Time Flies.

Every year Householder and Mywife had a holiday. It wasn’t a time that all the clocks looked forward to very much, because it was very quiet with nobody coming in or going out, and what was more important, there was no one to wind them up. Sometimes Householder arranged for a friend to come in and wind Edooard, because he was a very valuable clock. But he was called an eight day clock because he could go for seven without winding. For the rest of them, even two or three days was the most they could manage, and after that they did what clocks hate doing, – they stopped.

But Householder and Mywife didn’t need winding up, – in fact they often called their holidays a time to wind down, and they looked forward to them every year.

And every year they tried to go somewhere different, and every year, just to remind themselves where they had been, they brought back a souvenir.

So they gradually collected things like pottery vases from Dorset, or lacework from Bruges in Belgium, or red, lumpy glass from Venice, and all sorts of reminders which went on their shelves.

One year they went to Switzerland.

When it came time to go home, they were puzzled as to what was the best thing to take back as their souvenir. Swiss chocolate would melt on the plane; a Swiss roll would be eaten long before they got home; so they bought a Swiss clock.

They bought a Swiss cuckoo clock.

They bought – although they didn’t know it – Heidi.

She was a wooden clock, – not inside, of course, where she had the usual metal works; but her face was wooden, with small white hands, and above her face was a sort of roof shape, meant to look like a Swiss chalet, and just below the roof were two little doors, and on the hour and the half-hour they flipped open, and out popped a little brown wooden bird which sang out “cuckoo”, once for every half-hour, and once up to twelve times on the hour, according to the time.

Below the clock was a small pendulum and two small weights, worked by little chains, a bit like the weights inside Edooard, but of course very much smaller, because Heidi was very much smaller then he was. Edooard’s weights would have pulled her right off the wall where she was hung.

Heidi might not be a very common name for an English clock, but it’s quite a normal Swiss name, and as she was a Swiss clock that seems fair enough.

She was hung on the wall in the living room where Edooard could just see her from his position in the hall, so he now had two clocks he could talk to, Heidi and Daniel.

You can guess that Edooard was not over-impressed by having a young Swiss cuckoo clock to listen to. He himself was a very valuable, well-made old English clock, and in his opinion that took a lot of beating; now he had to look at one clock that looked like a plate, and one clock that looked like a house and sounded like a bird! He felt that as he got older he had more and more things to get used to, but he did know that the Swiss were very famous clock-makers, so he was prepared to tolerate Heidi. And you must remember, after his breakdown, when Mr.Tickspring had taken him away for repair, and Daniel had been so friendly and concerned, he had got much more tolerant of other clocks, and had never referred to Daniel as a battery-operated egg-timer.  What he couldn’t easily get used to was the cuckoo part. He couldn’t see how “Cuckoo” compared with his own fine-sounding Westminster chime.

“That – clock” he muttered to himself in his slow, old way, “doesn’t – know – if it-s a – clock – or a – bird.”

And, strange to tell, he began to be a little bit right, for gradually the same thought started to occur to Heidi.

From where she was hung on the wall she could look through the patio doors and see the garden outside. And every day she could watch all sorts of birds flying round the garden, or landing on the patio to feed on the crumbs that Mywife left there. Sometimes it was a blackbird that seemed to like feeding on its own; sometimes it was a group of starlings, who seemed to prefer to argue and flutter at each other over the food; and sometimes she could see a few little sparrows who were so cheeky they often whisked away the crumbs from right under the beaks of the other birds.

Some of the birds didn’t look any bigger than she was, and what she did notice was that, whatever their size, they all stayed just as long as they wanted and then flew off to another part of the garden, or sometimes right out of the garden altogether.

And this all started Heidi thinking.

She didn’t envy the birds their crumbs. She couldn’t imagine crumbs would do her works any good. Her food, if any, would have been a little drop of oil, and Mywife never seemed to put out any oil for the birds. But what she did think must be rather nice was their ability to fly off anywhere they wanted, anywhen they wanted.

“Zey are not feexed to ze vall,” she moaned;”Zey can fly anyvere zey veesh.”

You must remember, Heidi was a Swiss clock, and, though the Swiss are very clever at making clocks and watches of all shapes and sizes, they are not quite so good at making English-speaking ones. And of all the clever things the English can do, perhaps the cleverest is to be able to say their w’s and th’s, which is something lots of other people in the world can never manage. Heidi’s foreign accent was something it took Edooard almost longer to get used to than her “cuckoo.”

In the end Heidi got brave enough to mention her thoughts to Edooard.

“Edoovard,” she said, “I can see all zese birds srough ze vindow, and zey all fly to ze vindow and avay again, just as zey veesh. Vy can’t I fly about like zat?”

“Because – you are – a clock -and not – really – a cuckoo, – I – suppose,” answered Edooard. “You – were made – for telling – the time, – not for – flying – about gardens.”

But that didn’t altogether satisfy Heidi, and she was still rather envious of those flying birds. She looked like a bird, she thought, and she had wings of a sort, even though they were little wooden ones that were fixed to her sides.

The last straw for Heidi came one day in early summer.

It was a warm, sunny day, so pleasant that Mywife had opened the patio doors, and all the little breezes and scents wafted into the living room.

And all the little sounds, too. You can imagine  how Heidi felt when she heard, among all the twitterings and singing of the birds in the garden, a very familiar song in the distance.

Heidi listened hard.

“Cuckoo!” she heard. And “Cuckoo” again. And again.

“Zere you are!” she exclaimed. “I could fly! Zere ees anozer cuckoo clock out zere somevere, and ‘e must have got off ze vall!”

And when it came to half-past, and the tiny doors flipped open, she made a big effort to fly out into the garden.

But Heidi was fixed to the clock by quite a strong spring, so that when she had popped out for her “cuckoo”, she always popped back again, and getting free, she quickly realised, wasn’t going to be at all easy.

Now Heidi was a very determined young cuckoo clock, and she very soon saw that she would need to wriggle out of that spring if she was ever going to be able to join all the other birds. The trouble was, shut inside the clock with the doors closed, there wasn’t much room to wriggle.

She was determined and very patient. What she did was wait for the hour to strike, and the next hour was going to be ten o’clock, and the doors would flip open enough for ten “cuckoo’s”, and that would give her ten tries at getting free.

So at ten o’clock she wriggled and twisted and turned like mad, but after ten “Cuckoo’s” the doors closed on her again. She thought she might be a little looser, but she was still shut inside the clock.

She had time for quite a good rest before her next big try at eleven o’clock, but even then she didn’t quite make it. It was easier, she was sure, but she knew she had another hour to wait.

At twelve o’clock it was going to be her best chance of the day, for the next hour after that was only one o’clock, so when the time came she put a tremendous effort into her wriggles. She twisted, she struggled, she wriggled and then, suddenly, right on the eleventh “cuckoo” – success! She was free!

But just like real baby birds who try to fly for the first time, but fall out of the nest, all she did was drop down onto the floor. She found she had just a little bit of the spring attached to her tail, but that didn’t bother her. The next most difficult bit was to get her wings working.

It’s not at all easy to flap tiny wooden wings which were fixed to your side when you were made, but Heidi could still just hear that “cuckoo” in the distance, she could feel the warm air coming in from the garden where all the other birds were, and it all made her even more determined to get her wings going.

And gradually, in little bursts of flapping, she made short flights across the room.  And at last, beginning to find her wings, one final little flight took her through the doorway and out into the garden.

“Now I really am a cuckoo!” she exclaimed.

At first the other little birds took no notice of her, especially as she didn’t try to eat their crumbs, and she was able to flutter about among them quite happily. So happily that she couldn’t help bursting into song, not forgetting that she might also attract the attention of that other cuckoo she could still hear in the distance.

“Cuckoo!” she sang. “Cuckoo!”

Now the Swiss are very clever clockmakers, as Edooard knew. Not quite so clever, though, on English speaking clocks, as we know, and rather less clever in what they know about birds.

Heidi, partly to match up with the rest of the clock and partly so that she could be squeezed inside it, was a little brown bird. Real live cuckoos are mostly grey, and a good deal bigger than Heidi, so none of the other birds recognised her as a cuckoo.

Until she sang.

There was something else the Swiss clockmakers didn’t appreciate, probably because they never expected their cuckoo clocks to go flying about in gardens with the other birds.

Other birds aren’t too keen on cuckoos.

You see, cuckoos are very strange birds. They are born a long way from England, somewhere like South Africa, miles and miles away, and every year they have the energy to fly all those hundreds of miles to somewhere like England to lay their eggs.

You would think a bird with all that energy would be able to bring up a family without any trouble at all; but either because they’re tired out after that journey, or because they’re too lazy, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Then they fly off to enjoy the summer, and leave their eggs to be hatched out and looked after by the birds who made that nest. Sometimes it’s the nest of quite a small bird, who then has to work its wings off bringing up a bird that’s bigger than itself. What’s more, sometimes that baby cuckoo pushes out the eggs that were first laid there, and takes all the feeding himself. And those little parent birds, who have made the nest, and hatched out an egg, just bring up a chick, bigger than they are, which just flies off as soon as it’s ready, with no thanks at all.

Except that it calls out “cuckoo” as it goes.

Well, Heidi didn’t know any more about cuckoos than the Swiss clockmakers who had made her, so her first thought on being out in the garden was to try and attract the attention of that other cuckoo she could just hear in the distance.

She did get an answer, but not quite the answer she expected.

The first bird to recognise Heidi’s song was a starling.

“Aha!” squeaked the starling crossly; “I know what you are! You’re one of those birds that was left in my nest last year, that we both flew and flew to feed, till you grew too big for our little nest, and off you went. I know your sort!”

And he was so cross that he pecked and pecked at Heidi, till she managed to scramble under a bush to hide.

When she saw the starling had gone, she ventured out into the garden again, and began to practice being a cuckoo again, but this time without trying any actual “cuckoo’s”.

Gradually, with practice, she began to get the use of her wings, though, like other young birds just out of the nest, she didn’t fly very far, but just fluttered about the garden.

Then she noticed that there were fewer and fewer birds in the garden, that most of the garden was now in shadow, and most of the birds had stopped singing.

“Ach,vell,” she said to herself,”it seems to be bedtime now. I vill try again in ze morning.”

Then she had another thought. Where was bed? She no longer had her cosy Swiss chalet to pop back into. If she was really a bird, she would have to do what all the other birds did, and perch in a tree.

She fluttered up into a tree overlooking the garden, and eventually managed to balance herself on a branch, near some other birds, but they looked a lot more comfortable than she was, and she began to realise there was a bit more to being a bird than she had reckoned with.

*       *        *       *

Meanwhile, Householder and Mywife had realised strange things can happen if you own a Swiss cuckoo clock.

Householder had thought it a bit quiet in the evening, and suddenly realised his cuckoo clock was not cuckoo-ing. <Edooard had realised it too, but I’m afraid he just thought it was nice and quiet.>

“Margaret,” called out Householder,”our cuckoo has disappeared.”

“What do you mean -disappeared?” she answered. “It must have fallen off or something.”

They looked and looked, but they couldn’t find their cuckoo anywhere. Mind you, they didn’t go out in the garden and look up a tree for it, but you couldn’t really expect them to do that for a clock, could you?

Anyway, Heidi got through the night without falling off. The next morning, as soon as it was light, the birds round her began shaking out their feathers, chirruping quietly at first, and then singing away to welcome the start of another day.

Heidi thought that perhaps if she was really a bird, she ought to join in the birds’ dawn chorus, but she rather hesitated to “cuckoo” again, remembering how that starling had attacked her the day before. Also, she didn’t feel too safe perched up on her branch, so she thought just in case she would be better off trying again on the ground. And she managed to flutter gently down into the garden.

She seemed to be quite alone in the garden, and then suddenly she heard the other cuckoo. She hadn’t understood what the starling had said, as she could only just manage English, and certainly not bird-talk; but she knew somehow she had annoyed that starling, and she thought one more “cuckoo” might attract the attention of the cuckoo she could hear, and he might explain things.

“Cuckoo!” she called.

But just then Mywife came out of the house, and threw out some crumbs, and all the birds came down again. This time a pair of sparrows heard her song.

“A cuckoo” they tweeted to each other. “You remember – that was the bird that threw our eggs out last year, and we wore ourselves out raising that great big bird.”

And they started to attack poor Heidi, until fortunately they realised they were missing out on the crumbs, and flew off.

Poor Heidi was beginning to go off being a bird in the garden, but her troubles were not yet over. She was lying, very frightened now, on the edge of the lawn, but very relieved that at last the birds seemed to be leaving her alone; in fact, they had left the garden altogether.

What she didn’t realise was just why they had flown off: the neighbour’s cat was now stalking through the garden. He wasn’t a bad cat as cats go; but cats are made to stalk little birds just as clocks are made to call out the time, and whenever he saw crumbs being thrown out next door he knew there was a chance of catching some unwary bird.

What did he see but a little brown bird fluttering weakly on the edge of the lawn? He saw his chance, and he pounced!

But this time it was the cat who was caught unawares, for instead of grabbing a mouthful of soft feathers, his teeth closed on a hard, wooden little bird with such a shock that they ached for the rest of the day, and he dropped Heidi very quickly, and ran back next door.

Heidi now just didn’t know what to do. If she called “cuckoo” she was attacked by birds. If she kept silent she was grabbed by a cat. She was so scratched and bitten she didn’t feel she could fly, and she certainly wasn’t up to flying back to her clock and wriggling back behind her little doors.

Just then she heard footsteps crossing the grass. She looked round and saw Householder coming out of the house.

“Ach!” she said to herself, because she was very depressed by now. “It ees ze ‘Ouse’older. Zat ees all I need. ‘E vill come viz ‘is big feet, and ‘e von’t see me, and ‘e vill sqvash me flat!”

But he didn’t squash her flat. He was very surprised to see part of his cuckoo clock out in the garden, but see her he did, and he picked her up gently, and called out to Mywife.

“Margaret,” he called; “I’ve just found our cuckoo out in the garden. How on earth do you think it got there?”

“Well, it certainly didn’t fly,” Mywife answered, in the way people do when they know they’re quite, quite right. Even when they’re quite, quite wrong.

“I suppose it came out somehow,” went on Householder; “and it looks as though that cat got hold of it and brought it out here. Looks a bit scratched and bitten.” He wasn’t being unkind to Heidi, but he laughed. “I should think he had a bit of a shock if he thought this was a bird.”

Well, Householder wasn’t quite sure how you got a cuckoo back in its clock, and he wasn’t quite sure if you took cuckoo clocks into a Horologist like Mr.Tickspring, but he thought he’d been a good customer of Mr.Tickspring’s, so perhaps he’d be willing to carry out repairs. And he thought Felicity would be so intrigued by the cuckoo clock, and so sorry for the poor little bird that Heidi now looked.

Which she was. She couldn’t have been more sorry for Heidi if she had known what scary adventures she’d been through.

And of course Mr.Tickspring was much too kind an old clockmaker to refuse to work on what he could see was a genuine Swiss clock. He soon had Heidi repaired, repainted, varnished and settled back in her little Swiss chalet.

“It was strange how the bird’s wings seemed to have worked themselves loose somehow,” he said to Householder when he came to collect Heidi. “I think it got tired of going back inside the clock, and tried to fly,” he went on, smiling at his little joke. “Anyway, now it’s as good as new, just as good as new.”

And so Heidi went back on the wall, and was very happy to be there.

“Oh, Edoovard,” she exclaimed, “Eet ees so good to be back! I don’t sink I vant to fly any more.”

“I – should think – not,” replied Edooard. “You – are – a clock, – not a – bird. It is – much more – important – to tell – the time – than fly – round – the garden. – And you – can’t – pretend – to be – anything – that – you’re not.”

“I know now,” said Heidi. “A clock’s job is to tell ze time.”

“Quite – right,” said Edooard, and to show what a good clock could do, he began to strike the hour with his beautiful Westminster chime, just like the chime of – but that’s another story, another time.


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