Police in Edmonton, north London, yesterday. Photo: Getty
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Are beheadings terrorism? Palmira Silva was the third woman to be decapitated in London this year

On politicising a tragedy.

Yesterday, an 82-year-old woman called Palmira Silva was killed in her garden in Edmonton, north London. 

She is the hundredth woman killed by a man this year; the first was 87-year-old Elsie Mowbray, who died in hospital on 8 January from injuries sustained when her house was burgled on New Year's Day. A 33-year-old man has been charged. The 50th, according to the list maintained by campaigner Karen Ingala Smith, was Ann Maguire - the teacher stabbed in her classroom. 

I was shocked when I read of Palmira Silva's death - not by the fact of it, unfortunately, but because of the way in which it happened. She was beheaded.

The assailant is alleged to be a 25-year-old man, who "waved a machete-like weapon as he wandered screaming and shouting through private gardens", according to the Guardian.

Let's take a moment to talk about connections. 

The Sun's front page this morning reports that the alleged perpetrator was a "Muslim convert". Inside, its report reads:

"The killing follows the brutal beheadings on video of two US journalists by IS jihadists. But police yesterday stressed there was no evidence of a terrorist connection."

Oddly enough, like the Sun, my thoughts immediately went to the IS beheadings when I heard about this story, too - albeit for totally different reasons. On Tuesday, I wrote a piece on how revenge porn, hacked photos and online harassment were, in my opinion, forms of "terrorism". They are not intended merely to harm the individuals targeted, but to create a spectacle which makes all women feel a little more insecure, a little more afraid.

The reaction was, shall we say, mixed. Among the critical comments, one theme repeatedly came up: I was "hysterical" to compare "real terrorism" with having naked photos published on the internet. Many a wag tweeted me to the effect that they would rather get online abuse than their head chopped off in Iraq.

Because I am nothing if not willing to pour hours into pointless arguments, I replied to some of these men (#notallmen) that of course, the comparison wasn't perfect and true in every way - it would not then be a comparison. They would just be literally the same thing. But I still think the similarities of intent, method and effect are noteworthy.

And then a woman had her head chopped off, not ten miles from where I live and work. 

Now, I have no idea whether Palmira Silva was targeted because she was a woman. We might never know this. She might have tried to be compassionate to the killer, she might have known him a little, she might have simply been the first person in his way. 

But here is the second shocking fact about the way she died: Palmira Silva is the third woman to be beheaded in London this year. 

On 3 June, a 38-year-old woman called Tahira Ahmed was found decapitated at her home in West London. The neighbours reported hearing a loud argument. Her husband has been charged with her murder.

In April, 60-year-old woman called Judith Nibbs was beheaded in Shoreditch. Her 67-year-old estranged husband was found at the scene. Police are not looking for anyone else. The day after Judith died, her daughter - who is severely disabled - tweeted the single word: "Mum?"

In the last few years, Karen Ingala Smith - the CEO of the charity which I chair, Nia - has maintained a list of every woman killed by a man in this country. Yesterday, she wrote about beheadings. As well as Judith Nibbs and Tahira Ahmed, she has recorded others:

Last year, in June, Reema Ramzan, 18, was decapitated by boyfriend, Aras Hussain, 21. The year before, in October 2012, Catherine Gowing, 39, was decapitated and raped by serial rapist Clive Sharp, 47. In March the same year Elizabeth Coriat, 76, was decapitated by her son Daniel Coriat, 43; earlier the same month, Gemma McCluskie, 29, had been decapitated by her brother Tony McCluskie, 36.  

In May, she wrote about Ann Maguire, the 50th woman to die this year. It was not an "isolated incident", she argued: "Between April 2001 and March 2012 . . . 31.8 per cent of homicide victims were women, 68.2 per cent were men. 6.1 per cent of people convicted of murder were women, 93.9 per cent were men". In other words, men kill men, men kill women - but women only rarely kill anyone at all. 

I remember the response to Karen's piece: many people were angry with her at talking about male violence in this context. Some accused her of "politicising a tragedy" or "scoring points".

If you want to talk about politicising a tragedy, let's talk about the death of Palmira Silva. Why did her death make the front pages, when Judith Nibbs and Tahira Ahmed did not?

Because she was not allegedly killed by an ex-partner or family member, which is "normal".

Because her death seems to be random - it could have happened to anyone, even a man.

Because terrorism is real when it's Islamists against the west, but violence against women is just the background hum of our lives. 

This year, in the city where I live, in twenty-first century Britain with its smartphones and coalition government and internet commenters telling me that feminism has gone too far, three women have been beheaded. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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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.