Saturday October 29, 2005

They stopped Big Ben today. Not permanently, just for a weekend maintenance job, a once every twenty years or so affair. I watched the stoppage on TV, savouring the steam from a fresh mug of coffee, and, later, the odd sight of the hands being fast-forwarded to the noon position so’s the gears were in the correct place for work to be carried out.

Now, I know that ‘Big Ben’ is the name of the bell used to chime the hours, and that the proper name of the clock is the St. Stephen’s tower clock but, like all but the most pedantic of people, it’s ‘Big Ben’ to me, is now, and always has been.

If you want to get some feeling of what Big Ben means to a Londoner, arrange to be there during November and go for a walk over Westminster Bridge in the small hours of a calm night. Be sure to time the walk so as to coincide with an hour, say three o’clock and, when the big clock chimes, stop, listen, and feel. It’ll be closer to the kind of London I grew up in if there’s a bit of fog in the air but the real fogs are long gone, and good job too.

I’ve been trying to remember the last time I actually stopped to listen to Big Ben in the small hours. Can’t do it, not reliably, anyway. The overwhelming memory I have is of the time I was standing in the long, long queue waiting to pay my respects at the Laying-in-State of Winston Churchill, the night before the funeral. Not really surprising my memory tends to stick there. A lot of chains came together at that point for me.

There’s material enough there to work up into a good long story. Might do it one day. For now, though, I ain’t got the energy. Or the time. I’m preoccupied with the job of getting through the last of this blessed cold. Later.


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