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Off Topic: Dr Robert Graves and the second hand

The time is out of joint.

When time grew close, I discovered time. Which is to say, I guess, that I emerged from the first lockdown tending a new fascination with mechanical wristwatches. It's shameful in a way - wrongly, I had always associated watches and the people who love them with a certain kind of sneering conservatism. Watches the size of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups glinting and twitching on huge wrists. But I had read an essay by William Gibson about his own discovery of watches at the same time that he discovered very early eBay back in the nineties. I was hooked by the magic of the watch word horde: escapement, movement, complication. I was hooked too by something he refers to as the "Tamagotchi gesture". This is the fact that a mechanical watch needs its owner. It needs caring - to wind, to reset the time, to spin the day date window through its lazy cycles.

Something else. I was fascinated by what Gibson refers to as a "medical chapter ring". This is a border around the watch face on certain watches, marked with indents that allow a person to keep track of a pulse - their own or someone else's. Around the time I learned about this I was becoming interested with a nineteenth century physician named Dr Robert Graves. Graves was the first to describe Grave's disease, an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid. He was a friend of Turner and once saved a bunch of people on a sinking ship by fixing the pumps using leather from his shoes. Oh yes, and you know the second hand on a watch? The rumour is that he invented it.

Watches didn't used to have second hands, I gather. And the more you think about that the more you start to reflect that the second hand is often somewhat pointless. I never tell myself: Oh, at 1.30 and 47 seconds, I will take the dog for a walk. I never really look at the second hand at all. In fact, second hands can be sort of corrosive to the required fantasy of a watch in the first place - the fantasy that this thing tells the time and is meaningfully correct. You need to believe that when your watch tells you it's 1.30 it really is 1.30. But you accept at the same time that the seconds hand is probably telling you any old rubbish. So if the second hand is, why not the minute hand? Argh!

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