I was lucky enough to be 550 meters up, at the top of Bozburun Tepesi. It was just before sunset and the resin from the pine forests mixed with the Land Rover’s diesely, oily, metallic tang. The old thing had had a tough climb up the gravel track, dotted with rocks big enough to take out a diff if you got it wrong. A low ratio second gear, tooth-rattling crawl for much of it.
The view from Bozburun takes in the whole of the Köyceğiz-Dalyan delta, and it looks small enough to be a train set. Look across the Mediterranean and you can – just about – see Rhodes. It is the most beautiful place I’ve stood. Ever.
Apart from the whisper of a passing jet, 32,000 feet up, there was just the breeze, the olive trees and an optimistic soloist cicada. Then, looking out over lake Sülüngür and watching a toy tractor inch its way along, I heard an engine in the distance, straining. A small capacity two-stroke getting a tough time of it. Probably someone coppicing with a chain saw in the filigree pine forests that stagger in ranks down the mountain.
When I looked again, the tractor had turned off the road and was starting to bounce its way through the ruts of a pomegranate grove.
The two-stroke got louder. It was a tiny motorcycle, its flywheel spinning as it clawed its way up the slope, piloted by the sort of chap who, in the UK, would get described by the papers as a “plucky pensioner”. I doubt he’d be impressed even though he had the rear wheel sideways and spinning through rock-strewn scree that would have had Simon Pavey sweating.
He was helmetless, sitting down in the saddle and instead of a pair of hardcore motocross boots, his bare feet were slipped into old, worn leather sandals. Occasionlly, he’d lift his foot when a rock got too close. He’d got a square of old carpet tied across the saddle, presumably for a bit of extra padding. It certainly wasn’t for decoration. This was not a man who believed in either blinging or even cleaning his machine. It hadn’t seen a cleaning product this century. Probably not last either.
He disappeared behind a clump of pines and the engine cut. I went back to an earnest discussion of whether the Landie’s brakes were up to the descent if what was left of the gearbox decided its balding teeth wouldn’t hold.
The two-stroke buzz began again, then faded and died. More buzzing, more dying. Finally, the spluttering stopped and the single, tiny cylinder’s spark caught and the dink-dink-dink-dink held steady. I could almost almost see the smile on his face as he idly blipped the throttle.
He reappeared a minute later from behind the trees, the back and bars of the bike hung with Migros carrier bags. I wondered if he’d been collecting pine honey from the beehives that look like wooden bankers’ boxes.
Still astride his faded carpet square saddle, he easily threaded the tiny bike between the larger boulders and pointed the bars downhill. Unfussed by 550 meters of rock-littered, gravel-covered, squeaky-tight, buttock-clenching bends he simply rode down the same track the Landie has struggled up earlier.
The last I saw of him was a hand raised in casual greeting to a friend passing in a pick up truck that looked as though it had seen service at El Alamein.
This morning I cycled into town and was passed by the first large capacity bikes I’ve seen in a couple of weeks. A convoy of R1200GSes, each rider togged up in the full BMW adventure suit rig, motocross lids and Camelbaks. One was standing on his pegs as he negotiated the mean streets and stray dogs of Dalyan.
As I leaned my bicycle against the coffee shop wall, I couldn’t help a bit of a smile.
A Formica-wood topped table, a plastic chair and one of the worst cups of coffee I’ve had in my life. But a view of the local dolmus station across the road from the bakery-cafe. Ancient white Renault 12s rattle past full of families, the back seats wedged with bodies. The short cough and whir of a moped starter motor and putt-putt-putt as it comes to life.
A sleek, black BMW cruises up, seal like, and stops. The local big man, I think. Instead, two flour-covered bakers climb out, grinning, and brandishing green plastic baskets of still fragrantly hot bread they carry to the cafe.
The reliable, regular chatter and loose clatter of a white diesel dolmus – a local minibus and the way almost everyone travels here. A white plastic plate in its windscreen, fixed with suction cups, says “Dalyan”. It slowly unloads its cargo of people, bags and parcels. Countryside commuters, two lost-looking tourists with hats and wheelie cases. Someone has hammered the end of the exhaust to attach a new, unrusted, end section. It just adds to the rattle.
A sun-faded red PX200 – Italian scooter aristocracy in the sea of Chinese urility mopeds – heels over as the rider flicks a turn. He smiles at my recognition as he catches the bike on the throttle and powers it upright.
The tourists scan the whiteboard, covered in marker pen destinations, still puzzled.
My coffee arrives, the young waiter apologising that most of it is in the saucer. “I’m sorry… Coffee…” And he mimes a fountain spraying and smiles broadly. He places a filo pastry tart, specked with black poppy seeds, beside the cup. He apologises again, pats me warmly on the shoulder with another grin and resumes propping up the counter and chatting up the local girls.
A British couple, their Lancashire accents as out of place in the sunshine as his grey socks, tuck their newly-bought loaf into a hessian Tesco bag. “We’ll be alright now, love,” she says as they walk off holding hands.
Another moped rasps past, its pilot tanned, tight white t-shirted and topped with a gold braided captain’s hat. John-Paul Gaultier on a Mobylette.
A disreputable white Fiat parks carefully aross the “no parking” sign that gives the dolmuses space to wheel and turn. Its owner scurries in and out of the baker’s between buses as a grey-moustached man on another moped smilingly weaves his way past.
The two flour-covered bakers have stopped for tea and are holding court. The laughter is rich and warm in the sunlight, their work for today over.
Another family-filled Fiat stops, the young boy’s nose pressed against the glass as he watches the bikes flick past. A young couple, maybe 18 or 19, kiss goodbye. The boy makes a face.
Although all white and all carefully polished, no two dolmuses are alike. One pulls in, its bonnet emblazoned with the blue and red Ortaca Minibus Cooperative shield. Another older bus sports a cartoon Sylvester the cat in one of its side windows. Nearly all have q’uranic verses in Arabic script swinging from their driving mirrors. Each advertises its destination on a coloured, plastic board suckered to the windscreen. Dalyan-Ortaca-Iztuzu. Doors are open in the heat and the nasal thread of shawms underscored by drums, comes from each radio and blends with moped exhausts and horns.
The drivers lean against their buses, alternatively joshing each other and shouting their destinations to likely passengers. There is barely space for three buses on the hard standing, so others jostle and wheel, half on and off the pavement, for space.
At the centre of the chaos, marshalling, conducting and answering queries from locals and tourists as easily, is a white-haired man in his 70s. The drivers wear faded t-shirts, long trousers and well-used sandals. He wears a two-piece, immaculate pinstripe suit with a wide yellow tie and crowned with a sunbleached beaten leather cowboy hat. The suit is so shiny with age that it reflects the light and it is easily three sizes too large, but the air of authority it adds is unmistakeable. The man’s grin is easy and almost suggests that he realises his suit is of place, but he is enjoying the joke too.
A waiter from another cafe easily weaves his way through dolmuses, mopeds and bicycles, four glasses of apple tea poised on his tray. The suited Controller takes one, his grin even broader, and turns to answer another bus question from the gaggle of tourists that have appeared at his elbow. A man who clearly enjoys his job.
So, my month of self-imposed watch austerity is up. I’ve done it. No watch but the F has passed my wrist in the last 31 days. What have I achieved? Well, clearly absolutely nothing. This is first-world stuff. Wearing a £7 Casio is not deprivation in even the remotest sense. However, a glass of decent malt is clearly called for in celebration. Don’t mind if I do.
In the real world I may have achieved nowt, but I’ve learned a few things…
There’s an F-91 near you
First, these things are everywhere. I’d wager that, as you read this, you’re no more than 3 metres away from an F-91. Casio weren’t able to tell me how many they’ve precision-glued together since 1991, but it’s got to be a few million. They’re abandoned in office drawers, forgotten in bags, Blu-tacked to the dashboards of cars, on wrists and even (I saw it) on a string around someone’s neck.
Sitting in a local coffee shop, looking idly out of the window, I saw ten Fs in as many minutes. Is there a more ubiquitous watch? I doubt it. They’re just there, quietly getting on with the job with only an hourly ‘beep’ to remind you of their presence. And the fact you can’t work out how to turn it off.
The classless watch?
Sitting in a meeting last week with some of the board of a UK utility company, I spotted one under the cuff of one of the directors. He knew how to turn off the beep. On the same day, I picked up a parcel (yes, another watch) from the local Post Office. The postie behind the counter was wearing – you guessed it – an F-91 – on a battered and faded NATO. On that coffee shop visit I saw them on the wrists of super-trendy hipster types, the guy who emptied the street bins and the barista. It really is Everywatch.
They don’t give in – or give up
They’re near-as-dammit indestructible too. Who needs a G-Shock? I’ve worn mine on the Real Tennis court and it’s been belted with a heavy wooden racquet. It’s fine. It got dropped on the stone tile floor in the office. Not a mark. It’s survived the teeth-loosening, pneumatic-drill vibration of the flat-twin engine on my Ural 650 combo. Believe me, when someone hits the big red button there’ll be three things left: Nissan Micras, smiling, smug cockroaches and F-91s. And the F-91s will still be going ‘beep’ every hour.
Am I about to give up my collection, ditch the vintage and declare unending loyalty to my F? Well, no. But there is a rather freeing simplicity to an F-91. It does the job of telling the time, waking me up, timing my run all without fuss, bother or drama. In fact, it does it so simply and effectively that I’m going to open the wormcan and say it’s firmly A Classic.
The ultimate cheap classic?
I’ll stick my neck out here. In my view, it does the whole ‘form and function’ thing just as well as any other classic watch. It’s the best kind of classic too – a democratic one that pretty much anyone can afford and enjoy. No waiting lists, no buzz-to-enter heavy-carpeted boutiques, no sniffy watch salesmen. Just nip on line and your F will be beeping happily from a box on your doormat the next day.
And, if it gets trashed in the process of everyday life (unlikely as that is), you can just shrug and buy another with the change in your car’s ashtray. You can’t say that about a Nomos a Breitling or a Rolex.
So what started out as a bit of a joke has been great fun. It’s started conversations with new watchie friends, made me think and reminded me that a watch doesn’t have to cost the GDP of a small central European country to be engaging. But it certainly does say something for my affection for the F that it’s on my wrist as I write this. And it’ll be there, every so often, for a long time to come. I’ve come not just to admire, but like, the F-91 hugely. Beep.
By the way, in that parcel was a cal.1620 Omega LCD Speedmaster from 1977. Yup, they made digital Speedies. But that’s a whole other story…
A little over a week ago, I decided to lock my watchbox and forsake my usual vintage mechanical, and high-end quartz serious tickers for just one watch. And not any old watch at that – I chose, from Amazon, a £7, resin-cased Casio F-91W, the cheapest of the cheap. A watch for less than the price of two pints of London Pride, a couple of Starbucks coffees (although I’d argue S’bucks has little to do with coffee) or a 3 minute parking ticket in central Oxford. The plan? To wear this single watch for a month. No changes, no backsliding into Breitlingdom or Rolex City, not even for an evening.
It’s been fascinating watching watchie people’s reactions to my ‘one watch for a month’ experiment. It’s been almost as fascinating watching the complete non-reaction of normal (i.e. non watchie) people.
Watchland reaction has ranged from the horrified to the puzzled. You see, to most watchies, quartz is what powers Satan’s nastiest wristwatch. But even he wouldn’t allow a digital quartz into the seventh circle. Digitals are no watchie’s friend. Apart from a very select few of us who either obstinately believe function matters as much as form or are just plain contrarian.
Normal people simply don’t care. Let’s face it, apart from muggers, no-one is really fussed what you’re wearing on your wrist. Unless, perhaps, it’s so truly hideous that people can’t help spot it. Or it’s a Rolex day-date or Sub. If you wear one of the more obvious Rolexes (Rolexi?), you will spend some time answering the “is it real?” question from observers, never very satisfactorily and always with a slight blush of embarrassment.
No, the F-91W is a stealth watch. Not so much Sub as subfusc, it quietly and efficiently gets on with telling you the time (the date, the day and a few other useful things like when you need to wake up) without fuss. That’s what most people want a watch for.
But, as utility-based as it is, I think I chose the wrong watch for my (admittedly lighthearted) experiment.
I’ve discovered, the F-91W, despite its unashamed utility background (or maybe because of it), achieves rather more than just timekeeping status. It seems to have that indefinable thing that marks a watch out as remarkable. It may even be (pace fellow watchnerds) a bit of a classic.
I’d wanted a sort of antiwatch. A watch that ticked all the opposite boxes from the usual contents of my watchbox. But the Casio isn’t it. An antiwatch, under my definition, would have been a watch that pretended to be something it isn’t. A plastic gold Armani thing would have been a better trial. Or maybe even a fake. But the Casio makes just as much of a statement as an IWC Ingenieur. It is what it is. Plain, no messing, no pretence. It’s not – as I suggested – a sort of horological Toyota Pious. No, the Pious is a car for people who have principles, but not enough of them to get a bicycle instead. The F-91 is a watch for people who want something that tells the time as simply, cheaply and clearly as possible. It makes a statement by completely not giving a tuppeny toss about making a statement.
Given all that, I shouldn’t really have been surprised by people’s affection for the watch. I’ve had a few emails from ex and serving soldiers. They remember their F-91s from their time in camo (or more likely No5 dress) and they remember them fondly. As one said, “Robust doesn’t do the F-91 justice.” Another one talked of how his F (see, the affection of an abbreviated nickname already) had done everything he’d asked of it through two tours in Afghanistan, all without failing once or even needing a new battery.
It’s currently doing something rather more domestic – timing one of Pip’s world-class culinary creations in the oven. And I shall be sad when my month with the F is up. It’s not only earned a place in the watchbox, but my affections too. I’ve actually grown fond of the damn thing’s sheer unassailable, unbustable, unapologetic functionality. It’s the watch equivalent of a mongrel terrier. It ain’t pretty, but by God it makes you smile and just plain works.
One thing is guaranteed to brighten up a standard, nose-to-desk sort of day. The arrival of a new watch. Our postman (for we still have such things in Burford as ‘our’ postie) handed over a package this morning, with his usual grin.
“Another five mill thinner and it’d have gone through the letterbox,” he said. “Shame you’re in today. I usually stamp on ‘em to make ‘em fit otherwise.”
Fortunately, I suspect my new arrival would have survived perfectly well. I’d have been a little less relaxed had a vintage Reverso been in the box. See, there are already advantages to F-91 ownership.
So, my first watch – ever – to arrive in an Amazon box. Downloadable wristwear. Whatever next?
Time to unwrap, clearly.
A new watch is always an exciting thing. I was interested to see if the usual frisson was there with my the F-91 Antiwatch. And it was. OK, so it’s not the sort of thrill that comes from a unpacking a vintage Explorer or an IWC MkXII, but it’s a thrill all the same. A sort of middle-of-the-road Muscat in comparison with Sauternes, maybe cheaper and less refined, but definitely worth a swig.
And I have to say, in spite of my usual watch snobbery that would make Margo Leadbetter (google it if you’re too young) start thinking fondly of low slung jeans and baseball caps, I’m impressed.
I like lots of things to read with my watches. I want instructions, guarantees, history, information, service bits and bobs. I like bumf. And the F-91 didn’t let me down.
The instruction leaflet was clearly designed by a particularly devious, wizened and ancient origami master at the very top of his game. Although it was tiny, it unfolded to the size of an OS map of Europe. Chaps, don’t bother with wallpaper – it’s cheaper to buy a crateful of F-91s and use the instruction leaflets. Two per wall should do you. I swear it’s even got a section in medieval Catalan.
There’s another leaflet – presumably also in Catalan – catchily entitled “Disposal of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment of Products for Household use (applicable in the European Union only)” Not quite sure I understand what that means, but I can see it catching on as bedtime reading at Mrs Flangespindler’s Home for the Criminally Insomniac. I couldn’t manage to read any more than the title though.
This too is printed on a piece of paper that makes a postage stamp look dangerously large, then folded by Origami San – clearly on a day where he really fancied a challenge.
The warranty card was probably in Linear B, but my electron microscope was out of battery by now. The lovely people at Casio clearly don’t believe in stinting watchbuyers who like a bit of bumf. And 3pt Sanskrit type too. Bit of history of Casio watches would have been good though.
But what about the watch? Well, it’s the Toyota Pious of the watchworld; a watch for people who don’t like watches but still need to tell the time. And it does it all beautifully simply. I had it set in under a minute and on my wrist. Once there, you might as well have strapped on a gnat – there’s no weight to its resin case at all. It makes my Timefactors Speedbird III feel like an Olympic discus.
There’s something rather pleasing about the digits. Clear, simple and, just like the watch, absolutely economical. In fact, the whole concept of something this cheap that’s this effective and well-designed is really rather attractive. I think we may get on…
Episode 1 – July 9, 2013
And so it begins…
As a self-confessed watch addict, I know I spend too much time, money and effort pursuing the latest Ideal Watch. I spend hours talking with watchie friends, comparing ideas and thoughts on new and vintage watches. I even spend too much time in the morning deciding which one to wear. It’s not unknown for me to take a spare along in the briefcase just in case I fancy a change half way through the morning.
This is an addiction. Clearly.
So I have a plan. An experiment, if you like.
I’m going to see what happens when I lock the watchbox (toybox?) and put my metaphorical chequebook away.
I’m going to be a one-watch chap for the next month.
But not just any watch. Oh no. That would be no good at all. It needs to be the antithesis of everything that’s currently in the collection.
My thing is for classical, clean-lined and vintage. So a Reverso sits alongside a 1964 gilt-dial 1016, an early GMT II, an Exp I, an HEQ Grand Seiko and a hunting pair of Nomoses (Nomoi?) along with a few others.
The ideal foil? A Casio, clearly. And not just any Casio either. It must be cheap, resin and digital. The complete opposite of the current mob.
So it’s going to be a Casio F-91W.
And it’s not in the spirit of the the thing to buy my new, plastic Casio from a proper shop either. Again, this needs to be the opposite of my usual watch transactions. These are usually either over a glass of wine with a fellow watchnerd in a country pub, a London hotel or in a smart, vintage watch dealer.
So, with barely two clicks of a mouse, I’ve ordered a brand-new Casio F-91 from Amazon. It arrives, courtesy of Royal Mail any day now. And I’ll be turning the key in the watchbox, giving it to Pip for safekeeping, and strapping on, er, a plastic Casio F-91W-1YER. Snappy. And I’ll be wearing it – no matter what the occasion – for a month.
Fellow watchies will understand the magnitude of the task. Non-watchies will simply have confirmed their views on my sanity.
I’ll keep you posted.
There’s not been a lot of time for two or three-wheeled ambling recently. Instead, a pretty solid wall of work-borne rush, stress and frustration has kept me off the bikes. So, with an unaccustomed free Sunday afternoon and some sun, I decided to stop beating my head against it, hoiked the keys off the peg and helmeted up.
The saddle of a motorcycle is not generally a place for wool-gathering. Back lanes with no traffic and the Ural are fine though. And soon, like most riders, in time with the clacking of the engine, I found myself humming contentedly. All sorts of tunes seem to push themselves forwards as candidates when you’re on a bike. There’s no knowing whether it’s going to be Bach or Bragg.
Today, it was Flanders and Swann’s Slow Train. Fitting, with the 50th anniversary of Dr Beeching’s “The Reshaping of British Railways”. No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat. Read more…