At the end of a week where I felt so ill that frankly failing to wake up the next morning would not have rated among my ‘worst things to happen’ list, the news that Big Ben was listing raised more than mild shock. Even the nation’s most-beloved timepiece, the ringer of news and New Years, was succumbing to the dreaded ‘lergy that had brought my family to its knees.
A few years ago my husband told me about the plumbing for the lower levels at the Houses of Parliament. He had to sign the Official Secrets act but then was given the same tour as tourists – who don’t have to sign the act – so what I am about to relate is not going to threaten the nation’s security. I hope.
As the lower levels are below the water table, the contents of the toilets have to be sucked away to the upper levels. This ‘sucking away’ and the pressure constant to prevent it ‘returning’ is down to ingenious engineering (this bit I won’t go into as not only am I unsure of the physics behind the engineering but also this may be the secret bit). Now, it struck me that if Big Ben was trying to pry itself away from the Houses of Parliament, like an overworked bustle, then it might accidentally pull on the delicate workings – like snagging the ribbing on the underskirts. My mind was immediately flooded with images of, well, flooding (of the raw sewage kind).
We were assured most definitely that Big Ben was not in danger of falling into the Thames anytime soon. But the really ghastly piece of news was that any work to be undertaken would be at the discretion of the Speaker whose accommodation sits directly beneath Ben. Now, this strikes me as patently absurd. Does his accommodation give him previously unheard of and unforseen architectural intelligence? Should all prospective architects and structural engineers give themselves a boost by squatting beneath that grinning clockface? Or is it merely a ‘position of power’ – the locality of his abode awards him the privilege. By that reckoning the London underground ought to be designed wholly by the homeless desperates that call the tunnels their home.
Better yet, if we apply the same principle then hospitals ought to be partly administered by the patients – that’s not that bad an idea…
But getting back to Ben, I can already see the Superman-episodesque hilarity in watching souvenir shops grinding the bases of their Big Bens to reflect its new off-kilter appearance, and then relevelling them when the structure is underpinned.
I shall be keeping a very close eye on our beloved clock – well, from a couple of counties away – and hope a solution is found quickly. With everything else going digital and ultra-tech its nice to see Ben’s analogue face smiling and cheering for Great Britain.