Watchwords by Philip Neal
|Watchwords by Philip Neal|
|Category: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A satisfying collection of short stories has a provenance at least as beguiling as the provenance of the antique watches that inspired it.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 204||Date: January 2019|
|Publisher: Independently published|
This satisfying collection of short stories has a provenance at least as beguiling as the provenance of the antique watches that inspired it.
Philip Neal lost a watch. It was a watch he was fond of and had been told was like a 1930s Cartier. Instead of mourning its loss, he began to collect vintage watches that resembled it. And that's how he became a watch collector. An eBay purchase led him to the Antique Watch Company watch repairers in Clerkenwell. The eBay purchase was a fake, but the friendship that grew between the buyer and the repairer of watches was not and the seed of an idea for a book was born.
The stories in Watchwords are not all about watches but they are inspired by them. Each is preceded by a photograph of the watch in Neal's collection that inspired it, together with a brief provenance and description. Neal is right: watches are fascinating! It's hard to pin the collection down - topics and themes are disparate and the tone ranges from dark and mysterious, through dry and comic, to deeply compassionate - but Neal himself comes through clearly in all of the stories. Autobiographical details from his life as a counsellor pop up and often site a story in a world view with an active and energetic interest in the human condition, with all of its ups and downs.
Cyclops is lovely. It's inspired by a Longines "mystery" watch with only one hand. Mystery watches, as the name implies, display time in a cryptic way. It's a comedy of errors between a counsellor and his colleague about a client's appointment. The dialogue is sharp and very funny but the star of the show is only spoken of: the mother of Bella, the client, who is ancient and only gave up driving after hitting the village pillar box and giving the finger to the postie she'd almost killed. Who can resist a cantankerous old lady?!
Gunner Sadler Yates takes its inspiration from a 1916 half-hunter officer's trench watch. These were some of the earliest wrist watches designed to be more convenient for military men who needed both hands for weapons and equipment. It's about a working class man who becomes a saddler and finds himself in the middle of the Great War with an officer who sympathises with the proletarian struggle. It's deeply moving, and relies on research about Neal's own grandfather, who fought in this war.
Homeland, another deeply moving story, is inspired by a Soviet Rodina watch and presents the testimonies of LGBT asylum seekers. Rodina means homeland - but how do you feel if your homeland rejects you? Where is your homeland then?
Watchwords was a genuinely satisfying read. The stories are thoughtful but also often quirky, ruminative but also often immediate and energetic. There's a dark humour but never a lack of compassion. Achieving all this requires a truly delicate skill of balance and it's this that really strikes you as you read. And I loved all the watches!
If short stories are your thing, you might also enjoy The Road More Travelled: Tales of those seeking refuge by David Beckler, an anthology of humane and compassionate stories exploring many issues around the refugee crisis.Clear-sighted and with touches of humour, these stories are the antithesis of othering.
You can read more about Philip Neal here.
You can read more book reviews or buy Watchwords by Philip Neal at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Watchwords by Philip Neal at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.