A Golden Afternoon at Portobello Market

I bought a gold watch that doesn’t tell the time. ‘Fifteen pounds’ a tiny lady with kind eyes beamed from behind her stall of treasure and trash combined. She wrapped the golden band around my wrist. ‘But for you, today, just ten pounds’. The little watch face seemed to look up at me. How could I refuse such an offer? The lazy Friday sun shone as I paid in cash and continued strolling down Portobello Road, full of glee and a million daydreams away from anything to the contrary.

The watch clung to me like a toddler on to its mother’s legs and I wondered who might have owned it before me. The band is engraved with dainty flowers – perhaps the previous owner also liked the idea of running through fields of daisies, filling a home with sunflowers and keeping petals alive forever in a pressing book. Perhaps it was a gift from a lover and the clock stopped working when the love did the same. Whoever she was, I’m glad I found her broken watch this summer.

Three weeks later, my best friend told me on a district line train to Gloucester Road that ‘even a broken watch is right twice a day’. This fact made me smile – we googled its origin, expecting an extract from ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘ to appear but we were mistaken. Apparently, it is credited to an Austrian writer: Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, born 1830, who must have seen the world as half full. Or half not-broken, which sounds like the very best way to look at things.

We left the station and walked beneath the watchful gaze of white buildings; a white so clean (despite years of rain and grey cloud) that it could only be found in South Kensington. We entered our favourite museum and simultaneously entered the world of Lewis Carroll. I learnt of the ‘golden afternoon’ during which the foundations of Wonderland were built, and it made me glance at my watch. Perhaps the exhibition lighting was being kind but the watch looked shinier than normal. I found I was smiling again.

I think we all daydream of a time that is ‘golden’: a perfect first date which effortlessly falls into a second; dancing in crowds of strangers to a favourite song; hiding from the rain and finding sanctuary with the perfect cup of tea; hugging a loved one. The golden list goes on and we all have our own interpretation of what ‘golden’ actually is. Sometimes ‘golden’ consists of the little things. Or perhaps the little things are just always pure gold.

For now, my watch remains broken. Maybe one day I shall have it repaired, but its silence does seem to give it a certain charm. The time the watch took its final breath and stopped ticking is 9.17. Five days a week, 9.17am for me is a minute full of coffee and my eyes adjusting to the glare of a computer screen. Twice a week, it is a minute where I’m dreaming. 9.17pm is less predictable, but whenever I am aware of it I now see it as a minute for good luck, for wishing of something golden – which is a pretty special gift from a watch that doesn’t tell the time.

‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Until December 2021.

1 thought on “A Golden Afternoon at Portobello Market”

  1. I love your writings. They are always thought provoking and insightful. You exude joy and happiness when you chance upon a “treasure” which I find delightful. It is so uplifting to read such positivity.


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