I was going through a box of bits and pieces a few weeks back, odds and ends that I’ve somehow managed to drag in my wake over the last few years, with a vague idea of chucking it out, and amongst all the dusty rechargers to devices I no longer have, crumpled boarding passes, business cards from people I can’t remember, wads of useless currency from poorer nations, hardened tubes of glue and so forth, I found an old watch. Just the watch, no strap. The glass was badly scratched and it no longer worked – the winder had seized up. I remembered buying it in the far-off days of my first marriage and suddenly felt sorry for it. A Hamilton automatic, with a glass back so you can see the works spin (or not). Twenty-five jewels, Incabloc, sweep second hand and date window, and beautiful “Westminster” hands, very delicate. But busted and beat-up.
So I took it upriver to Nakhon, where I knew of a watchmender in the market. He has a couple of glass-topped display counters and a rack of cheap straps, and his business is mostly fitting batteries into digital watches. His face lit up at the Hamilton, and he phoned me about a week later to say he could put it to rights and it would cost so much, about fifty quid. Now fifty quid is a not insignificant sum to anybody, but I was committed. He sent for the replacement parts to Bangkok (four components had broken) and a new sapphire glass and a nice leather strap, and he mended it and cleaned and oiled it, and I’ve worn it ever since. It gains maybe a minute a fortnight, an extraodinary performance for a nearly forty year-old watch. I get a stupid amount of simple pleasure from wearing it and looking at it and thinking about it and marveling at the way the mainspring keeps on spinning in there without me ever having to wind it. I don’t actually need to know what the time is very often, so its accuracy is somehow touching, something beautiful for its own sake.
It is, in short, my Best Thing. Do you have a Best Thing, readers? Whiskers on kittens, or warm woollen mittens? Maybe it’s that second home on Cap d’Antibes, or your funky old Lear Jet. Perhaps it’s a simple Fabergé egg, or an early Picasso sketch you love for its jejeune qualities. Maybe it’s that mint copy of the Monkees HEAD album? A pair of jeans signed by Fish out of Marillion? I have no idea. Give it up here.