I Wore My Father's Watch

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I Wore My Father’s Watch

I wore my father’s watch to London. A bit too big for my wrist, I wear it since his death three years ago, carrying a little bit of who he was along with me through the poetry and prose of my days. For years it rested on the wrist of a man most at home midst the trees of his own back garden, a man for whom the city of London was as far away as the moon. Daddy always told me, usually after swallowing hard, that I could do anything I put my mind to. And I believed him. So as I embarked on a solo trip to my favourite city, I wore his watch and took him with me. Grabbing taxis, boarding trains, sitting in cafes by the window, having tea... watching, noticing, soaking up inspiration like a tulip in the rain.
I wore his watch up Regent Street where, standing in the doorway of Hamley’s, that mammoth cathedral of toys, there was a man dressed in 16th century garb, blowing bubbles. Shiny and ephemeral, they floated for a moment in the early afternoon sun before meeting their inevitable demise in the chubby grasp of a passing toddler’s hand. But as I strolled by, one followed me. Unnoticed by the jostling crowds on the pavement, it sailed on the current of the misty air, floating happily just above my right shoulder, as if to whisper a secret to me alone. I think I caught it’s message just before it veered through the doorway of Jaeger..... “pay attention, pay attention”.
I was wearing his watch as I stopped to speak to an elderly man sitting on a bench outside the magnificent art-lined halls of The Wallace Collection. At his feet sat a rather anxious terrier - small, shivering. Asking if perhaps I could pet her he tells me he is only dog-sitting for a friend and warns me that “the little gal tends to be snappish”. Undeterred, I bend to let her sniff my hand. She waddles over immediately and settles at my feet. As I rub her ears, the old gentlemen smiles and declares that I “have the knack”. We talk about dogs and art. He tells me he is writing a book of his experiences in WWII. “For my children and grand-children”, he shyly says. I tell him it will be a treasure to them all. Daddy’s watch glistens in the sun as I wave goodbye.
I wore his watch through the cold and shadowed rooms of Hampton Court, a place where the veil between what is and what was is threadbare. I sat in the silence of The Chapel Royal, listening for echoes, strange snippets of song gathering in the corners, lingering beneath the blue. Alone in the gardens, I stood underneath the ancient trees and bent down to pick up one small black stone, worn shiny and smooth by time. If I held it to my ear, could the voices still be heard - a bit of infinity trapped in the stone? I place it in the pocket of my coat, just in case.
Through the Food Halls of Harrods to the Tudor grandeur of Liberty.
Hours spent in the stacks at John Sandoe Books and up and down the stairs at Hatchard’s.
A stroll down Birdcage Walk in St. James Park just as a feeble February sun dipped down below the Buckingham towers.
I wore it as I quietly stood in front of the famous Dutch sunflowers.
As I marveled at the colours of the drowning Ophelia.
As I watched the waters of the Thames lap gently against the Embankment.
From the opulence of Belgrave Square to the cobblestones of Spittalfields, I wore my father’s watch.
I paid close attention.
And we had a ball.

Photo above: Birdcage Walk, St. James Park, London