The unadorned body is something of a rarity these days. Even the male of the species is lately prone to the over-elaborate decoration of the birthday suit. We pierce our ears, pierce our noses, our nipples and even the ends of our willys. And secured within these self inflicted orifices we find an endless variety of tribal metalwork: hoops, loops, barbs, bars and bells. Some of us progressively disfigure our ear-lobes too, with plastic bobbins. The sight of the latter makes me feel queasy, even more than the thought of a pierced willy, but I’m told it’s all the rage among certain hip males these days. And of course there is an entire industry devoted to the inking of one’s skin. Even undressed, male or female, few of us are truly nude any more.
Defacing, or enhancing? Edgy or just misguided? What are we trying to say with all this self labelling?
As for my own adornments, I restrict myself to just a watch and a wedding ring. I am far too straight edged for a tat or a nose-stud.
Now, to be honest I did try to wear some wrist bangles once – starting with a copper bracelet – common enough among men of a certain age, then a silver torq, and then a leather – well – bracelet. But after a while I saw this as a form of consumerism, nothing satisfying for very long – also, what with a chunky watch and everything, I must have been carrying two hundred and fifty grams on my wrist.
I also wore a necklace for a while – or at least a piece of silk chord on which I’d strung a couple of pendants – a pair of yin and yang, and a tree of life. I’d gone all mystical shaman, I suppose, but these weren’t really me either. What was I trying to say through these adornments, and to whom was I trying to say it? Was it to myself? But really I should have needed no reminder, unless actually, deep down I was trying to persuade my self of something.
We all develop fascinations, interests, identities, but we’re not static in our fancies. What we held dear ten years ago we are unlikely to be as enamoured of now. Like the man who has a girl’s name tattooed on his bottom, are we really, all of us, prepared for the implications of such an indelible commitment?
So yes, I’ve gone back to basics: watch and wedding ring. The bangles and beads are consigned to the drawer of experience. But I’m not entirely without affectation – far from it – because in the mean time something weird has happened to the watch.
A man’s watch is never purely functional, it’s also a statement -like a tattoo, I suppose, but not as permanent. Modern watches are more noticeably narcissistic than they were forty years ago. Telling the time has become only a secondary function, since our telephones do the same job nowadays. They are more a statement of the kind of man we think, or want others to believe, we are. So what kind of man are you? He-man, fashionista, cool dude, retro, or simply loaded. Me? I was tending towards the outdoor man, expressed through various incarnations of pseudo rugged adventure watch, the watch that would still tell the time at the bottom of the Marinas Trench. And I liked to be technical – lots of dials and buttons,… Look at me: I am a technical, outdoor man!
But recently my watches have been getting smaller, lighter, simpler – what this says about me, I don’t know but it started with a fifty year old Smith’s Astral I’d undertaken to repair – somewhat recklessly as I’d only cursory knowledge and few tools. But a cautious clean up and re-lubrication did the trick. Also, significant for me, while testing the reliability of this venerable old ticker, I realised it felt good on the wrist: lightweight, small, and above all ticking.
It was the start of an obsession.
I now own several small, inexpensive pieces – gold plated, tending to plainness, and all of them at least forty years old. They arrive from Ebay, mostly still working, still telling the time reliably, accurately, even after having been stashed in a drawer since the advent of Quartz mechanisms. Others are doggedly unreliable even after stripping and cleaning and endless tinkering. These latter I consign to the bit-box of experience. Of the more successful purchases, I’ve noticed it is the Swiss movement that seems the more reliable, the more capable of longevity. In particular I’m favouring AVIA at the moment, an old British import brand with Swiss movements. I have several, including one from the very early sixties, which is my most treasured piece – costing all of fifteen pounds.
My most recent addition is another AVIA, the Olympic, this one with a black dial, uncommon for the period, and gold markings. A new glass and strap and this is restored immediately to the status of an understated classic – very seventies, but without being too heavy on the funk. Again though: what am I doing here? Because with all adornments we are doing something, saying something. It’s like the psychology of advertising – what attracts us is not the stated function – it tells the time. What really attracts us is the life-style the device, or at least the “style” of it suggests. An old fashioned wind up dress watch is no more “authentic” in this regard than a grand’s worth of designer faux he-man bling. Both tell the time, but each tell also a different story, a different fiction about the wearer.
Am I rejecting the adventure vibe? If so I am embracing a more delicate oeuvre with tickers so leaky you have to take them off before you dare wash your hands. They’re not exactly what I’d want to trust on a mountain in a rain-storm, but I have another watch I can wear for that, and for a more authentic reason. Nor do I seem to need all those dials and clickers any more.
Perhaps with me it’s a hankering after a slower time. We all wore watches like this forty years ago, back when an hour was an ample measure of anything, and a minute’s error by the end of the week was no big deal, unlike now when even a year is the blink of an eye and we are convinced the second must be split in order to cram in everything our Outlook scheduler tells us we need to accomplish by the end of the day. It’s an age thing perhaps. I see the falseness and I call it out. But even this is just a story, and a self crafted one at that – like the salty Sam tattoo, or a ring through the end of your willy.
What am I trying to say?
I have mined this metaphor before. I have observed myself during the scroll of Ebay’s listings, and find the pieces that attract me most are of a period that marks my own beginning. Each new piece acquired is possibly then an attempt at the restoration of an earlier part of myself, a quest for the youth I once was. Or then again perhaps I’m trying to keep myself ticking, trying to associate myself with something that has endured long beyond expectation, in the hope that I shall too. Or like all collecting, is it about not wanting what we’ve got, and instead hankering after that one thing we lack, and which we imagine will complete us? But alas, that thing does not exist.
If we would truly restore our selves to our selves, I’ve a feeling we should be easier in our skins, unmarked and unadorned, and thus more profoundly nude than we seem comfortable being these days. But who among us has the courage to do that?
Here I am we say: we are no more than this, and the rest is just for fancy.