Sunday, February 13

The Watch

The most ironic thing about owning a smartphone is how difficult it is to do the most basic of tasks; checking the time for example.

Now I've never liked wearing watches. They always seemed too big for my skinny wrists, while the bling metal chain types always snagged on my perhaps hairier than normal arms. The final death knell for watches being worn by me was the proliferation of mobile phones. I don't think I'm alone in getting into the habit of whipping out my handset to check the time or date.

But that's all changed now. My Desire is the widest phone I've ever owned and takes a relative age to take out of my pocket (especially since I have to be careful not to drop it while doing so). And once I do, I then have to press a button to turn the screen on, and then again to turn it off.

Maybe I'm just easily irritated by small things (stop laughing in the back), but all this rigmarole multiple times a day was more than enough to convince me to go old school and get a watch. Now I'm not that fussy about these things and there was no way I was going to spend more than a tenner on one... But still, not just any watch would do and I decided to keep my eyes open at what was out there in order to gauge the type that I wanted. After all I wasn't in a rush.

Very quickly I noticed that what I wanted in a watch was very different to what some of my friends and family wanted. Apart from the budget differences, I was more interested in something understated and functional, reliable and dependable - low maintenance if you will. Something that would just work and do the job it was supposed to. In contrast, those around me seemed to go for the high value wares; elaborate in both design and function, a watch that didn't just tell the time but made a statement about who they were. Although some of the watches were quite nice to look at, I didn't quite understand the appeal.

It was in Pakistan that I saw something that I liked. It was an analogue dial watch, with black English numbers on a round white face. It wasn't perfect; it was set in a metal case and had a chain type strap for instance. I couldn't take it even if I wanted it since it actually belonged to my cousin's son - but it was enough to give me a picture of what I wanted on my wrist.

With the watch in hand as a sample I went to browse through the four or five watch shops in the area local to where I was staying. Interestingly there were a few shopkeepers who didn't seem very interested in selling me a watch at all. I didn't understand why they were manning a shop to be honest.

But most of the shopkeepers were very helpful, showing me all of their analogue-watches-with-numbers-and-no-metal-straps. None were what I wanted though. Some were the wrong size, some were the wrong colour and some were the wrong shape. I began to become a little frustrated at the experience as I began to conclude that the simple design I had in my head just simply didn't exist in the places I was looking. I didn't want to admit it, but it really did seem that I was being quite particular after all.

So I left the shopping trip and Pakistan altogether empty handed. I decided to make do with my phone for a while longer, always on the look out for a watch that did what I wanted it to and that I actually liked.

A week later I got back, my parents returned from Pakistan as well. My father surprised me with a watch he saw on the wrist of a relative (who knew where to pick up a new one from) - it was cheap enough so he thought he'd take the punt. Although it was very close to what I wanted (black on white, numbers on the dial, non metal strap) it wasn't perfect (it had a square face), but since I had it and no other choice in my hands I decided to give it a try anyway. What was the worst that could happen?

It took me less than a day to realise how perfect the watch was for me. It fitted my wrist perfectly; the square face actually helping more than a round face would have. Within hours of wearing it, the blurry image I had of my perfect watch faded, to be replaced by a more concrete image of the watch I was wearing.

Of course it wasn't the watch that was fantastic. The appeal of it came from a mixture of me accepting the choice of my father, showing flexibility to adapt to something I had been given, and finally a pinch of realising that what I had thought was important wasn't actually that much. All these things allowed me to enjoy the essence of the watch - accessible timekeeping - which happened to be the sole original reason for me wanting one in the first place. Not aesthetics or ergonomics, and certainly not the specific image I had in my head during my search.

Of course, it being a cheap watch from Pakistan meant that it didn't last that long. Two weeks and the plastic casing of the watch itself cracked beyond repair. I was quite surprised with how upset I was; all of a sudden I cursed my luck - ironically the same luck that had probably brought the watch to me in the first place. Still, the lesson had been learned and I quickly replaced it with a spare watch my dad had lying around the house, knowing that I'd get used to it sooner rather than later and that it wasn't even a big deal if I didn't. It looks completely different to my last watch, but that doesn't seem to bother me since I know it'll tell me the time.

So yes. There is the story about my search for a watch. And no, before you ask, there isn't a metaphor or hidden message here - I have the watches to prove it. Although having said that I do have a different watch for the weekend: you know, one of those old school single function Casio jobs. I'm sure that doesn't mean anything though.