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Changing the clocks

I walk into the town hall. The lights are bright, shining out into the cool darkness of the spring evening. There are only a few people inside, the main rush having passed. I came as soon as I could after work but can’t help feeling that I’m late.

There are tables laid out down the length of the main hall. Some volunteers are starting to pack one of the rows away, the folding legs snapping closed with echoing bangs. Through the open hatch in the far wall, I can see other volunteers washing up and putting away plates and cups. There can be a real festival atmosphere here sometimes. Again, I feel that I am late to the party.

There are still some items left, though and I know that however late I am, I won’t go home empty handed. One of my neighbours passes me on her way out and we murmur polite small talk for a moment.

I walk towards the last table that is not empty, my heart fluttering with a mixture of excitement and anticipation. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done this before, yet each occasion feels like a special event.

There are three clocks on the table top.

One is round and white. It’s a simple design with a plain face and black hands and numbers. On the back is a hook to hang it on the wall. The cover for the battery is held on with tape.

The next clock is a black box with red digital numbers on the front. There’s a sticker of a cartoon bear on the side.

The last clock is half an arm’s length tall with square sides, tiny brass feet and a lovely bell-shape curved front face. The hands are ornate curlicues with arrowhead points. The hours around the clock face are depicted by tiny, detailed illustrations of woodland creatures. There’s a solitary fox for the one, a pair of red squirrels for two, all the way round to a flock of twelve starlings. On the back is a handle for winding up the clock each day.

I pick it up, honoured to be its custodian for the next six months.

This is the changing of the clocks. It’s one of those old customs, peculiar to our village. On the last Sunday in March and again in October, we change our clocks. Every household in the village brings a clock to the town hall. This morning before work, I dropped off the clock I had been looking after. Now, I pick up the clock that I will hold for the summer. As every household donated a clock, there is always another one for each household to pick up. Occasionally, someone gets the same clock back but I’ve had a different one each time.

I look down at the clock in my hands, knowing that I will only hold it for a short while. That is the point of this custom; a reminder that each of us holds time for others in our community.

This clock was generations old. Others had held it before me, lightly, fleetingly. Now I held it for those who would come after me.

Some people hurry through life, worrying constantly about time, about how much they have, whether they are wasting it, whether they are going to be late. Here was a reminder of something greater than that selfish, high pressure rush to use a finite resource. Here, I touched a piece of our community and I felt connected to an abundant, renewable wellspring of infinite possibility.

Back at home, I sit and watch the hands tick around the clock face, knowing that each second is precious.


The character in this story has come to possess a clock but they know that they are only borrowing it; others have held it before them and others will own it after they have passed it on. It’s an interesting frame for considering our time on this planet. In geological, universal terms, we’re only here for a brief time, our possessions, our actions, our lives, fleeting, yet each second precious.

Links to further information: The Long Now Foundation fosters long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years. BBC article about why the clocks change from GMT to BST in the UK. Well, not really changing the clocks, just the time....

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