How the high life has taken its toll on Big Ben
Big Ben will fall silent on Monday for four years. But why?
It’s all over for London.
What, because of Brexit? No, I have a plan. Have you seen the film Passport To Pim…
…No, not Brexit.
The ravens have left the tower? London Bridge is falling down? The bells of St Clements have become citrus intolerant? What is it?
Big Ben is going quiet.
What? Unthinkable. Why?
The bells are going quiet for four years while the Elizabeth Tower undergoes renovation and for health and safety reasons the workers must be able to ply their trade without being deafened on the hour.
I must go there straight away, camp out by the campanile and enjoy the last few weeks of chimes.
Too late chum. It’s all happening from noon on Monday. Come one o’clock – nothing, silence, zilch. However, members of the public are being called on to mark the moment by gathering in Parliament Square to hear Big Ben’s final bongs until they return in 2021.
What does Steve Jaggs, keeper of the clock, say? He must be furious.
“I have the great honour of ensuring this beautiful piece of Victorian engineering is in top condition on a daily basis. This essential programme of works will safeguard the clock as well as protecting and preserving its home – the Elizabeth Tower.”
OK, less animated than I assumed for such an unprecedented moment.
Well not quite. Big Ben fell silent for maintenance in 2007. The bells also stopped between 1983 and 1985 as part of a refurbishment programme.
But what about New Year’s Eve? Will London’s famous ragbag collective of revellers and drunks have to gather round a Beefeater who will strike a teaspoon against a Champagne glass at the appropriate moment? Think of the logistics. I don’t even know if Beefeaters have legitimate access to Champagne glasses.
Don’t fret. Apparently concessions are going to be made for New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Day when the bells mark the start of two minutes’ silence.
Well, at least we can still tell the time.
Again, something of a curate’s egg there, chum. As part of the project, the Great Clock itself will be dismantled piece by piece. The four dials will be carefully cleaned, the glass repaired, the cast iron framework renewed, and the hands will be removed and refurbished. Hey, hey. Don’t cry. One working clock face will remain visible at all times throughout the works.
It’s not that. I’ve just thought… has anyone broken the news to Sir Trevor McDonald?
The Elizabeth Tower contains Big Ben