Give me Jimmy Savile over Tamara Ecclestone any day

Ostentatious shows of wealth didn’t detract from the late Sir Jimmy Savile’s generosity.

Ostentatious shows of wealth didn’t detract from the late Sir Jimmy Savile’s generosity.

Is there anybody more tasteless than Tamara Ecclestone? With her haut-chav dress sense, cupboards stuffed with once-worn Louboutins, garages full of Ferraris and, on Friday, a TV programme dedicated to her absurd life, Ecclestone is surely the airbrushed face -- actually, the entire embodiment -- of unacceptable capitalism.

Like Peter Mandelson, I can do filthy rich, and I have no problem with people like Ecclestone having huge piles of inherited dough. What gets me is the ostentatious consumption and the showing-off. If I were as rich as Ecclestone, I'd keep quiet about my gewgaws, and certainly wouldn't parade them on TV or in some Desmond glossy.

It's not only vulgar, but deeply insensitive to those who are paid badly, if at all. Besides, someone should tell Tamara that stealth wealth is far more attractive than her über-garagiste bling, but then maybe she's not trying to impress the likes of me. Her type of man probably wears those heinous blue suede slipper-shoes with crests on them, and wears £1,000-jeans and an untucked white shirt and smokes the type of fags you can only buy in Monaco.

In his way, the late Sir Jimmy Savile was just as tasteless, with his chunky gold jewellery, massive cigars, heinous tracksuits and insistence on the latest Roller or Bentley. On the surface, Sir Jimmy was certainly Tamara's kind of guy. But that's the point - it was just the surface. Sir Jimmy's appearance was purely an act, all for show, part of the brand.

The point about Sir Jimmy was not the bling, but the giving. According to his obituary in the Times, Sir Jimmy was said to have given away 90 per cent of his earnings to charity. Thanks to the £12m he raised, the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital was established. For many years, Sir Jimmy worked one day a week as a hospital porter at Leeds Infirmary. He was a regular visitor to Broadmoor, and even headed a group that helped to run the hospital.

"But what about all my charity work?" I can hear Tamara screaming. "I'm an ambassador to PETA! I was creative director of the 2010 Great Ormond Street F1 party! I'm active with the Dogs Trust!" Chief among Tamara's charitable achievements is her campaign against -- wait for it -- foie gras.

According to her website, and this is hard to read without laughing, Tamara has "personally contacted all the teams and sponsors involved in Formula 1 motor racing to advise them about this cruel food and to ask them to pledge never to serve it at events". Wow, way to go Tamara! Well done! And such a pressing and important issue for you to throw your wealth behind!

If Tamara really wants to live her life well, she should take a look at Sir Jimmy. You're allowed your bling and your cash if you really give to charity, and I don't mean accepting twinkly ambassadorships and going to fundraisers.

What Tamara should do is to take off the Manolos and the slap, tie her hair back, and quietly and anonymously work in a local hospital or hospice.

Maybe she already does that, in which case, I apologise and I shall give up foie gras. But somehow I doubt it.

 

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.