Cuckoo clocks - they have to be the happiest clocks in the world, all that cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo, and bellows, and goatherd boys and girls holding hands, ornate pitched roofs, and pendulums that look like pine cones, chains, stag’s heads, and…well, hand crafted, printed, plastic, wooden embellishment with loads of bright red and green paint. How much happier can a clock get?
Cuckoo clocks just have to be the Punch and Judy of the horological world. Forget the chimes of Big Ben – how sombre, forbidding even - and think… cuckoo in capital letters – CUCKOO - well done, you managed it.
Wouldn’t it be great if Parliament rising had a massive cuckoo instead of the bell of Big Ben? No more Bing, Bing, Bang, Bong at news at ten – just, Cuckoo, Cuckoo, Cuckoo, Cuckoo… how uplifting.
Think about it… and now the news with Trevor McDonald… Trevor is wearing clowns make-up, a huge smile on his face…
“Free lemonade to replace water in taps nationwide say water industry.”
“Park where you want! Double yellows to be painted over in a move towards common sense.”
“New national anthem as Eric Idle continues to look on the bright side of life.”
Did you all hear Trevor’s voice? Bet you did.
Thing is cuckoo clocks aren’t even a Swiss thing, they’re Bavarian. Swiss equals chocolate and watches, musical-boxes and alpine horns, gnomes and cow bells, and clogs (only joking about the clogs, they’re from Barnsley).
So what made me ask my friend about bringing me back a cuckoo clock?
I’ve only been to Switzerland once, a school trip in my early teens, led by ‘Hubby’ Clibbon the art master.
At not quite fourteen it was a trip of firsts:
First time abroad.
First time drunk – pale, cold, bottled bier at the local café.
First time I knew I could paint a bit – Hubby had to stop giving me the five franc prize for best painting of the day after I’d won it three times.
First time I realised that people were listening to me.
First big crush.
I can’t remember Hubby’s wife’s name, perhaps I never knew her as anything but Mrs Clibbon, but she was blond, and slim, and made from smiles with the smell of bouquet of spring flowers. She had a slightly bohemian manner and look, her peasant blouses had maybe a button to many undone (my Mother would have said definitely a button too far – maybe two buttons too far) and I seem to remember that her hair would simply not behave itself, she was constantly tucking back a wayward light-blond strand that kept falling in front of her large blue eyes.
Ahhhh… Mrs Clibbon.
We were staying in a small mountain hotel, typical Swiss chalet style, and sharing rooms in twos. I got Pete Burnett. There was nothing wrong with Pete, but he was up for anything, constantly on the edge of trouble, and at times he came close to being a bully. Dinner in the evening was a big deal. All the boys were expected to wear jacket and tie – I had a wonderful dark blue suit, well-cut, red lining, and a stand up Edwardian collar to the jacket. My dad had bought it for me at Burton’s in Oxford. It had been made ‘special order’ for somebody who’d never come back to collect it. When I tried it on in the shop it fitted me perfectly and I felt fantastic wearing it, so my Dad did a deal on the price and it was mine.
One evening at dinner I felt that Mrs Clibbon was watching me constantly, I remember thinking ‘what am I doing wrong, why is she looking at me like that’? Was I using the wrong knife and fork? Did I have another zit on my face? Did she think that I looked ridiculous in my dark blue suit and orange flowered tie? Thirteen year old boys are self-conscious at the best of times, they aren’t comfortable being scrutinised, and as the evening went on I became increasingly paranoid.
What a relief when dinner was over and we meandered down to the village to breath in the late spring air and get a coffee (beer) at the local café. Sometimes Mrs Clibbon would come with us, sometimes not. On this occasion she did and walked alongside me as we walked along the mountain road. ‘Here it comes’ I thought, ‘prepare to be told something that you don’t want to hear, prepare to be embarrassed’. I loved her being next to me and hated it at the same time – either way I felt stupid, silly and gauche (whatever that meant).
This is what she said to me…
She said she’d been watching me closely over the last few days and that I’d impressed her with my maturity, she said I seemed to have the knack of making the other boys listen, even the older ones, without the need to shout or bully. She said that it was good but to be careful that I didn’t draw too much attention to myself. She said the other boys gladly followed my lead because it was well thought through and they liked and trusted me enough to follow happily without argument. She said to use this attribute carefully and never take people where they didn’t want to go or might regret going. She said that I could be anything I wanted and that all I had to do was decide what I wanted to be. She said well maybe not anything, but anything I wanted to be. She said that I was a natural leader (I blushed, I never thought of myself as a leader – I was too shy for that). She said that I made her laugh and that it was an important thing to be able to do. She said I should be careful with my humour, I could be sarcastic and I should never use my humour to hurt anyone. She said I was a good painter and that I should keep it up. She said that I was Hubby’s star pupil and he often talked about my work at home (I don’t know where Julian Merrow-Smith was then). She said that she loved my blue suit and that I looked very elegant in it. She said that if only Dave (Hubby) would try to look as smart. And then we arrived at the café.
Ahhhhh… Mrs Clibbon.
I did bring back a cuckoo clock from Switzerland. I gave it to my mum. It was very small but the bird inside the little Swiss chalet happily cuckooed on the half and full hour.
I also brought back a new me, with a new belief in myself.
Caroline, Caroline Clibbon, there, I just remembered. That single conversation, my first conversation with an adult who treated me like an adult, changed my life.
Thank you Caroline, wherever you are.
Here's a good history of Cuckoo Clocks - Link