I had a call this week from a local clock repairer. Sticking with my sequential use of the alphabet, let’s call him ’Eustace’. Eustace explained that he had spent the day cleaning a friend’s clock. Having got it going again, he’d put the movement back into its wooden case but he had a problem – he was clean out of clock oil. Did I have any spare oil to help him out?
Now oil’s not expensive, but it’s not cheap either, not the quality stuff I use anyway. And it’s widely available online at a number of suppliers who’ll deliver next day. So I reminded him, as any repairer would already know, that there were many types of oil, and different viscosities were needed for different parts of a clock and different clock types, but he insisted he needed some today and that any type would do.
This is all very odd, I thought. The amount of oil needed for a clock was so tiny that you don’t just suddenly run out of oil and you don’t just have one bottle anyway. I suspected that he had never bought or used clock oil before, which meant that he could not be a serious repairer at all, so I quizzed him some more. “What do you use to apply the oil and where do you apply it?”, I asked. He used a matchstick and added oil to all the moving parts! “Not the wheels and pinions? I challenged. “What do you mean by ‘pinions’?” came the unexpected response. “Is it a timepiece?” I asked, “or a two or three train movement? And how are you going to oil the front pivots now that you’ve already screwed the movement back in the case?”.
“I don’t understand what you mean.” By now, I had detected a Scottish accent so perhaps he just didn’t want to pay for his oil. But he was persistent so I offered to assist and a couple of hours later, he appeared at the door. “What did you use to clean the movement? I enquired, tempting him with a small phial of oil in my hand. “WD40″ came the instant reply, as though all clock repairers use it.
Argh! WD40 is wholly unsuitable for clocks and the image of Eustace spraying it all over the fully assembled movement sent a shudder down my spine. “WD40 contains all manner of chemicals that clocks don’t like” I explained. No repairer would even be seen with a can in his workshop, let alone use it on a clock. On the contrary, I have spent many an hour trying to remove all trace of WD40 (including that distinctive smell) from a movement.
Heaven only knows what the impact is of mixing clock oil with WD40 but this clock is moribund already so what the heck! I handed Eustace the £10 phial free of charge and told him that he had no idea about clock repairing. Still, he left happy and smiling.
This was my first face-to-face contact with uncle Bodger, the ubiquitous “friend who knows all about clocks” to whom people entrust their treasured heirlooms, just to save a few pounds.