This is a sight I see every time I pass through Earl’s Court station, a vision that haunts me – of a clock without any hands. Lifeless, it seems to flatten out and become part of the wall, a mysterious motif instead of a machine.
Devoid of meaning it seems a relic of a bygone age already. What would Future People think, unearthing this artifact? Is it a decoration? A picture of the sun?A warning about some kind of explosion?
I wonder if their imaginations would even connect it with time at all. Why is it circular? Isn’t time a straight line?
What could the twelve points on it possibly mean? The number seems so artificial since the number twelve is a human invention – unless they connected it with the twelve full moons of the year and deduced some kind of loosely connected order in it.
Seeing this empty face without the domineering decree of its hands and the august authority of its timekeeping, takes my mind out into a place that is both unnerving and refreshing to visit. We humans have invented time, given little bits of it names, like the second (if it is second, then what came first?) And yet, in a sense, there is no such thing as an hour, or a minute – we invented them and now they pull our consciousness to bits, make us late or early – we are progress-addicts, desperate to look up at that clock on the wall and realise with joy that we have nearly made it into another hour – an achievement that has no real existence. We can only really claim such graceful behemoths as years and their twelve moon-children the months.
Insects don’t have seconds, even though some of them only live for a day. No tortoise ever stopped to look at a watch or boasted about his age. Yew trees can live for thousands of years yet have no idea what a thousand is, or means, and are probably better off for it.
Are there clocks in heaven?