“THE MYSTERY OF THE CLOCK CUCKOO”

Every Friday evening the Society for Psychical Research opened its doors to the public to attend the weekly talk given by one of its members. As always, the secretary kept records of everything that was said and everything that happened in those talks. In the end, there was a question time that sometimes lasted until well into the night. The minutes of March 15, 1887, are an example of how embarrassing this weekly contact with the general public could be. That evening the talk was given by Sir William Barret who expanded on the theme of “Apparitions” (without further details: that was the title of the speech). Well, when question time came, one of the attendees took the floor to say: “You have talked about apparitions, but what about disappearances?” There was a murmur of confusion when the man stood up lifting a cuckoo clock. Yes, yes, you have read well: a cuckoo clock. “It’s been six days since the clock cuckoo of this cuckoo clock has disappeared and, as no one sings the hours, my wife has lost the notion of time and believes that it is always tea time.” Another murmur of confusion rose from the room. “I’m sick to death of tea!” blurted the individual who with this outburst finished his query and stood waiting for the response with the orphan cuckoo clock raised high to be well visible. Sir William Barret cleared his throat and asked a question: “Did you or a reliable person see how the cuckoo disappeared?”. According to the clock’s owner, he had more important things to do at home than spend the day looking at the cuckoo clock. It just happened that it was time for the cuckoo to sing five in the afternoon, and they are still waiting. Hence, his wife figures that it is continually tea time. “I’m sick to death of tea!” he reiterated. “I understand,” Barret said phlegmatically. “But in that case how can you be sure that the bird disappeared in a paranormal manner. Maybe there is a normal explanation for that disappearance.” The clock’s owner pointed out that it was a wooden bird and it could not have flown. (Another murmur of consternation among the audience). “Maybe someone stole it,” Barret ventured to say. Then the man got angry and, leaving the clock on the chair, started gesturing and asked if he was insinuating that there were thieves in his own house. Barret hastened to deny it but let drop the possibility that some stranger had sneaked into the house to seize the cuckoo. “And why would a stranger want to steal a clock cuckoo?!” the man blurted out with a crushing logic that raised murmurs of approval in the room. Tired of this idiotic conversation (as defined by Barret in his memoirs), the speaker concluded that the cases of disappearances were not the responsibility of the Society for Psychical Research and that where the man should go is to Scotland Yard. Faced with such answer, the visibly angry man sat down suddenly in the chair and then a loud wooden creak was heard. “My cuckoo clock!” he complained getting up in a hurry to contemplate, distressed, the jumble of wood and gears in which the cuckoo clock had become. And then a murmur of amazement filled the room when, from among the ruins, the man raised a wooden clock cuckoo painted blue.

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