Jude Kelly: “In another hundred years, men and women will play different roles altogether”

The artistic director of the Southbank Centre takes the NS Centenary Questionnaire.


Illustration: Ellie Foreman-Peck

What is the most important invention of the past hundred years?

Contraception. It has allowed a part of the population to be economically independent, in terms of monitoring how they want to use time in their lives. That’s why I still find it extraordinary that the world doesn’t look upon the Catholic Church as if it’s trying to prevent human rights.

What is the most important scientific discovery of the past hundred years and why?

String theory. It allows you into the extraordinary imaginative proposition that space and time are the same. You can see how vague I’m being – it took me three attempts to pass A-level science. It’s theory I find the most exciting and creative.

What is the greatest sporting event of the past hundred years?

The first Paralympics in 1948 – they changed our understanding of what human beings are capable of doing.

Who is the most influential or significant politician of the past hundred years?

Nelson Mandela. To have used his time in detention to build a picture for himself of what peace could look like and then implemented it is politics at its finest.

And author?

Doris Lessing. She was an extraordinary intellect and an amazing charter of the sexual, political and economic conflicts of women. I’m amazed she got the Nobel Prize so late in life.

And playwright?

Samuel Beckett. He’s an absolute minority taste, an example of an artist who reshaped form. He is the ultimate playwright, who dramatised our existential quest for meaning.

How about anyone in business?

Anita Roddick. When I was growing up she was overt and unabashed about saying that business could and should be ethical. She was often ridiculed and was very much a lone voice, so she has been a huge influence.

And sportsperson?

Muhammad Ali. Boxing is something I instinctively want to turn away from, as I feel slightly repelled by the idea. But he used his celebrity status and incredible talent to speak about politics and racism.

What is your favourite quotation?

I love the thought that went into “the price of everything and the value of nothing”. If economic value is the most valid proof that people want, it’s a bit like wanting to prove that love has fiscal value.

What is your favourite speech?

Prospero’s speech in Act IV, Scene One of The Tempest. It’s a speech about understanding mortality. It is wonderfully poignant and is essentially about being able to say farewell to everything on a daily basis.

What do you think will be the most significant change to our lives in the next hundred years?

The next phase of women’s emancipation. Life is already unrecognisable in some countries in some ways. Although progress feels slow, you look back to women still trying to get the vote at the turn of the 20th century and you think, “That’s extraordinary change.” I’m convinced in another hundred years men and women will play different roles altogether.

What is your greatest concern about the future?

Climate change. Because it’s another one of those things that can be abused. First of all, none of us has any idea of the real impact of what could happen. Millions could become refugees – and then how would other countries cope?

What will be the most dramatic development in your own field of work?

Speaking about the coming 100 years, can everyone learn to read and write? Could they or should they? No one asks that any more. In my field of work there is still the idea that some people have artistic feelings and others don’t. I don’t think that’s true: everyone has a powerful imagination and the capacity to be expressive. The most radical thing is already happening. And it is that the population will participate in the arts not as audiences, but they will become part of the expressive work. It will become part of their normal activities, and will change their cultural status.

What is the top priority for the future well-being of people and our planet?

Learning how to navigate the brain. Neuroscience is telling us an enormous amount about what triggers operate in us; where we store our memories and our feelings. We’re beginning to understand scientifically and intuitively a great deal about our sense of being. That could change both domestic and community life.

Jude Kelly is the artistic director of the Southbank Centre

This article first appeared in the 08 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The God Gap

Getty
Show Hide image

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.