As befitted someone who spent half his life looking at it, my father had a beautiful watch. Although I don’t recall the make, I do remember how sleek and elegant it was. My father’s whole life seemed to be ruled by time and by his pathological hatred of being late. I remember once sitting in a restaurant with him as we awaited the arrival of his lunch guest, an old friend whom he had bidden to arrive at 1 p.m. My father and I had got to the restaurant 20 minutes or so before the appointed hour, as was his practice, and at five to one he glanced at his watch and sighed crossly, ‘Tsk, in five minutes’ time the bloody man will be late.’
In later years, although a complete technophobe, my father bought himself an answering machine, fearful of the calls that he might miss when he was out. This was in the early days of such contraptions, and the model of his choice was equipped only to relay an outgoing message, without affording the caller the opportunity of leaving any message in return. My father would record a new message each time he ventured out, be it to lunch or simply to the pillar box. ‘I will be back at 10.45. Repeat, I will be back at 10.45,’ he would say to the machine, before popping out, say, to the London Library. If he ran into an acquaintance on these forays, he would glimpse anxiously at his watch and, although a garrulous man by nature, would cut any conversation short by saying, ‘I’m so sorry, old chap, I can’t stop, I’ve told my machine that I will be back at a quarter to 11.’ It never seemed to occur to my father, as he scuttled home, that if he didn’t answer, any caller might simply ring back later.
So notoriously particular about time was my papa that his chums would make gentle fun of his obsession. On one occasion a friend of his invited him to dinner, asking him to arrive at ‘around eight o’clock’. Delighted as he was by this invitation, my father was sufficiently irritated about the vagueness of the suggested hour to ring his hostess to ask her to be a bit more specific. I remember that his side of the conversation went something like this: ‘What do you mean by