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The eccentric world of cuckoo clocks and their custodians

Radio documentary Time Flies explores extreme nostalgia, with clock-collecting brothers Roman and Maz Piekarski.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Roman and Maz Piekarski are brothers, trained as clockmakers, who between them own more than 700 cuckoo clocks (500 of which, they insist, are “stonkers”). Now in their sixties, the pair have been running the Cuckooland Museum, in Tabley in Cheshire, for more than 30 years. Once a popular tourist destination, today it is struggling to keep its doors open. Speaking to a BBC Radio 4 producer for this doc, the Piekarskis prove themselves true eccentrics, as you might expect. Early on, Maz – or is it Roman? – asks for the time, noting with surprise that he isn’t wearing a watch: “16:47… is it?! I thought it was only about two o’clock!” It’s the kind of detail that would be on the nose in fiction, but is revealing of the lack of self-awareness that seems a prerequisite for life’s strangest characters. For all the clocks that tick around them, Maz and Roman seem constantly surprised by the passage of time. “I do get upset sometimes,” Roman, who has multiple sclerosis, admits. “Where’s my life gone? Where’s it gone?”

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Both unmarried, the two have been living and working together all their lives. Their dynamic is established early – Maz, who speaks in a lower, gruffer voice, is the worker; Roman, who is two years older and has a higher, quicker tone, is the talker. They share an endless appetite for nostalgia, reminiscing about the sound of old school-bells and seaside waltzers.

They listen to archive plays on Radio 4 Extra, which run with a disclaimer about language that has aged badly. “‘Times have changed. Attitudes have changed.’ Well, that’s how we were brought up,” Maz grouches. “They want to change my mind and I don’t like it.” A beat. “We like music as well,” Roman says brightly.

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At times these two seem like a warning against living in the past. But they also demonstrate the rewards of finding connections with those that came before us. “They tell a story,” Roman says of the clocks. “You’re collecting someone else’s history, and the fascinating thing about it is you’re not going to find it out. But you can dream.”

Time Flies
BBC Sounds

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This article appears in the 11 May 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Stalling Starmer