‘Running like clockwork: Childish delights and treasured gifts’

Jun 28, 2021
Julie rediscovered her cherished childhood music box while decluttering recently. Source: Getty Images

Recently, I was decluttering my messy Bessy cupboard (an annual task) I chanced upon a real treasure, a gift from my past. It was my wind-up, clockwork music box. A present for my 10th birthday. Oh, memories of childish delights! I kept it all these years, wherever I lived.

The music box has a Japanese design, was a sleek, black surface, inlaid with mother of pearl. The interior has two mirrors, and a jewellery compartment, lined with aqua velvet. On the mirrored lining, once twirled a figurine of a ballerina, which I still own, nearly 60 years later.

Oh, such nostalgia! I can still recall tinkling chimes of the tune it played, as the beautiful dancer rotated. Not working now. My younger sister would join in, on rainy afternoons. She would try to match the tune on her toy piano. It was simple childhood fun, playing together.

This all reminded me of a different era, when lots of things operated with clockwork. Shall we say, everyday items and toys ran, like clockwork. We wound up watches and alarm clocks, some folk had wind-up grandfather or cuckoo clocks. There were clockwork toys, all run by little cogs and mechanisms.

I browsed online, seeking information about clockwork. My music box is a legacy from an earlier age of automatons, when inventors first designed watches, clocks, musical birds, figures, and toys, as well as the ancestors of the gramophone.

I can recall when the central railway station to the big city had a series of large clocks, in a display. One had the current time, always exact. You could set your clockwork watch to that. All the other clocks displayed a platform, with the current time of the next train to depart.

It was someone’s job to manually wind all those clocks, and reset the clocks showing train departures. Everything ran like clockwork.

Way back then, a friend of mine left school to become a jeweller’s apprentice. It was so long ago. She had to learn to repair cogs, springs and gadgets in the clocks and watches. Of course, progress took away such automatons. Everything nowadays seems to operate on a digital battery, which takes anyone a fraction of time to replace.

I shall treasure my music box. It is a collector’s item, placed back in the now tidy cupboard, with the ballerina still resting within. It is a gift from my past.

Have you kept any of your childhood items?

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