Which clock have you seen many times?

Two clocks come to mind. The first is rather esoteric and displays in binary. That can come later. The other, though, is the one that sat on my parents’ bedside table when I was little. There was a series of them that lived on my own but every few years, given how much I moved around when I was trying to sleep, they would die. Mostly because they could only survive being knocked onto the floor in my sleep so many times before they would give in the towel. And since they weren’t lasting all that long, my father would drop by one of the department stores and pick up something that looked like it might have a longer life expectancy from floor-impact death. The only thing that saved them that long was that I had gloriously-high-pile carpet in my bedroom. It saved my feet from a lot of pain, too, but that’s rather less related to clocks.

But the clock in my parents’ room, although it did get replaced a couple of times, was much hardier. It didn’t get dropped on the floor so I suspect that has a lot to do with it. But they’d last for years and then get replaced with a new version of the same. I don’t remember them ever changing significantly but they definitely did over time. But what was the key in my mind was that they were tiny Japanese-made clock radios. In white. And I don’t remember a single time when the radio was turned on except by accidentally hitting the on button while putting down a glass of apple juice or some such. But the alarm sounded like a cross between an air raid siren and a school bell — of course, that’s when schools had actual bells and not recorded chimes and when we did drills in case by some lucky accident hiding under a piece of plywood with spindles for legs would protect our fair skin from a nuclear holocaust. Which is exactly what felt like it was on its way when waking up to those noises. I think Sony and Panasonic got together in more recent years to make a collective decision about waking up, that if you think the army is about to break down the doors, it doesn’t bode well for a relaxing breakfast. Hence neutral beeping. And, what I much prefer, if it’s necessary at all, the alert sounds from the Tokyo subway — if you’re not familiar, think gentle synth broken triads.

We didn’t really do television and movies much as kids in my house. And that’s something I credit with a huge amount of my ability to think properly and read for hours. If you are hyperstimulated by a box of wonder, you’re likely to expect that kind of in-your-face entertainment from everything you encounter and books and education simply can’t compete. Not that watching movies is a bad thing. It’s just a bad thing to expect as the baseline for all experiences in your life. There’s something else about it, too. Broadcast media doesn’t just tell you what to watch and listen to. It tells you when to watch and listen to it. That means that if your life contains a large amount of it, you are training your subconscious to be unable to make decisions about when to do things — those decisions are all made for you. You just sit at the television set and watch what happens to come on. I’ve never understood the desire to sit and watch “something”. I will certainly sit in front of a screen and watch a show. But I sit down and turn it on at the beginning, turn it off at the end and that’s the end of the experience. I suspect this has a lot to do with not training myself to sit in front of the television for hours on end as a child. It’s got no attraction for me now.

There was no television in my bedroom, certainly. That would have been unthinkable. But we weren’t encouraged to spend a lot of time either in bed or in our bedrooms. Eventually, I did acquire a desk and computer in there but that came rather later, when I was nearly a teenager. Most of the time, homework and reading and study would be done at the dining room table or on the couch and what television watching there was would be done out in what we called the “family room” — what some would refer to as a den but with far more natural light than the name would imply. But when illness (as it always does in humans) arrived, being out in the middle of the daily activity wasn’t going to work very well for recovery, especially when lying under a blanket was the quickest way to renewed health.

This wasn’t all that frequent a thing, of course, but it did happen. The earliest memory I have of it is when I acquired chicken pox — what a truly atrocious name for the thing. It’s worse than the actual disease, some disgusting implication that the grease and entrails of poultry are contaminating your being and that’s why you suddenly have itchy spots and a fever. As a child, it’s not usually all that bad. I think I was six or seven when I first contracted it — my sister was spared at that point, interestingly enough, and got it when she was a similar age, years later. Anyway, despite its usual mild course, I wasn’t so lucky. It was quite severe and I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of three weeks in bed with raging fevers, covering myself in ointment.

There became a bit of a routine. I would be awake through most of the night, reading and listening to soft flute and string music (no, I’m not kidding, I really was that kid) but completely unable to get any rest. I drank endless cups of fruit juice and made hourly pilgrimages to deposit it in its flushing-dependent place. But by morning, I was glazed and dizzy. But there was sunlight and everything felt a bit better. So once my parents were up and about, breakfast being well underway (to the hateful sound of the CBC morning news, something I hated then and still to this day abhor, broadcast radio, especially the most populist of all of it, sensationalized morning news and drivetime talk), I would wrap up in wool socks (courtesy of my grandmother’s fingers, her knitting being both full of talent and prodigious, thankfully for my feet) and loose fluffy clothing and cross the hall to take up residence in their bed, where there was a mercifully warm electric blanket, a tiny (yes, it was probably all of eleven or twelve inches at that point, barely larger than an iPad of today) television that received two channels, a vcr (what fun!) and the latest iteration of white, Japanese clock innovation blinking red digits at me as the minutes turned into hours and hours turned into days.

I have always loved animation. Sadly, the animation that I enjoy the most wasn’t easily available in my childhood as it is now. Actually, most of it hadn’t been made yet. Even in Japan, what we think of as modern animation didn’t really get started until the nineties and two-thousands so in my eighties childhood, I had to make do with what was on offer. Thankfully, there was one absolutely stunning example of artistic prowess in western animation. Tintin. Sometimes it was in English, sometimes French, made really little difference to me either way. I enjoyed it more then than even I do animated movies now. Yes, I’m well aware most of it is borderline racist but it was written as an artistic fight against the Germans and the Soviets so it has an interesting political undertone. My mornings were children’s cartoons (and Tintin, which is questionably child-friendly when you pay attention). My afternoons were mostly taken up with reading, interspersed with cooking shows. I certainly wasn’t going to watch the news (who the fuck cares?) or sports (maybe if I was the one playing them I could see the attraction). But for someone for who food is absolutely terrifying and the very notion of eating is beyond disgusting, I was curiously attracted to the calm presentation that people showed as they prepared meals. That being said, I actually enjoy cooking as long as it’s not food that I have to eat.

Anyway, I did recover from the chicken pox and everything else I had to fight through as a child. Some of the other things that relegated me to bed have had far longer after-effects, one might say, especially emotional ones. But my daytime sleeping amid the sunshine has always been far more restful than anything that happens at night. Waking up after one of many lentil-soup-preceded naps feeling that my fever has finally broken was always a welcome experience — especially since it meant I wasn’t trapped in school being hurt by the words and actions of others, especially the hateful teachers I had as an elementary student. I opened my eyes and the red numbers told me I had achieved some rest. Thanks be to clock (forever and an hour).