The cult of Pippa Middleton’s bum

Don’t get angry at magazines for writing about Philippa’s bottom – we’re the ones who read the stuff

"So bot's happened to perky Pippa?" chortled the Daily Star this morning, next to a photo of the most famous bottom in the world. Just the bottom. On its own. We don't need a face, or eyes, or a person attached to it. This is the arse that rules the world – or our popular culture, anyway.

It seems that P-Middy's derrière has achieved iconic status after appearing at the royal wedding – so much so, that the lady, the human being with a soul, to whom it belongs is becoming somewhat dehumanised. Pippa Middleton, a person most of us hadn't heard of before 29 April, has skyrocketed into the celebrity stratosphere – then nosedived into obscurity, with only her rear end remaining visible. It's strange how the cult of the Middleton rump has come about, but there it is; we don't get to choose these things.

"Fans fear Her Royal Hotness Pippa Middleton is in danger of losing her biggest ass-et," burbles Nigel Pauley in the Star, accompanied by two enormous photos of the buttocks belonging to the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge. Apparently, "the posh totty is losing her famous botty", much to the chagrin of her (or its) fans. Horrors!

I know, I know. This is just the Daily Star. Why am I bothering? It's like fisking the Beano. Except I think it would be wrong to think this iconification of an arse is confined to the "male gaze" of tabloid papers.

"It's all about PIPPA," gurgles Heat magazine. "She's naughty, she's a man magnet and she's got THAT bum! DRESSES IN LOO ROLL! BOOZY PARTIES! CLOSET CHAV!" Inside, we learn that "P-Middy" loves her VODKA and she dances in her BRA. Breathless stuff. And then there's what seems to me a slightly stalkery turn at the end of the four-page article: "We think we're in love with you. Welcome to Heat." Oh. Welcome to the Hotel California, P-Middy.

Grazia has also developed a bit of a girl-crush on Pippa M, it would seem. "May we just take the opportunity to congratulate you on your unparalleled hotness," it warbles this week, accompanied by 20 (twenty) pictures of Prince William's sister-in-law. It's like looking at a teenager's bedroom. By the time I'd wearily trawled through Now magazine, it was becoming a fairly familiar tale.

In whispers, "a close pal" was conveniently sharing secrets about her private life, and there were pictures of people called Jecca and Kitty, about whom we are supposed to care. Look magazine splutters on about how she is "torn between two men", according to a "source", and gives tips on how to "get Pippa's buns". Good God. Is this what it's come to? A whole person's life boiled down to their bum?

But they're doing this for a reason. As I've said before, it's easy and wrong to dismiss this kind of celebrity candyfloss as being worthless, or somehow deserving of scorn or contempt, as being beneath us. It isn't – because it's what we want to read about. Time was when you had to guess what your readers wanted: now web searches will tell you what they want, and what you've got to give them. The SEO expert Malcolm Coles shows how the Daily Mail, inter alia, has hoovered up web searches for the phrase "Pippa Middleton's arse" without telling their readers their naughty little secret.**

I don't know whether to laugh or cry sometimes. I think let's laugh. Laugh at the madness. Laugh at the way in which a bum at a wedding has turned us all into drooling Neanderthals. Laugh at the scampering among the newspapers and celebrity mags to capture this interest while it's still fresh.

And laugh, too, at how soon it will all fade away, I suppose. In the meantime, just marvel at the madness.

** Needless to say, I know my readers, you bright things. You're one step ahead of me already and have worked out that I am a disgusting hypocrite. I can sense the fingers shuffling over the keyboards already. "Aha!" you type, with an assiduous flourish. "You're just doing the same yourself, Baxter, you knavish cueball. The only reason you've written this piece yourself is to get a bit of the Middleton bum love, hoping to attract frenzied onanists to your outpourings."

** May I defend myself? I am aware that this may potentially be an unfortunate and unwelcome side effect of this discussion, but I can hardly talk about the Cult of Pippa's Arse without, well, talking about what it is I'm talking about, can I? I anticipate your valid criticism and take it very much on board, but it really does give me no pleasure to be the beneficiary of such searches. If anything, it makes my already heavy heart just a little heavier.

** And there: with one bound, I am free.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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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.