Press...Waking Hours - Sunday Independent Magazine August 8th 2004

William Lawless trained as a clockmaker in 1961 and has been in business for himself since 1984. He has a workshop on Wicklow Street, Dublin with Paul Lawlor, a watchmaker who trained at the same time as him. Aged 59, he is married and lives with his wife Ann and mother-in-law Mrs Hynes on the north side of Dublin.

I am a morning person and I think it's good to have an early start. You can get work done without interruptions. I've been here in Wicklow Street for 20 years. It is an accident that I became a clockmaker. I was leaving the tech, and all sorts of options came up. I thought clockmaking was unusual, but to me a job is a job. When I started off doing the apprenticeship, I didn't know anything. I think it's the same as any job - you start at the beginning and you learn. You're watching somebody and you're doing something and somebody is checking over what you're doing. There were no courses in those days, so the apprenticeship took five or six years.

Clocks are all based on the same principle - so many wheels coming up to keep the time. A clock could have anything from four to 40 wheels. They all have different counts, with teeth and pins. A wheel might have 80 teeth and I might have to make a new one. The wheels go in different directions and at different speeds. But whether it's a grandfather clock or carriage clock, once you know one clock you know them all.

It takes a long time to repair clocks. Some clocks could take three days. When I get an ordinary striking clock, it has to be stripped down completely. There is an incredible amount of wear on grandfather clocks. The pinions will have to be replaced and the bearings will have to be replaced, and that's what takes the time. If I have a particularly awkward job then I will try and do it in the morning before the phone starts. With some of these jobs, the last thing you want is to pick up the phone or go to the counter - it is better to start and finish it.

Most clockmakers don't make clocks. Very few people make clocks. Nowadays they are churned out in factories God knows where. Years ago, you had the English, the Americans and the Germans, all making clocks.

I don't watch the clock when I am working. When you've got something to do, you just do it. Sometimes you will get through a job quickly and sometimes you won't. You just have to accept it. I don't notice the sound of ticking when I'm working, even though there could be 30 clocks here ready for collection. Most of them strike on the half-hour and on the hour. Sometimes I look at a clock and wonder if it is after striking or not. I could be beside it and wouldn't hear it. You just put it out of your mind.

Dealing with the public, every day is different. Some days we wouldn't have a lot of people; other days we wouldn't. I get a lot of enquiries about grandfather clocks. Most of the customers would be of the older generation, but you do get some younger ones who want a clock repaired because it belonged to their granny; there is a connection with it and it's always been in the family.

If a clock won't work, it comes down to wear and tear. It's like your car. If you don't get it serviced, it sits down. Except with a clock you're looking at 15 to 20 years. The oldest grandfather clock I had was the one at the House of Lords (Bank of Ireland). That was made in 1780. I like those long-face clocks because they have been hanging around for 200 years and they've seen an awful lot of changes and they're still going strong. None of the clocks from the Forties and Fifties are going to see any time like that.

Years ago people depended on clocks so much more. There was one clock in the house and that was it. Very few had watches. Then we hit the Sixties and every second person had a watch. I think people are more time-conscious now but no one has any time for anything. Everyone is in a hurry these days.

On several occasions people have got a clock repaired and they brought it home and it went for however long and then they bring it back because it won't go. I say. ‘Did you wind it?' and they say yes, and then I wind it up in front of them and it works. Or some clocks you wind backwards, And then some people don't wind their clocks enough. They might give it three or four turns, which is great for a couple of days. You should wind a clock fully once a week - it may take eight winds or 15 winds.

When I'm working on clocks. I need natural light. So in the winter I don't start as early. Once you have the dark mornings or dark evenings, you're just concentrating on the artificial light and it does show on you. I finish work at five O clock. I walk home. I'm not time-obsessed at all, but the one thing I can tell you is that I am slowing down. I used to do my walk home in less than half an hour but I can't do it in that any more.

I'm generally home by quarter to six. We have dinner together, and then if there's nothing to do in the evenings I might watch television or read. At the moment I am reading Ulysses. I was talking to David Norris and so I started with Dubliners. Then I read Portrait of the Artist and after than a biography of Joyce. I read Ulysses years ago. I didn't' skip any bits the first time around, but I didn't' understand it. So now I'm on round two, to see what it's all about. In conversation with Ciara Dwyer