Jemima Khan to guest-edit the New Statesman

A free speech special issue featuring contributions from Julian Assange, Anish Kapoor, Oliver Stone,

The human rights campaigner Jemima Khan will be guest-editing the New Statesman this week for a special issue focusing on freedom of information and free speech. Inside the 72-page issue, Khan has interviewed the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who speaks candidly about life in the coalition government, his relationship with David Cameron and the pain of being hated.

A wide range of writers have been commissioned, from Tony Benn – who outlines how the information age has enabled the Arab revolts – to the Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins, whose witty and provocative article takes the press to task. Another Oscar winner, Oliver Stone – the director of JFK, Nixon and W – gives his verdict on the US president, Barack Obama.

There's an exclusive article by Julian Assange, who argues that WikiLeaks follows in the best traditions of the radical press. He will also be speaking at the sold-out New Statesman/Frontline Club debate on whistleblowing in London on Saturday 9 April.

Alongside columns by the comedian Russell Brand, the singer Jarvis Cocker and the England cricketer Kevin Pietersen, the issue features reportage on New Orleans from James Fox, a hard-hitting essay on the dangers of foreign "over-intervention" by the Conservative MP Rory Stewart and a condemnation of Pakistan's blasphemy laws by the Lahore-based human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.

Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, said: "I asked Jemima Khan to guest-edit the New Statesman because I admired her work as a human rights activist in Pakistan and her support for freedom of information.

"We met for a Marmite-and-toast breakfast in January and have been planning the issue ever since. Her enthusiasm and diligence have delighted the whole team. The issue has many surprises and some first-rate journalism, as well as outstanding bespoke artwork, as will be revealed on Thursday."

Jemima Khan, writer and campaigner, said: "I am very grateful to Jason for inviting me to guest-edit this week's issue of the New Statesman. I am a huge fan of the magazine. My task was to bring in new writers – a daunting one, as New Statesman regulars include some of my favourite writers, such as my fellow WikiLeaks supporter John Pilger, my favourite Question Time panellist, Mehdi Hasan, and the philosopher John Gray. I had great fun working with the NS team and enlisting the help of writers who express my own thoughts but with more eloquence, clarity or wit."

Among the contributors in this special issue of the New Statesman are: Simon Pegg, Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Alain de Botton, Helena Kennedy, Daisy Donovan, Mariella Frostrup, John Pilger, A A Gill and Karma Nabulsi.

The issue, cover-dated 11 April, will be on sale in London on Thursday 7 April and in the rest of the country from Friday 8 April. International buyers can obtain copies on our website at newstatesman.com.

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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.