Recently, a wall clock came into your Editor’s possession. It is a product of mid-20th century Great Britain, rescued from Cunard’s legendary Caronia, second Cunarder of that name, before she metamorphosed into Caribia and ended up derelict on a Guam reef en route to breakers in the Far East.

She was originally, of course, the company’s legendary “Green Goddess” of 1949, a single-stacker painted in several shades of green, a color scheme devised as a bold marketing statement. Caronia’s startling verdant profile broadcast indubitably to the shipping world and public alike that this was a special Cunarder, designed specifically and purposefully as a one-of-a-kind upscale cruise ship. And the granddaddy of her gilt-edged voyages would be an annual world cruise which became famous, during an era of enthusiastic postwar wanderlust, for their extraordinary exclusivity and luxe.

Very readable numerals adorn the clock’s face and it is housed in a perfectly simple yet classic, silver-plated cubic case. It hung on the wall of an unidentified Caronia cabin and one of its peculiarities is that there is no visible means of either winding or setting it. In fact, like all cabin clocks of the period, it was electric and was adjusted remotely from the bridge. Clocks aboard Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and France all rejoiced in this invaluable passenger convenience. Each day of east- or westbound progression, the officer of the watch could retard or advance every clock all over the vessel at the same time to compensate for the relentless march of changing longitude.

In fact, during a crossing from Philadelphia to Southampton aboard Norway-ex-France in 1984, a similar clock hanging on the cabin wall of writer Donald Spoto suddenly and mystifyingly gained an hour, apparently spontaneously, as the vessel steamed implacably eastward. Spoto saw it happen before his very eyes and was visibly unnerved. In fact, his must have been one of the few Norway cabins in which that original automated system had survived the vessel’s frantic Bremerhaven refit of 1979. Now, mystically and incredibly, it had momentarily resumed its vestigial transatlantic function. Was Norway’s officer of the watch idly toying with a remnant of France’s clock-changing mechanism or was there some deep-seated metaphysical surge within those ancient Gallic circuits that responded to the vessel’s resumption of her role as a liner? We can only guess.

In any event, the little Caronia clock still keeps marvelously accurate time, activated now by a single D battery. As yet, it has not had to be changed from daylight saving to eastern standard time but the moment is fast approaching. On that pivotal autumn night, your

Editor will have to investigate the interior access port and try and nudge the hands around manually, duplicating with a cumbersome bi-annual rite, the effortless daily readjustment once routinely activated from the bridge.

It is tempting to ponder the thousand cabin scenarios in which this clock had a share. How many bleary eyes were cocked in its direction as intense, early morning sun set porthole curtains aglow, ready to reveal yet another port of call along a fabled itinerary? How many irresistible afternoon siestas did its punctilios hands indulge and to how many late-night, reeling retirements did that neutral, silver-gray talisman bear unflinching witness?

Can anyone begin to reckon the innumerable passenger trivialities to which that same clockface was privy? Marking the hour to dress for dinner; anticipating the arrival of friends expected for drinks; triggering that glorious morning apparition of cabin steward and stewardess bearing joint breakfast trays—preliminary knock, cheerful entry, opened curtains and fragrant trays deposited on bedded laps; and annually at Bombay, greeting with serene exactitude returning passengers surfeited after a week’s rail travel across the dust and turmoil of the sub-continent. To those gratefully re-embarking passengers, that gleaming clock-face seemed unfailing talisman of shipboard order, familiarity and contentment.

Or, less poignant, that same timepiece measured episodes of uncomfortable gyration as Caronia lurched through storm or typhoon. In fog, each imperceptible minute-hand flicker must have become almost synchronized with the plaintive, every-60-second foghorn bleat as the Green Goddess groped cautiously through that opaque, clammy whiteness that masters dread almost more than fire.

And finally, what agonies of illness or even death might have been played out beneath the ceaseless omniscience of that elegant cabin fixture as the ship’s surgeon attended those succumbing to sickness or even death. In black comedic asides, Caronia’s more irreverent crewmembers christened their vessel “God’s Waiting Room;” deep within her holds, she carried a supply of coffins for those among her clientele whose circumnavigations would remain forever incomplete.

During every 100-day world cruise, those patient hour hands completed 200 circuits, marching relentlessly around the square dial just as their mother ship completed her global voyage. What a wealth of drama, dreams and delight were played out below that pristine silver face!


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