This post is being reposted for two reasons. Firstly, because my long time friend, the bell in Big Ben, is being turned off for some lengthy repairs, and I feel as though someone has died… and secondly, because my brain is in meltdown mode at the moment. More about this next week!
Big Ben has always been a very special symbol in my life. I grew up in London and the deep resonant tones of the bell and the imposing majesty of the building is one of the most enduring memories of my time there.
London has many such landmarks and I love them all, but that tall clock tower on the river Thames embankment is far and away my favourite. By rights, my favourite should be the river itself, feeling as I do about water, but no. Very close though.
‘Big Ben’ is really just a nickname for the great bell itself, inside the famous clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. Built in 1858 and 96 metres high, it is the largest four faced chiming clock in the world. But the big bell itself is not the biggest. St Pauls Cathedral has a slightly bigger one, weighing in at 17 tonnes.
Scarily, the tower leans slightly to the North West, apparently caused by the tunnelling for the Jubilee Line Underground train.
I came across this picture of Big Ben a few weeks ago, and I was instantly transported me back to another New Years Eve so many years ago.
That particular year, my friends and I had decided to celebrate the coming of the New Year in style. We would attempt some kind of pub crawl, visiting as many bars and public houses that we could manage, in spite of the volume of people all doing the same thing; ending up at the embankment for the fireworks and Big Ben’s majestic chimes.
We had such fun that night even though I knew I would not contemplate doing it again, as the amount of people all seriously intent on having as much fun as possible, created more madness and chaos than I ever thought possible and a lot of the time I was scared to death.
You see all the crowds on television, but could you imagine being there?
Of course, there should have been so much more trouble that there actually was, that many people most of them hysterical with excitement and booze should have deteriorated into a riot. But it never seems to. No matter how squashed, drunk or freezing cold you happened to be, there was some kind of reverence going on, as if it would be a sin to ruin that night in any way.
Our journey around London that night was exciting, but I was glad when we found ourselves by the river just before midnight. We had left most of the throng behind and it was almost eerily quiet by the water. The fireworks were further up river and we seemed to have Big Ben all to ourselves.
It was very cold that night, but at least it wasn’t raining. I was one of the few people in our group that didn’t have a partner, something I knew I would be wishing to change in the New Year. I had no idea of the direction my life would be taking. No plans and not many dreams either, for I had already learned that dreaming was futile.
So that evening ended up on quite a solemn note, and as the hands of the clock above us moved closer to the 12, the tears were not far away.
I had never been that close to Big Ben before and was not prepared for how loud the chimes would be. First came the melody and the vibrations seemed to travel up my legs until my whole body seemed to be humming. When the big bell started to chime the hour, the vibrations became longer and deeper and it felt as though my heart would break.
More than fifty years later, the sound of that bell has the same effect, instantly transforming me into that lonely young woman who had already taught herself not to believe in dreams.
I obviously knew a thing or two back then, for my life has not been full of the stuff that dreams are made of, rather the opposite. But I am still here, not quite ready to give up.
This week I have been pretty miserable because someone has given me the flu. It’s my own fault, I missed my annual flu jab so I can’t really complain. What I have been doing is reading Dan Brown’s new novel, ‘Inferno’. Based in Florence, I have been escorted around this city in style, visiting the most amazing places. I have always wanted to visit Italy but now I have a list of all the best places to go. More on this subject next week.
So thank you Dan, for your brilliant writing, which has brightened up my week considerably!
Come back soon, Benjamin!