Thursday 29 December 2011

Tick, tock, tut tut

Travel tip for the day: don't be like Kipling's cat. Walking by your wild lone is all very well, out in the wild woods (as long as there are no bears) but when it comes to cities, grand houses and museums, it's far better to join the group and trail round behind the guide. There's nothing that makes a series of exhibitions come to life better than a good guide, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, keen to share the behind-the-scenes stories that won't fit onto the labels.

Case in point, at Clapham's Clocks here in Whangarei, where I'd been before on my own, and enjoyed a pleasant 40 minutes or so looking at all the clocks in this well-presented little museum, I never noticed till I went again and tagged on to a tour, that the number 4 on Roman numeral faces is never IV, always IIII, as above. Had you? More aesthetically pleasing, apparently, and a conspiracy amongst all clock-makers. And unless I'd been told to, I wouldn't have looked closely enough at the clock with founder Archie Clapham's photograph on it to see that his eyes were creepily flicking from side to side, à la Monty Python. Or noticed the Maori girl's pois twirling in perpetual-motion as she turned 360 degrees each minute. Or understood what ormulu really is and how the mercury-based process must have led to Mad Clockmakers just the same as in millinery it produced Mad Hatters.

The guide was appropriately Swiss, or perhaps German - she was enthusiastic about the 'kukuk clocks' - and went into a lot of fascinating historical detail about the coming of the railways and the necessity for standard time; and the maths behind longitude and mapping the new world that I'm sorry to say went over the heads of the old ducks whose tour I'd gatecrashed - literally, since she was quite tall and they were to a man (or mostly woman) amazingly short. But noisy, though, chattering away about their own clock history and other related personal details in that rude way that old people seem to think they can get away with once they've hit 70, tch. But at least I was listening not just politely but with interest. Go me!

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