Slightly sexist?

Hazel Blears's height, the Zimmers and Tinky Winky's sexual orientation

Dear Marina,

I was watching the deputy hustings on Newsnight the other day and thought that Cruddas was gorgeous. But why was Hazel Blears sitting on a chair all the way through. Do you know why?
 
Confused of the North East
 
At 4ft 10 inches Ms Blears punches well above her height in the Labour party. But she obviously lacks influence at the BBC where the Newsnight director could easily have arranged for candidates to be seated, thus allowing the cameras to track smoothly along the line up without skimming across the top of her head and on to the next candidate.

Or they could have given her a soap box to stand on. There’s not enough of that sort of business in politics these days. I call upon the chair of the Labour Party to carry her own in future. I may not agree with all she says (suggesting criminals be dressed orange boiler suits for community work – I ask you) but she’s a feisty female and I have to respect her ilk. As for you, confused of North East, I suspect you are slightly sexist and really, quite rude.

Dear Marina,

Pop music has sunk to a new low. I thought we'd seen it all with Mr Blobby but now fame - hungry pop artists are dressing up as pensioners just to get in the top ten. What next, people in terrorist bomb belts singing Auld Lang Syne?

Angry of Peckham

Don’t be crass. The Zimmers, a band with a collective age of over 3000, has released a cover version of The Who’s My Generation to raise awareness of the plight of the elderly and cash for Age Concern.

The elderly are a much maligned and extremely lonely demographic mainly due to them living too long to be much use, not being able to resist voting Tory and hating young people.

But Age Concern does much good, for example electric blanket checking and podiatry sessions. So go out and buy the record. These people were active in the war, for which we must be grateful. And how have they been repaid? Their pensions don’t keep up with fuel price and council tax rises, they pass on still waiting for hearing aids, cataracts and hip operations on the NHS and get rewarded for their voting habits by continued council tax rises and cuts to essential adult social services.

Either they’ll learn, or die trying.

Dear Marina,

I am a bloke who likes to wear a purple babygrow with a coat hanger sticking out of my head, so imagine my shock when Ewa Sowinska who is influential in the Polish government took issue with my handbag saying it made me seem like a poofter. Has the world gone mad?
 
Tinky Winky

I think what Ewa Sowinska actually said is you and your purse could possibly promote homosexuality. Interesting, given the majority of those watching are babies – could their sexuality really be influenced by an actor in a purple jump suit carrying the kind of handbag made iconic by Maggie T?

I have only two concerns: firstly Teletubbies encourages students to smoke too much dope. Secondly, the programme inculcates TV viewing habits which is soooooo bad for young tots, stifling communication skills and setting them up for a life on the sofa watching crap.

Swing your handbag with pride, Tinky Winky. If Teletubbies gets banned in Poland we’ll have more communicative plumbers and bar staff and the skunk will go further in a drought.

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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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.