A day in the life – Chris Bessent of The Clockmaker in Hungerford

Shortly before the lockdown, I bumped into a young woman who works for one of the retailers here in Hungerford.

She said, “You’re the clockmaker aren’t you?”

I said, yes: why was she asking?

“My dad liked to visit your shop when and took me there when I was little. I really liked it.”

I was struck by the remark and it set me pondering. I like to think, of course, that it was something unique and special about my shop that caught her attention. Clocks are fascinating and mysterious things, each recording the invisible passage of time in its own way: some with brisk ticks, others with wheezy tocks; some with bright, crisp rings, others with heavy chimes; some in complete silence. Each seems to proceed at its own pace, but each marks the same moments of time. When fifty or more are gathered together in the same place the effect can be quite dramatic. Perhaps her first visit had coincided with just having learned to tell the time or the gift of her first watch, in which case all the clocks in my shop would suddenly have made sense. Or perhaps she just liked the look and sound of them. I do myself.

Or – and here the thought strikes me – perhaps it was not the clocks, or the shop, but me that she found welcoming and congenial. If so, then I wasn’t trying extra hard for her. It’s what all retailers do (or should do), each and every day and for everyone.

We are a breed of providers who are (mostly) considerate and patient and go that extra mile (and sometimes further) to support our customers and clients. If we didn’t have this attitude, we’d last about three months. You have to like people to do it.

So – what does it involve? I can’t speak for any other retailer, but this is my typical working day (in so far as any day is typical).

I wake around 5.30 or 6.00am but with no alarm, I don’t need one these days: perhaps the passage of time has become hard-wired in me and I know exactly when to stir myself. In any case, I love my job and need no encouragement to get up. After a quick breakfast, I get in to work and open the shop. The first thing is to check emails and respond to any from the night before; next, I go to the workshop and check all the repairs which are on test. Some might require final adjustments before they are ready to be collected. Then, as the hands or digits of my small battalion of timepieces inches towards 8am, I flick the ‘closed’ sign on the front door to ‘open’.

And with that, the day really starts: because that is when the people arrive. The clocks are, of course, my constant companions and their fluid and unceasing cacophony of ticking, tocking, binging and bonging is one I find comforting and rewarding. But more important even than them are the people. Whether it’s a repair, a purchase, a sale or an enquiry, each conversation reveals a story, an aspiration or a significant moment. Something new might be required, something now un-needed might be traded in. A repair or an refurbishment might be necessary for a previously reliable long-term fixture or a capricious newcomer. I am more than a passive participant in these moments. An investment of one kind or another is being considered, which often leads to stories that can verge on confidences – the nature of the person for whom a gift is intended, who owned a clock before they took custody and sometimes speculation on who will own them when they are no more. It builds a rich tapestry of life interwoven across time: and time is, of course, what I deal in, and what I try to give my clients.

As the day proceeds, time is also something I occasionally lose track of, despite the many reminders all around me. Before I know it, it might be the late afternoon and I need to turn my attention to the people I will visit in the evening. I check my calendar and get ready for my round of deliveries, collections and appraisals. I usually get home by 8pm, sometimes tired but always happy.

Since the Covid-19 crisis we have had to change the way we operate. High streets up and down the land will see a number of good businesses close as a result. My business is incredibly lucky as the workshop can continue despite the shop being closed. Please remember all your local businesses once we can safely open again – it would be all too easy to continue to use online alternatives, where these are available but, without you, the high street will wither and fade away, for all of us – including that young woman. The thought now strikes me that, as she’s now working in retail herself, maybe it was neither me nor my clocks that she found interesting, but just the idea of running or working in a shop. If so, I’m delighted to have helped pass on a little bit of this important tradition.

To contact Chris at The Clockmaker, please click here.

The photo shows Chris (with his jeweller’s loupe) and his son Dakota.

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale