Lez Miserable: "Ooh, look at that one - it's got veins!"

Meet our new columnist, Eleanor Margolis, as she takes a frank, funny and cynical tour through life as a twentysomething lesbian. In her first piece, her vibrator bites the dust, and her mother is keen to help her replace it.

It’s morning. I’m having my "early 20s English lit graduate, existential ennui-stricken lesbian, post-sleep nap". All of a sudden, the puppies licking my face in my dream scarper. They’re being chased off by something that I can only describe as part-werewolf, part-blender. I sit bolt upright in bed. I’ve been woken by a loud rattling sound coming from my chest of drawers.

I freeze. I recently watched Paranormal Activity. I know how this goes.

After about 30 seconds frozen to the spot, my mouth slightly open and my heart pounding, I summon up the courage to investigate. I sneak up to my chest of drawers, empty Mini Cheddars packets crunching under my feet, and tentatively open the “haunted” drawer.

Relief. No lurking satanic spirit here. Just my vibrator that has somehow managed to switch itself on. I pick it up, study it for a few seconds, then switch it off. I try to switch it on again. Nothing. I replace the battery – number one rule of being single: always have spare batteries. Still no sign of life.

And then it hits me – I’ve bored my vibrator into an early grave. Was that final buzz in fact a death rattle? I only ever used it on one setting – continuous vibrate. All the other vibration patterns just seemed a bit… Edwina Currie.

So this is where I’m at, sex-wise. I can’t even keep my vibrator interested. I may be the first woman in history to have hit ‘lesbian bed death’ without the remotest sign of lesbian bed life.

Something must be done. First things first, I’m going to need a new vibrator. I Google “buy sex toys”, which is now tattooed onto my search history alongside, “diabetes symptoms”, “dealing with neurosis” and “is nipple hair normal?”

The selection is overwhelming. My old vibrator was fairly basic – a longish thing that, up until a few moments ago, went bzzz. The new, sexually adventurous me wants something fancier. Rabbits seem a bit 90s and all these double-penetration gizmos with twirly bits coming out in every direction just aren’t very… me.

“Ooh, look at that one – it’s got veins!

My mum has snuck up behind me (one of the many hazards of having moved back in with my parents). She’s peering over my shoulder, squinting slightly because she doesn’t have her reading glasses on. Horrified, I slam my laptop shut.

“The problem with your generation,” she says, “Is you think you invented sex.” And off she trots to make a cup of Lady Grey.

Back to my search. I remember Fab, the online eclectic cool stuff shop, does a line in masturbation-chic. I got an email about it a while ago, back when me and the old vibrator were going strong. I check out what Fab has to offer and come face to face with the battery-operated companion of my dreams. It looks like an Alessi peppermill, perfectly combining two of my greatest loves: design and having orgasms. A few clicks later, it’s mine.

But this isn’t enough to cure my case of the borings. Must buy more sex toys. Must be exciting. I’ve never owned a strap-on, but suddenly feel that I need one. Immediately. Maybe I’ll start carrying it around in my bag, just in case. I browse through various online sex shops, and end up spending £50 on a high-end strap-on. I reason that I should get something sturdy. I remember an old Jewish saying that my mum likes to quote when justifying spending £500 on a toaster: “What’s cheap is dear.”

The next day I’m woken up by more vibrating. This time it’s just my phone. I pick up and grunt something.

“Hello, is that Ms Margolis?”

“Yeah…”

“My name is Andy, I’m calling from Barclays, regarding some unusual activity on your debit card”.

Shit.

“Oh…”

Andy takes me through some security questions. I know exactly what’s coming. And here it is:

“Now, Ms Margolis, I need you to confirm that you recently spent £50 at bedroompleasures.co.uk?”

My free hand is tightly clamped to my face.

“Uh, yeah. I may have done that”.

“Are you certain, Ms Margolis?”

“Yes. That is a thing that I definitely did.”

“OK, Ms Margolis. I’m going to unblock your card immediately. I’m very sorry for any inconvenience.”

So, the moment I step out of my sandwiches, clothes and Superdrug own-brand ibuprofen bubble of spending drudgery, alarms go off. It’s like the bank knows that I never get laid. It assumes that someone sexy and exciting must have stolen my card. Time to face it, Ms Margolis: you’re staid.

I thank Andy and hang up. I spend a few minutes screaming into my pillow.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose column "Lez Miserable" will appear weekly on the New Statesman website. She tweets @eleanormargolis

A cart full of sex toys. Photo: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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.