Published: Tammy 27 January 1973 to 14 April 1973
Artist: John Armstrong
Writer: Bill Harrington
Translations/reprints: Misty annual 1985 as “Grandfather’s Clock”
Cluny Jones is a bully. She is the terror of the school where she does not pull her weight and cheats and cribs at classwork and games. Her justification for her conduct is that life is tough and you have to be tough to get what you want, something her orphaning has made her believe in. Also part of the problem is that she is indulged too much by her kind Aunt Mabel, whom she takes advantage of.
An inheritance comes for Cluny from her late grandfather in Scotland. Cluny is chagrined to see it is not money but a grandfather clock he made himself, and she has a good mind to sell it. However, when Cluny opens the clock in search of any hidden money, she soon finds out it is no ordinary grandfather clock. When it strikes thirteen, she suddenly feels as if she’s falling into a void inside the clock. Then she finds everything is different somehow and everyone she knows behaves the opposite of how they were before – including herself. Aunt Mabel is now an abusive tyrant and more rough in appearance. Cluny is forced to go to school in tatty uniform, and her toughness is gone; instead, she is timid. She is also brilliant, the “swot” of the school. The pupils, whom she bullied before, get so jealous at her winning the Craigavon scholarship they start beating her up. Cluny finds herself terrified of this instead of duffing them up as she would back home, and she wonders why the heck she can’t stand up to them.
Thirteen strikes again, Cluny falls back into the void, and then finds everything has gone back to normal. But she’s at school, not in front of her grandfather’s clock where it all started, and realises something is weird about that clock. Cluny checks inside it and finds a message. It reads: “If money you require, step into the mire, if real riches you esteem, slip into my timely stream. The bridge of time is my thirteenth chime.” Cluny can’t figure it out.
After this bizarre experience, you would expect Cluny to steer well clear of that clock and try to get rid of it fast. But greed has taken over and is drawing Cluny back to the clock and the mystery about it. She still hopes there is a fortune inside the clock and thinks the note is promising it. She wonders if there is a connection with that other existence. Fuelled by greed, Cluny forces the clock to strike thirteen. She is back in the other reality, this time with everything flashing past at lightning speed. And the abuse is even worse: Aunt Mabel throws crockery at her and then says she’ll pay for those broken dishes, and at school the bullies attack her with such force they nearly drown her, but the thirteenth chime saves her in time. Inside the clock she finds another rhyming message, and this time she understands it: she rushed time by forcing the clock to strike thirteen and in future please wait for thirteen to strike.
Greed over what “real riches” seems to promise draws Cluny back to the clock. She wants to figure out “timely stream” and decides to seek the “genius” she is in the other universe so she can figure it out at school. But the thirteenth chime has stopped. Cluny soon finds out why: Aunt Mabel sent it for an overhaul, thinking the thirteenth chime must mean it is time to get the clock fixed. Worse, she has sent it to a crooked firm, Manson’s, who swindle Cluny with another clock when she tries to get the clock back. She has to do a bit of breaking and entering to do it. She finds the clock just as it strikes thirteen, and she’s off again. In the other reality she finds Manson’s even worse: it’s a clock factory, and Mr Manson is even more cruel and coarse-looking. Cluny soon finds the abusive Aunt Mabel yanked her out of school to slave in the factory. She is sacked for cutting her finger and bleeding all over the goods. Aunt Mabel kicks her out to find another job, and she’s not to come back until she’s got one.
Instead, Cluny heads to school in search of the science teacher, Miss Jarvis, to help her figure things out. With Miss Jarvis’ help, Cluny soon realises she is stepping in and out of a parallel timestream, one of many that run concurrent with her own.
Cluny’s search for a job is fruitless, leaving her stuck on the streets because Aunt Mabel said not to come back until she had a job. Then, when Aunt Mabel catches up she’s all sweetness and light – and neat as a pin. Cluny soon finds out why: in this timestream grandfather is still alive and he’s paying a visit. Aunt is sucking up to him in the hopes of money from his will, as he’s filthy rich. It’s the cruel Aunt Mabel’s turn to be put out when grandfather’s present for Cluny is…the grandfather clock.
Cluny now realises the notes she got in the grandfather clock were in grandfather’s writing, but Aunt Mabel takes them from her before she can figure them out further. Grandfather is very kind and takes Cluny out on treats, but he makes it clear he knows what she’s like in her own timestream, and if she’s ever like that again – remember him. Before he leaves, he tells Cluny that if things are getting too much she has no need to wait for the thirteenth chime – just touch the pendulum lightly and wish to go the time and place she wants. Cluny can now come and go as she pleases with the two timestreams.
But the nasty Aunt Mabel sells the clock, leaving Cluny stranded in the harsh timestream. She fits Cluny up with a job at the Saracen Hotel, which means more drudgery with another cruel employer, Mr Frinton. On the plus side, it turns out to be where Aunt Mabel sold the clock. Unfortunately Cluny does not use the pendulum correctly and finds herself still stuck in the harsh timestream.
Worse, she is arrested for attempted theft of the clock and assault on Mr Frinton. She soon finds that in this timestream there is no separate legal system for minors – “thank goodness” says the judge. Cluny is tried in an adult court and sentenced to an adult prison for eighteen months. The prison is as harsh as everything else in this world, where the guards and inmates alike bully Cluny. Now Cluny is doubly trapped by the timestream, with no hope of return unless she can escape from the prison and back to the clock, which looks hopeless.
Then escape comes unexpectedly. Cluny’s two bully cellmates break out, and when Cluny discovers this, they drag her along at knifepoint, intending to kill her when they get the chance. But things go wrong with the getaway. When the police give chase, their getaway van goes over a cliff. It looks like the two convict women came a cropper below. Cluny is thrown clear, and it is not long before she realises the police are hunting for her.
Fortunately Cluny ended up where grandfather lives and he helps her. He indeed knows what she is like in the other universe; this was all to teach her a lesson, and show her how horrible things can be if everyone was like her instead of being kinder to one another. Cluny promises to be different if she can return to her own timestream.
Grandfather starts to build a second timestream clock to return Cluny to her timestream, but just as he finishes it, a policeman arrives in search of Cluny. Grandfather hypnotises the policeman into sleep, but the interruption he caused sends them off course, causing them to fail to change timestreams. Fortunately the clock sent them to Saracen Hotel, where the first timestream clock is. They are also facing down a very angry Mr Frinton. Grandfather keeps Mr Frinton hypnotised while Cluny uses the clock to return to her timestream. Grandfather stays behind, unable to go with Cluny, his fate uncertain, saying he can always make another clock.
Back home, Cluny now realises the “riches” the note was on about meant the riches that come from being kind, and that is the course she will pursue from now on. The clock is back as well, and now Cluny wants to keep it. There is some hint from the clock suggesting that grandfather is all right in the other timestream.
“The Clock and Cluny Jones” holds the distinction of being Tammy’s first science fiction story, a genre she used less often than Jinty in her serials, but it became more frequent after Misty and Jinty merged with her. The science fiction elements have been very deftly combined with something the early Tammy was very well known for: dark stories laden with cruelty that is increasingly piled up against ill-used heroines, especially orphans, who remain unbroken by it all but are desperate to find some way to escape their abusive existence and find happiness.
Tammy turns one of her own favourite premises right on its head by starting off this orphan as the opposite of how she is usually set up in the Tammy universe. Instead of being a cruelly abused orphan suffering at the hands of abusive guardians (as Bella Barlow was) and others at school and work, she is a tough, bullying orphan with a kind guardian, and she is the one who makes everyone else’s lives a misery. The irony is, when Cluny is flung into the other timestream, it is the other timestream that is more like the setup that Tammy used for her ill-used orphans: cruel guardians, school bullies, slave-driving employers, everything against the heroine, and any scrap of kindness they find (such as grandfather) is an oasis for them instead of taking it for granted (such as the kind Aunt Mabel) in Cluny’s own timestream. In the harsh timestream, Cluny herself is more like the ill-used victim heroine frequently seen in the early Tammy. This is not only in what she endures but also because her personality, rendered the opposite of what it was before, makes her unable to fight back as she would in her own timestream.
Parallel worlds are commonly used in girls’ serials for “what if?” (The Sentinels from Misty) or dystopias based on out-of-hand extremes (Worlds Apart from Jinty). In this case we have a parallel world ruled by an extreme – extreme bullying. It is so extreme that it often turns ugly, coming close to murder more than once for Cluny in the story. It is a stroke of genius to use a parallel reality where virtually everyone is a bully, with rare exceptions such as grandfather and Miss Jarvis, to show Cluny the bully how terrible the consequences of bullying can be if everyone followed her philosophy and behaved tough to get what they want. The result is harsh, brutal, bullying people who shape a world that follows a very dark path. Nowhere is it more frightening than when Cluny falls foul of its legal system. Kids are treated the same as adults, no separate facilities for them, and everything, from the police to the prison, is brutal, bullying and violent. There are even “nasty penalties” for witchcraft, suggesting the brutality of this reality has made it backward in many ways. Grandfather is threatened with these penalties when a policeman sees the clock paraphernalia and stacks of books in his house, making us hope all the more he managed to get away. Perhaps he used another clock to jump into yet another timestream.
It is most unusual for a bully to be used for a redemption serial. More often girls’ comics went for spoiled brats, snobs, selfish girls and bigheads to put through the mill to transform them into better people, not protagonists who are downright nasty. But using a bully for a redemption story is the case here, which makes a very nice change. Cluny isn’t quite as evil as some bullies we’ve seen in girls’ comics (The Honourable S.J. and Nancy Norden from “Be Nice to Nancy!” from Judy for example), and much of her bullying stems from the wrong attitude, which she needs to learn is wrong. But her bullying needs to be sorted out and straight away we want her to get her comeuppance. It takes a while and a full stranding in the bully timestream for the message to sink in, though. Her initial trips to the timestream do not make her stop to think about her own bullying and she is still doing it at school.
Bullies were used more as antagonists to make life hell for the protagonist until their expected comeuppance at the very end. It’s good to see a bully get her comeuppance through a redemption story for once, and it’s a real twist to do so by turning her into the bully victim. And it begins with stripping Cluny of everything that made her a bully and taking everything for granted to make her appreciate you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone – by giving her the total opposite in another reality.
The pace of the story is really cracking and hard-hitting. For example, Cluny’s time in the prison does not last any more than it needs to. In just one episode Cluny is sent there and left shivering with cold because her cellmates have stolen her blankets; in the very next episode she escapes with those same cellmates. It’s also very frightening and eerie, and it’s disturbing to see Cluny drawn to the harsh timestream as much as she is scared of it because of her greed and mistaken belief that riches await her somewhere if she pursues that timestream. But we can tell straight away what that note about “real riches” means and Cluny’s letting herself in for big trouble by pursuing it instead of keeping away from that clock and its thirteenth chime. Once she learns her lesson we will not be at all surprised if the clock no longer strikes thirteen.
Tammy’s first science fiction story is definitely one of her very best serials, and it’s beautifully rendered by the ever-popular John Armstrong artwork. There is so much in it to make it a firm favourite with readers. It is not only fast-paced, exciting, intriguing and frightening; in many ways it is also atypical of girls’ serials, especially in having a bully being the one to go through the redemption process.