The watch that sang like a hamster

So one Saturday morning I’m sat in my parents house, down from Newcastle for the weekend and my dad asks me if I want to go for a drive with him, which in reality means “You drive me and we’ll end up at the Con Club and I (he) can have a lunchtime drink” and so for want of nothing else to do I take his keys and drive the Austin Princess to wherever he wants to go on his Saturday morning.

And we end up upstairs in Geoff and Alberts jewellers shop drinking coffee and nattering about this and that with his two old mates, Geoff and Albert, but you guessed that first didn’t you?

They’d owned the small jewellers shop in Horsforth for as long as any Horsfordian could remember, catered for the traditional jewellery customer, refused to sell costume jewellery and would barely touch “rolled gold” as they quaintly called gold plated jewellery, nine carat was their usual starting point, and if it was watches then they’d only sell you one that you had to wind up properly, none of this battery nonsense, if you wanted a battery watch then you’d better get yourself off to a petrol station.

This would be the late 1970s of course.

And while they chatted about general rubbish and the state of the jewellery trade at the end of the 1970s and I sat there wondering why the hell I’d come along for the ride as I had nothing in common with these three old men, when Albert, the small Jew of the threesome looked my way and asked if I wanted to see the latest thing in crap battery watches, I said yes.

And he took out from under his bench a box and from the box he produced a new Sekonda digital watch that wasn’t red LED like all of the digital watches that you could buy in petrol stations, but LCD, the first one I’d seen.

And it didn’t just have the numbers on the watch face it had other stuff too, a timer, a stopwatch, a calendar, an alarm clock, it was impressive and I held it in my hand and suddenly thought that this was something I could own.

“Its shit isn’t it?” asked Albert, “a right pile of crap from China”
“Russia actually” corrected Geoff, they spoke like twins, forever finishing each others sentences, forever correcting each other, they’d been business partners, had sat shoulder to shoulder at their workbench, making and adjusting fine jewellery for so long that they were joined at the hip now.

“I quite like it” I said
“Pah” spat Albert, “Its shit, no moving parts, works off a battery, I ask you , what’s the world coming to, what’s left to service in one of those Jap crap watches ?”
“Russian actually” corrected Geoff

It had been left by the Sekonda rep for them to look at, Albert had thrown it back at him but he’d insisted that they keep it for a while and think about making room in their shop for a range of LCD battery watches, they’d be the first in Leeds to stock LCD battery watches, and still Albert refused to have anything to do with them, but he’d kept this one.

“How much?” I asked
“Let me look” said Geoff and he took the watch from me and looked at the small manilla label that was tied to the strap with a fine string, it had their stock code on it and a secret code that only the two of them understood that signified the price, nothing in their shop had a price on it, if you wanted to know the price they’d take it from you, look at the small manilla label and decipher the secret code to find the price.

I knew how much they were going to ask for I had cracked their code years ago, this is how the code worked, you set the price of something so that it finished in a zero, like £50.20 for instance, and then you knocked off the last zero and wrote the number down on the label.

And that was it, hey I never said it was a sophisticated code did I ?

My watch label said “420” on it, so I knew the price was £42.00 but Geoff didn’t know that I knew what their code was.

“What price did he tell us they retailed at Albert ?” asked Geoff of his partner, squinting to check the secret code on the label
“Oooh Solly, I’m not sure, eighty sovs wasn’t it ?”

That was another thing about the pair, and my father, they all spoke in code, they all carried out this pretence that they were Jewish when in fact the closest one to being Jewish was Albert who looked a bit Jewish but wasn’t really although he’d been apprenticed to a Jewish Jeweller when he was a lad and so had adopted all of the mannerisms of a bone-fide “Oye-Vay” Jewish businessman – he called everyone “Solly” and would wave his hands a lot when he spoke, tell you that you had “chutzpah” when you tried to bargain with him, called his money “gelt” and when you’d done a deal would slap his forehead with both palms of his hands and declare loudly “Oy Gavalt!”.

They also spoke of “sovs”, short for a sovereign, which in old money was one pound and one shilling (£1.05), I don’t know why they did this but all my dads mates spoke in terms of “sovs” when they were speaking of money, must have confused the hell out of Bob Beck the Plumbers customers when he’d charge them “twenty sovs love” for fixing a burst pipe.

I wasn’t going to buy the watch really, but then Albert showed me something that I’d never seen before in a watch – it had an alarm, and the alarm didn’t just bleep to wake you up, it played “Oh Susannah” in a very irritating high pitched electronic beep, it sounded like a hamster singing “Oh Susannah” to wake you up, and I had to have it, and so Geoff and Albert sold their one and only digital battery operated watch to me, simply because it could play “Oh Susannah” and sound like a hamster singing.

They made a big show of allowing me to knock them down from “eighty sovs” to “forty two sovs” while all the time I already knew  that the ticket price was £42 but it was a game that they liked to play, and at the end Albert slapped his forehead with the palms of both hands and shouted “Oy gavalt!” and shook my hand, the watch was mine.

Later that week, when I was back living at The Queens in Whitley Bay I was lounging around in the residents lounge, as you do, idly watching TV when the door opened and another guest came in, I hadn’t seen him before, a short stocky bloke, muscular and with a flat broken face that said “rugby player” to me, we exchanged a few words while he laced up a pair of running shoes, zipped up a track suit and then made a show of searching his pockets for something.

“Bugger” he said, “I’ve left me watch somewhere”

I nodded but said nothing

“Don’t suppose you could lend me a watch could you?” he asked, “I’m a runner you see, in training, and I need to time myself, a 20 minute run along the prom, and all that”

“Yeah I’ve got a watch” I answered, and then showed off, “its got a timer function on it too, look”

And I showed him my new watch, set the timer function for him, handed it over to him and he left the room, and as I watched him run off into the night down the prom towards Tynemouth I thought to myself “He’s got my watch, now that that was just a fookin stupid thing to do” …


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