Thursday, July 03, 2008

The power of suggestion

Dawn was pottering in our front garden today and found this:

It's obviously what remains of an old 'Hunter' style fob watch. But even though it's now more rust than timepiece, it immediately sparked off a train of thought. How had it got to be buried in our front garden? Who did it belong to? When did they lose it? Or did they deliberately bury it? What's the story behind that? What else might they have buried? Was it a prized possession? A beloved gift? Did its loss cause heartbreak or consternation? Was it engraved? Was it a present? Who gave it and why? Was it stolen loot? A vital piece of evidence? And so on ...

It's extraordinary how a single object can set your mind racing like that. We're all of us natural storytellers; we do it unconsciously to make sense of the world around us. We look for patterns and meaning. But I think that writers - whether professional, amateur or hobbyist, published or unpublished - have the ability to take it to the next level. That's part of what drives them to write. Great writers can construct whole novels from a single object, incident or character that they've observed. But even dabblers like me can find inspiration in what I see around me. I once wrote a short story that was inspired simply by seeing a single ladies' glove lying lonely on a wall.

Objects like this crappy old watch are a kind of unintentional time capsule. They suggest past lives and past times. It makes me wonder if someone will be inspired to write a novel based on some junk from 2008 that they find buried in their gardens. What will it suggest to them about us? And on the subject of time capsules, here's what the great British director Alfred Hitchcock once said:

'I have prepared a time capsule of my own. I have placed some rather large samples of dynamite, gunpowder, and nitroglycerin. My time capsule is set to go off in the year 3000. It will show them what we are really like.'

Ever the optimist, our Hitch.

2 comments:

willow said...

That is really incredible~! What a secret life it holds. How old do you think it might be? I love this kind of stuff.

Back when the kids were young, they used to find an old bottle or two (the 1800's kind) down near the river. It was always such a treasure.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Ooh ... nice new photo.

I've no idea how old the watch is. My house was built in the early 1960s on what had been Saxon Forest. Judging by the amount of rust there is, it wasn't an expensive piece. But how many fob watches were kicking around in the 1960s? Fascinating isn't it? All the more so as I'll never know the answer.