If you are in the habit of perusing the classifieds at the back pages of The Portugal News then, for the last two years or so, you may very well have noticed that under the heading ‘Antiques’, there’s been an advert for ‘Algarve Clock Repair’ and an intriguing message that usually says something along the lines of: “Has your precious clock problems? I am Wout. Experienced, graduated and registered clockmaker”.
Well, last week Wout wrote in asking if maybe we might like to do a story on him and very kindly invited me to come and visit his workshop.
Can’t stop the time
I was thrilled to accept his invitation and followed Google Maps to his place near Alcantarilha. Wouts' workshop, as it turned out, was in the upstairs room of his house and with a beautiful countryside view out the window, it was just as magical and spellbinding as I had imagined.
It was filled with all kinds of old and wonderful clocks ‘tick tocking’ away in what was actually quite a commotion (especially when the chimes go off). I said as much to Wout, and told him how we have an antique clock at home and that whenever I have friends over they frequently ask me how I can hear myself think? Let alone sleep! The truth is I don’t hear it. You get used to the noise and it sort of fades into the background. Indeed, Wout said it's funny because when some of his customers have their clock in for repair they can’t sleep for completely the opposite reason - so accustomed are they to its familiar and steady rhythm marking the continual unfolding of time. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Let's turn back the clock a little
Just who is this helpful horologist? Where did he learn about clocks and how did he come to be fixing them here in the Algarve, of all places?
Well, Wout comes from Holland and told me he has always worked with metal in one form or another (indeed his first job was as a mechanic) but in 2009, while attending the open day at one of his sons schools (he has four sons, as well as some grandchildren too), he became fascinated by the clock repair department and the enchanting inner workings and intricate mechanisms that go into making them tick.
To begin with, he thought of it as more of a hobby, but nevertheless, he enrolled in an evening course and eventually got a certificate as a fully qualified clockmaker. He started fixing clocks for friends and acquaintances and soon built up quite a reputation. So, when he was laid off at his job in 2011, he decided to start his own business.
Sadly, Wouts wife passed away 5 years ago. He eventually decided to get back out there and met his now girlfriend on a dating site. The only trouble was, you guessed it, she lived here in Portugal. Wout soon came to visit and, shall we say, fell in love with both her and the Algarve simultaneously.
Wout's work at work..we love this chiming masterpiece
The clock is ticking
While on his frequent trips to visit her, he tentatively started to offer his clock mending services, often dismantling the inner workings of the clocks and taking them back to Holland to fix them. He told me that the security at the airport were at first quite baffled by the contents of his suitcase. We both had a good laugh about this when I said “Oh no, don’t tell me it was ticking?”. Don’t worry, it wasn't, but Wout told me the security soon got to know him as the ‘clock man’.
It turned out that there really was a gap in the market in the Algarve for a clockmaker, as lots of people here have old clocks that have either stopped working or don’t run on time. The clocks, as you might imagine, have some serious sentimental value and people get very emotional (sometimes even jumping around singing and dancing) when they see them working like new again.
It soon became clear that Wout would have plenty of business here and so, 2 years ago, he decided to move to Portugal permanently.
He enjoys his work immensely, regularly losing track of time until, of course, he manages to get whatever clock he’s working on to start ticking again.
Some clocks can date back as far as the 1700s and Wout finds it fascinating to get to know the history of each one, figuring out through his collection of books, the internet, as well as a network of fellow clockmakers when and where they were made, as well as sometimes discovering the hidden marks that previous clockmakers may have left behind when they repaired it before.
Better luck next time
Wout meticulously tests his clocks before giving them back to their owners, as he said that just because it all might seem ‘tickety boo’, he can come up the stairs the next morning and find that time is, once again, standing still.
Once he’s confident he’s fixed it though, he has a whole process of soaking and polishing so that everything shines up like new.
One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock
What Wout loves about his job is the freedom it affords him as, unlike his previous jobs, he doesn't have to ‘watch the clock’ (‘clocking in and clocking out’). So, if he’s sitting in his chair fiddling with all the tiny bits and bobs that make a clock tick, and he looks out the window and sees it’s a lovely day, he can decide instead to go out for a spin on his motorbike (a Triumph Speedmaster, a machine that I would like to say ‘runs like clockwork’, but was actually at the garage being mended while I was visiting). Indeed, since it's normally such nice weather here, Wout admitted to doing the majority of his clockwork in the evenings. Wout also plays the guitar and has a group of buddies he jams with on the weekend.
There’s no time like the present
If you, or someone you love, has a clock that you would like to get fixed, then please visit algarveclockrepair.com and don’t hesitate to get in touch and ask Wout for a quote.
After all, and this is a good thing to remember this Christmas, the most precious present you can give anybody is your time.