Tidbits from Timekeepers: Background information when reading Timekeepers

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How the World Became Obsessed With Time

by Simon Garfield

Timekeepers by Simon Garfield X
Timekeepers by Simon Garfield
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 368 pages
    Dec 2018, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

Tidbits from Timekeepers

This article relates to Timekeepers

Print Review

Simon Garfield's Timekeepers, is a book about our obsession with time. It is chock filled with the ways our lives revolve around it, the instruments we use to manage it, and some people's odd perspectives on it. Here are five quirky, fun facts from the book:

Providence Railroad1. The Oxford English Dictionary keeps a list of frequently used nouns. The word life comes in at #9, year at #3, month is all the way down at #40. Time comes in at #1.

2. A paragraph from Timekeepers that must be seen to be believed:

A set of timekeeping instructions issued in August 1853 by W. Raymond Lee, the superintendent on the Boston and Providence Railroad, laid bare the complexities, and the propensity for human error. In part, it reads like a Marx Brothers script: "Standard Time is two minutes later than Bond & Sons' clock, No 17 Congress Street, Boston" the first of these began. "The Ticket Clerk, Boston Station, and the Ticket Clerk, Providence Station, are charged with the duty of regulating Station Time. The former will daily compare it with Standard Time, and the latter will daily compare it with Conductor's Time; and the agreement of any two Conductors upon a variation in Station Time shall justify him in changing it."

I think the Marx Brothers would indeed be proud.

Harold Lloyd3. Neil Young once told a concert audience "that the first half of his concert would be new material, and the second half would be songs they already know." Having completed the first half of his concert with the new material, he then proceeded to play the first half again.

4. The scene in the 1923 silent film Safety Last!, starring comedian Harold Lloyd, when he is hanging off the clock was apparently inspired by William Strother, who was known as the Human Spider because he scaled buildings. When Lloyd saw Strother scaling the Brockman Building in Los Angeles, he was so impressed that he offered Strother a role in his next movie. However, Strother fell before filming began, so the role of Limpy Bill, Lloyd's roommate and fellow schemer in the movie, was written for Lloyd who did his own stunt.

Clock Hands5. While attending Baselworld, an immense convention for watchmakers to show off their latest designs, Garfield notices that all the watches are set to 10:10. As Garfield explains, "A watch set at 10:10 appears to be 'smiling'; it leaves the face free at 3 o'clock, the usual position for the date; it forms a pleasant and balanced appearance, ensuring the hands do not overlap and do not obscure the manufacturer's name at the top of the dial." Up until the 1950s, Timex used to set its watches to 8:20, but changed this when they realized that it gave the appearance that the watches were frowning.

Providence railroad station circa 19th century
Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock in Safety Last!
The 10:10 set for watches, at Baselworld, courtesy of luxurylaunches.com

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This "beyond the book article" relates to Timekeepers. It originally ran in February 2018 and has been updated for the December 2018 paperback edition.

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