With everything that is happening around the world at the moment – Trump V North Korea, Charlie Gard, Far Right revival – it never ceases to amaze me what politicians and the media become fixated on. Perhaps it is just silly season and MPs have a little too much time on their hands in the summer recess but a row has erupted over plans to silence Parliament’s Big Ben whilst essential restoration work is carried out.
“The Blitz could not silence Big Ben, but the Little Hitler’s of elf’n’safety have succeeded where the Fuhrer failed,” the Daily Mail‘s Richard Littlejohn thunders.
Taking time out from the small matter of Brexit negotiations, David Davis is calling the plan “mad” and said he didn’t see why the clock needed to stay silent for the majority of the four-year construction project and told the estate’s authorities to “just get on with it“.
Easy for them to say, but he is not one of the restorers who could be working within a few metres of the iconic clock when it bongs every 15 minutes and can be heard across the Capital. At 118 dBs, the decibels recorded against Big Ben’s chimes wouldn’t just nudge against the Noise at Work regulations, they take them to the top end of what’s permissible, even if you are only exposed for a few minutes a day.
In fact, if workers were to wear standard hearing protection and the bongs were allowed to continue – it would take approximately 64 years to complete the restoration within safe limits of noise exposure.
In a world when cockerels and even budgerigars are reported for making too much noise I really can’t see how anyone would object to protecting workers from serious and long-term damage to their hearing.
Apparently, MPs are demanding a review of whether it’s necessary to silence the chimes. They’ve asked officials to examine the cost and practical implications of ringing the Great Bell more often than is planned. As it stands, Big Ben will cease ringing at noon next week and will chime only on special occasions – including New Year’s Eve – until construction finishes in 2021.
Parliamentary officials rightfully are insisting that Big Ben’s bong would put the hearing of workers at “serious risk”. The TUC public sectors union said silencing the chimes was “common sense“.
Hear hear to that!
If the bong ban stays in place then it will longest period Big Ben has been silenced in its 157-year history. But if nothing else it should be a “timely” reminder to the contractors to try and get the Parliamentary repairs done, if not ahead, then certainly on schedule.
Big Ben facts:
- Big Ben is the name of the huge bell, but most people use it to refer to the clock and the tower as well. It is the world’s largest chiming clock with four faces.
- The clock tower was built between 1843 and 1858 and is 316 feet high.
- Big Ben was probably named for the Commissioner of Works, Benjamin Hall, a man well known for his large size.
- The clock tower has featured in dozens of movies, including Shanghai Knights and the 1978 version of The 39 Steps. Both films feature a climax with the hero hanging from the clock hands.
- The minute hand on Big Ben weighs about 220 pounds and is just over 12 feet long.
- Every year, the hand travels the equivalent of about 118 miles.
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