Between the Tick and the Tock

…many of you may never go to the city of Gloucester, it is not a welcoming city and it is a place that looks old and neglected. It does, though, have its secrets…

The city of Gloucester, is an old city and a dirty city. Even its most modern buildings are old and dirty. It is a neglected city; neglected by its council and neglected by its citizens, who prefer the bright clean streets of nearby Cheltenham. Even the railways and main roads prefer to pass the city by. It is a city built on a river but it is a city which turns its back on its river, preferring instead to focus upon its canal; an old stretch of once busy but now stagnant water.

The city has a cathedral, which it hides away behind its streets of mouldy smelling shops. Shops selling tat and grot and second-hand things, things that few people would want and even fewer would need. The cathedral is tall and old and proud, it tries to shine behind the litter and the discards of the city streets.

There is one street which exists in the shadow the the cathedral. It is a side street, not a busy street and not many people know it. It is, however, a street filled with shops, unusual shops, shops in which you can buy almost anything you might need.

There is a shoe shop, in fact there are two shoe shops. One at either end of the street. The strange thing is, you can buy a pair of shoes at one shop and later return them to the other. The two shops are run by different people but the arrangement works well, for shoppers will often buy their shoes in one shop only to return them when no longer needed at the other. Some people have even suggested that you should buy the left shoe in one shop and then the right one at the other. Nobody is quite sure why they should suggest this unusual practice but it has to be observed that, whereas neither shop displays pairs of shoes on its shelves, for fear of theft, one shop displays only left shoes while the other displays only right ones. Which leads one to imply that maybe the original suggestor of the one-shoe-shopping, was not actually in the habit of ‘purchasing’ his shoes.

There is a cake shop where you can buy a cake to celebrate almost any occasion. The people of Gloucester who frequent this street, feel that celebrating occasions is important in life and they will visit the cake shop regularly to buy cake to celebrate birthdays, weddings, funerals, retirement, coming of age, religious dates and, even, the odd ‘end of week do’… not necessarily in that order, of course.

The strangest shop in the street is the watch shop. It is strange because it is never open. Or that is how it seems to the passer-by but, in fact, the door will always be opened to anyone who rings its bell. You just have to call at the right time; the time you need a watch. The watches on sale here are special watches. By which, I do not mean that they are expensive or rare watches. These watches are special because the owner will only sell the correct watch for you.

To buy one of the watches from this shop, you have to turn up at the door. There is no telephone, mail or online ordering. You ring the doorbell. If the owner hears the ring and sees you at the door, he will let you in. That is to say, he will let you in if he sees you and feels it is time for you to have a watch; your watch. Which, I think you’ll agree, is a rather strange practice and not one which would lead to great profit. Yet, this is the practice here and it has been for years, indeed, for generations of shopkeeper here.

Do not get me wrong, when you go into the shop, the shopkeeper will let you look at any watch on display and he’ll let you try on any watch you like. You can try one on for size or to see how it looks on you. You can try to match any watch with your complexion, your clothes, even the shape of your face. They will all, though, be in vain, for the shopkeeper knows which watch is the right watch for you and he will only sell you that watch.

Perhaps the first thing you notice is that none, not one, of the watches is working. This seems strange but you simply decide that this is because they do not yet have a battery fitted. If you ask why this is, and many have asked, the shopkeeper will tell you that each watch has a fixed life and he would not want to sell you a watch that had already ‘used up’ part of its life. Which, on the face of it, seems reasonable though it does make you wonder about the practice in other shops, which sell watches working.

What is more surprising is that when the shopkeeper sells you the watch which is yours, it starts to work straight away. How does the shopkeeper know which watch is right for you and, perhaps more importantly, how can you know?

Well, it turns out the answer is simple. He’ll let you try on any watch you want until, eventually, you put on the right one (which he knows all the while!). When you put on the right watch, it starts working straight away.

Now, we all know that watches and clocks go ‘tick-tock’, don’t we? Well, when you put on the wrong watch, you can listen to it and it makes no sound; it’s not working for you, that’s why. When you put on the right watch, rightaway you will hear a single ‘tick’; that’s it, no more sound.

If you ask the shopkeeeper about this, he will tell you that the watch goes tick-tock just like any other watch. Except that it only does it once. It goes tick when you put it on for the very first time and it goes tock at the very last moment, that is to say at the time you die. The watch knows when this is but it will not tell you. It will show you the time of day as an indication of how much of your life has passed and is continuing to pass but its secret is that it knows when to go tock.

The key is to fit as much into your life as you can between the tick and the tock.

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