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A fairy tale about time (and cake)

Once upon a time, over the sea and beyond the sunset, was a land of magic.

In that land was an enchanted kingdom on the shore of a lake.

In the kingdom was a beautiful palace …

and in the palace lived a young princess who loved frilly orange dresses.

But there was one thing the princess loved even more than frilly orange dresses, more than anything else. She loved cake. All kinds of cake.

She loved cake so much that she ate cake for breakfast. She ate cake for lunch and she ate cake for dinner, too, and sometimes she would creep into the palace kitchen and help herself to cake before the Royal Cake Cook had even finished making it.

(But don’t worry, for in this enchanted kingdom the cake was also enchanted, and not only was it nutritionally balanced but it contained exactly the right number of calories, so the princess never got fat and never had any food-related illnesses.)

There was only one thing to spoil the princess’s happiness: there was never enough time to eat all the cake that she wanted! In the kingdom there was only one single clock, a grand old clock in the main square, and when that clock struck 8pm the princess had to go to bed. It would be 12 whole hours before she could eat cake again!

One day the princess was in the palace garden, eating cake, of course. The princess was sad and so she was eating chocolate cake, her favourite, which always made her feel better.

While she was eating her cake, the princess was very surprised indeed to hear a statue speak. “Why are you so sad, little princess?” asked the statue. “You should be the happiest princess that ever was! You have so much cake!”

“True, I have cake,” said the princess. “But I don’t have enough time to eat it all! Oh if only that nasty clock would no longer tell the time!”

With a secret smile and a knowing nod, the beautiful lady of stone instantly made the hands of the clock disappear.

“Oh! Oh!” exclaimed the princess. “Now I shall never have to go to bed ever again and I can spend my whole life eating cake!”

And the princess lived happily ever after — because at long last she could have her cake and eat it too.

December Squares #timesquare

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Stop all the clocks

No man has the power to tell just where the hands will stop, at late or early hour.

“No man has the power to tell just where the hands will stop, at late or early hour.”

A mix of quotes in this post: the title is from a W H Auden poem, the photo caption is from “The Clock of Life” by Robert H Smith. This particular stopped clock is on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour: convict prison; industrial school and reformatory for girls; ship building site; dockyard; and now urban campground and cultural events venue. From 1857 to 1991, Cockatoo Island was Australia’s primary shipbuilding and repair facility. I find something quite poignant in this clock, its frozen hands hinting at a time when the cavernous building in which it hangs bustled with noise and work.

December Squares #timesquare

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Turn the glass and strike the bell

Compass and bell, SV Tenacious

Compass and bell, SV Tenacious

Before the advent of accurate time pieces, time on a ship was regulated by the bell and a system of watches lasting either four or two hours. When the sand had run through a 30-minute “hour glass”, the glass was turned to start again and the bell was struck. In a four-hour watch, the bell would be struck from one to eight times, an increase of one strike every 30 minutes and performed in sets of two. So, for example, if you heard two sets of quick strikes followed by a single strike, you would know it was “five bells” in whatever the watch was (forenoon, morning, etc). Of course, this entire timekeeping process depended on an accurate glass and attention to detail!

The bell in this photo is from SV Tenacious, on which I’ve sailed many times. You can see the intricate rope pull hanging from the bell. The original captain liked to have the bell rung and it was the watch leader’s responsibility to see that it was done. I would start checking my watch every 15 seconds or so from five minutes before the time, mentally going over the number of strikes required. Once I forgot, and gradually was aware that the captain was quietly standing at the corner of the chart house, just gazing at me. Oh dear!

December Squares #timesquare

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Bath Time

Bath Ritual, St Pancras Hotel, London

Bath Ritual, St Pancras Hotel, London

Yes, we are still spending time at the St Pancras — hotel not train station for this post. This is the “bath ritual”, in which the “bath butler” comes to your room* and draws a bubble bath (it’s a bit hard to see the bubbles, look at the lower left).

I can’t honestly recommend it: the purpose of the three bowls of assorted goop was not explained, so I was left to guess at what they were meant to do and where I was meant to apply them and in what order. I don’t like candy so the “sweet treats” were put aside. The two (!) glasses of prosecco arrived with the bath butler, so were room temperature and flat by the time I got into the bath. (Never fear, I had my own chilled supply of champagne to fall back on.)

*only available if you are staying in a Chambers suite

December Squares #timesquare