody got any ideas?”

Gordon had an idea which he thought might get him back in Clerkenwell’s good books.

“I say, Clerkenwell,” he said, “There’s an open tray of cleaning spirit on this table. I don’t know how good Percival’s feet are, or how much he can move, but supposing Percival could somehow wobble himself on to it, he might be able to take in some of the vapour which comes off it, and it might make him a bit easier.”

Gordon’s wooden case had a flat base with no feet, but he’d seen humans make good use of their feet, and he thought Percival might be able to do something.

“Now, that is an idea, Gordon,”said Clerkenwell, and Gordon’s ticking suddenly got very much happier. Clerkenwell in his long life had seen humans hold their heads over a steaming bowl of something, – some sort of cleaning spirit he supposed – when they couldn’t breathe properly, and he thought it might just possibly work for clocks. But he’d never seen clocks move of their own accord very much.

“How do you feel about that, Percival?” he asked.

“Well,” said Percival doubtfully; “these balls that I use as a sort of pendulum are quite weighty. If I could manage to swing them to and fro hard enough, I might be able to get some sort of wobble going, and it’s possible I could wobble a bit nearer that tray. I’m not sure if I can manage that successfully on my own, though.”

On the table, on the edge of the space that Mr.Tickspring had hurriedly cleared for Percival when he first arrived, was an alarm clock. He was rather like Samuel only bigger, and he actually had two bells on top of his head, but, more important, he had the same sort of sturdy legs that Samuel had, only sturdier and bigger. Nobody knew what his name was, because as soon as he arrived with those two bells on his head they christened him “Bells”, and that’s what he was always known as.

“I think, ” Bells now  chipped in,”if I try and tick extra hard, – or if I can get my bells going, because they vibrate a lot, I might be able to help.”

Gordon began to get quite excited.

“Mr.Tickspring keeps this table very well polished,” he said. “I could try to slide along in the right direction, and perhaps add a bit of weight.”

“That’s excellent!” exclaimed Clerkenwell. “I’m only sorry I can’t get off this shelf and help you. Even my fourth foot wouldn’t let me do that. But you three work together, and see what you can do.”

So they tried, and that was an unusual sight to see. I can’t say they puffed and they blew, because that’s not something clocks are given to doing, but they ticked, swung pendulums and rang bells between them, and Percival, with a sort of wobbly shuffle, worked himself nearer and nearer to that tray of cleaner. And the other clocks, who all regretted they couldn’t jump on to the table to push, did their best to spur them on with encouraging cheers.

It got really difficult when they got to the tray, because of course it had a lip round the edge to hold the liquid. Poor Percival was getting really tired by this time, and it took a really hard swing of the silver balls and a mighty ding-a-ling of the alarm clock’s bells, plus a good push from Gordon, sliding along, and trying hard not to slide backwards with all Percival’s weight, but at last they managed to get one foot into the tray. Then clever little Gordon had another bright idea, and was just able to squeeze a screwdriver lying on the table under another of Percival’s feet, so that he was able to lift the second foot in, and that was half-way there, and that much progress so encouraged them that they found the second half just that little bit easier, so that at long last Percival settled down in that tray of cleaning fluid.

“Whew!” he sighed. “Thanks a lot, you two!”

“Jolly well done!” called out Clerkenwell. “How do you feel now, Percival, old chap?”

“Exhausted,” he replied. But then added:” But you know, I think I can already feel that spirit working round me. And, in fact,” he added, “if I can twirl my ball arrangement round a little bit faster, it seems to draw up the vapour more. – Well, perhaps I’ll try that later,” he added, for he was far too tired to go in for much extra movement by now.

“Take your time, take your time, take your time,” said Clerkenwell, sounding a bit like Mr.Tickspring. “Just let that cleaner get all round your works as far as you can for the moment.”

“Perhaps I will,” replied Percival. “I feel I’ve done enough for the moment. That was quite an effort. And I’ve no idea how I’m going to get out of this again on my own.”

“We’ll worry about that when the time comes,” said Clerkenwell. “Just sit tight for the moment.”

So  Percival just sat tight.

*        *        *        *

And that’s where Felicity found him when she came into work the next morning, and was very surprised to see the clock sitting in a tray of cleaning spirit.

“Mr. Tickspring must have left it there when he fell ill,” she said to herself; ” I didn’t notice it was there then,but a lot was going on at the time.”

So she carefully lifted Percival out, and back on to the table.

“That old Clerkenwell knows a thing or two,” thought Percival;”Worry about getting out when the time comes, he said; and here I am.” And if he hadn’t been a clock he would have heaved a sigh of relief; but though he couldn’t manage a sigh, he couldn’t help actually chiming with pleasure. It surprised Felicity a bit, until she saw the time, which was nine o’clock, so she just thought Percival was striking the hour.

But Felicity, though she couldn’t have known it, was just as anxious to help poor old Mr.Tickspring as all the clocks were. So she had a good look at Percival to see how far any cleaning had gone, and she took a little cleaning rag that Mr.Tickspring used, and wiped down the works to finish it off, and even used a little soap and water, as she’d seen Mr.Tickspring use, to clean down any washable parts. Then she took a little oil can that was kept on the table, and she dropped a little oil on the rod or spindle that carried the silver balls which Percival had been spinning to and fro like mad the night before.

Percival felt so good by now that he would have struck twenty-four if he’d been able. For one thing, without being unkind to old clockmakers, he felt it was such a treat to be attended to by an attractive young girl instead of a wrinkled old man, that that made him feel better for a start; and on top of that, the treatment Felicity had given him made him feel like a new clock.

The next day was a Sunday, – Felicity’s day off, and in the afternoon she went to the hospital to see how Mr.Tickspring was getting on.

He was already feeling much better. He was wired up to a machine which showed him his heart was now beating as it should; they had pricked him to take some blood for a blood test; they had strapped a bandage thing round his arm and tested his blood pressure; and altogether he felt just like one of his clocks that had been given the Tickspring overhaul treatment, until he began to wonder whether they might finally sit him in a bath of cleaning fluid to complete the job.

Anyway, he was now sitting up in bed to make sure he was running properly, in the same way that Gordon was, back in the workshop. So he was very pleased to see Felicity when she came in.

Felicity thought it best, to stop him worrying about things, to tell him how she’d found Percival sitting in the cleaning fluid, and how she’d managed to do a bit of cleaning herself to help the work, because she knew Mr.Dashabout would be back in ten days’ time.

Mr.Tickspring looked a bit puzzled.

“That’s strange, Felicity,” he said. “I don’t remember even starting work on that clock, not starting work, let alone leaving him in a tray of fluid. But I suppose I wasn’t feeling very well, – and anyway, you’ve done the right thing, you’ve certainly done the right thing, and I’m very grateful to you. And I know we can get the clock ready in time for Mr.Dashabout now. And I should be home very soon now.”

Meanwhile, in the Clockspital, Clerkenwell was asking Percival how he felt.

“Oh, I’m very much better in the works now,” said Percival, “but I’m not entirely comfortable about my feet yet. They don’t feel entirely steady, and I do find it difficult to keep proper time if I’m not completely even.”

“Any suggestions?” asked Clerkenwell , who was, of course, very sympathetic about any trouble with feet, being one short himself.

“Well,” replied Percival, “I know they screw in and out, and I think if I could press down on one and turn round on it somehow, I might be able to screw it in the right direction, and get completely level.”

“Do you think you could manage that?”

“Well,” Percival went on, “With  the sort of help I had yesterday……”

So Gordon and Bells gathered round again, and all that wobbling and ticking and ding-a-ling-ing and swinging of silver balls and sliding began all over again, and it was quite true: they did manage to turn Percival a bit, and it did screw his foot in a little. And they had a little rest while he tried it out, but no, he thought that was rather worse; so they tried again the other way, and then they tried one of the other feet, and at last, when they all felt almost as tired as they had done the other day, Percival said he thought they’d got it right.

Clerkenwell saw how exhausted they were getting, so he said to Percival: “Now, I suggest you leave it there, old clock, and see what sort of time you keep over the next day or so. If you keep good time, I reckon we’ve done the job for Mr.Tickspring.

In a day or so Mr.Tickspring did come back from the hospital. When he walked into the Clockspital with Felicity, she could have sworn that all the clocks ticked that little bit louder for a moment, and she thought there was a ding from the alarm clock, and certainly at least two clocks struck the hour. But she looked at her watch, and it was just about three o’clock, so she was sure she must have dreamt it. And much as the clocks would have like to inform her she hadn’t dreamt it, they realised that clocks aren’t given to talking to humans, – they can only tell them the time.

Mr.Tickspring, of course, was absolutely delighted with all he saw. The new glass case for Percival arrived the next day, and there he was, all glistening and shiny and clean, telling exactly the right time, and everything was ready well before the ten days that Mr.Dashabout had given him.

Mr.Dashabout, too, was absolutely delighted when he rushed in to collect his clock, and was especially impressed when he heard that Mr.Tickspring had got it all done in spite of being taken to hospital.

“Oh, and by the way,” he said, “don’t forget about that old carriage clock.”

“No, I shan’t forget about him,” answered Mr.Tickspring;”I shan’t forget about him.”

Good!” exclaimed Mr.Dashabout; “because I’m very interested, you know. And I’m delighted with the work you’ve done on time.”

And he actually managed a slow sort of rush when he left the shop carrying Percival very carefully.

Felicity, too, was absolutely delighted at the end of the week, when Mr.Tickspring added a little bonus to her wages, he was so pleased with all she’d done.

“It’s very kind of you, Mr.Tickspring,” she said; “but I really didn’t do anything.”

“Well, Felicity,” he smiled, “all the work was done, and that certainly didn’t happen by magic.”

Clerkenwell chuckled in his corner.

“No,” he said, “it certainly didn’t.”

But of course, clocks and watches aren’t only just damaged; sometimes – but that’s another story, another time.

next story Penelope the Wristwatch