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Big Ben's Bongs
Member Name: spacelamb
Date: 12/10/01, updated on 15/10/01 (1813 review reads)
Advantages: see op
Disadvantages: see op
(By the way, I’m reviewing the district and not the borough. Did you know that Oxford Street, Soho, Chinatown, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden – in fact about 80% of London’s tourist attractions – are in the borough of Westminster? If I get bogged down in all that gubbins, this op is going to be of publishable length.)
Ahem. Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome your host, Les Dennis!
“Fingers on buzzers. The top three answers are on the board. We asked one hundred people to name something associated with Westminster.”
“Um…well…let’s see if Flipper is on the board.”
“No, it’s not right. That means the Robinsons have the chance to steal the game.”
“Is it sesame seed baps?”
“Okaaaaaay. Let’s see if sesame seed baps are there.”
Oh, enough of this nonsense. Let’s stretch our imaginations somewhat, and pretend that you, an individual with complete working faculties, are a contestant on Family Fortunes. What would you guess?
“Bzzz! Big Ben.”
“Yes, that’s our top answer. And you’ve won a spot prize. Let’s have a look at what you’ve won…it’s a pair of cheap plastic binoculars!”
That really is the end of the Family Fortunes thing now. Big Ben is probably Westminster’s top attraction. It’s an internationally recognised monument. And of course it’s absolutely free, which must be a huge pull for tourists. In fact when you look at it, it&
#8217;s twenty pence cheaper than having a wee at Charing Cross station down the road. Which is a bit backwards.
Big Ben is not actually the name of the clock. It’s the name of the 13-ton bell inside. You know, the one that used to do the ‘bongs’ on the 9 o’clock news. The one that announces the new year after a tiresome evening of Wogan, sherry and left-over Quality Street (always coconut and toffee pennies in our house – how ‘bout everyone else?). Although I’m not sure about the merits of a giant clock being the symbol of our capital (not very exciting, is it?) I have a real fondness for Big Ben. I’m loath to admit this, but walking through Parliament Square as it ‘bongs’ the time always gives me shivers, even though I hear it at least twice a day. There’s something very robust and reassuring about it, and something very ‘London’. You can feel all the history of the city with each chime. In the Blitz in 1941 the House of Commons was completely destroyed, but Big Ben still stood, never missing a stroke, and I really like that. I also like how it always looks majestic – against a brilliant blue sky on a summer day, against a blanket of darkness in the silence of the night (chugging night buses excepted), against stormy clouds and sheets of rain. I’m getting all sentimental about the stupid thing now.
Other Big Ben facts: (1) there is a light above the clock face which only shines when Parliament are in session, and (2) there is a Big Ben webcam at www.camvista.com/england/london/bigben.php3. No, honestly. The only situation where I can imagine this site being remotely useful is if you are stranded somewhere without a clock. But with a computer. Not likely, is it? Hang on, computers have clocks anyway. So it qualifies as Completely Pointless.
Going back to Family Fortunes (briefly, I promise), what would be second on the board? I woul
d hazard a guess at Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is a beautiful, beautiful building. It’s been the setting for every coronation since 1066, and anybody who’s anybody is buried there, from Charles Darwin to Laurence Olivier. But when all’s said and done, it’s just a church, and charging people £6 to get in (£3 concessions) seems a bit cheeky. Services are free though, if you can get a seat (Londoners are quite preoccupied with ‘getting a seat’ by the way, be it on the tube or at The Ivy); I’ve never been, but I imagine it’s rather busier than your average St Mary’s. For service times and special events, go to www.westminster-abbey.org.
“Okay there’s one remaining answer. For a chance to win the game, can you name one more thing associated with Westminster? Confer if you wish.”
“We think it’s Mario Brothers, Les.”
Sorry, I can’t help myself. Well, the third answer is not Mario Brothers but Government. All the big decisions are made here in Westminster. Apparently.
An introduction to Government by spacelamb, aged 22 and three quarters:
The House of Commons is where Tony and his cronies meet for tea, biscuits and a bit of a wrangle about the perplexing issues of the day. The House of Lords is a glorified old folks’ home, within whose walls doddery peers make disapproving grunts about crime and immigration. They probably have tea and biscuits there too. Maybe even chocolate digestives. 10 Downing Street, with its famous black door, has housed PMs since 1732 and is currently where Tony plays Lego and practices the guitar. Whitehall is where most of the other Government Departments are, the people who make the menial decisions about sugar beet and pavements.
I’m not trying to belittle the work of the Government. I’m not, because I work f
or them, and I don’t want my life to be futile. But then I have had a good five hours today in which to write this op, and that must tell you something.
While we’re discussing parliamentary matters (or sort of) – one thing which would not have appeared on the Family Fortunes board is Civil Servant Central, more commonly known as Victoria Street, which links Parliament Square to Victoria station and is a veritable mine of sandwiches. Otherwise this is perhaps the dullest road in London. There’s a McDonalds. A Clintons. A Boots. (Wide open YAWN.) There’s also an Army and Navy department store, which is part of the House of Frazer group and does not, as I initially suspected, sell surplus combats. This is where civil servants come to buy last-minute presents and Anais Anais for their mistresses. I probably shouldn’t say things like that, should I?
Slightly more interesting is Strutton Ground, which is a side road off Vicky Street. Never before have so many eateries been placed so close together! But at least you have lunchtime variety. There’s also a (not very good) market and an (excellent) Oxfam Books. The Channel 4 building on Horseferry Road, which has a rather natty external lift, is a couple of minutes’ walk away. And so is Pimlico, which has quasi-shops and the Tate Britain, so well done there.
Back to important people. Take a look at this, from www.westminster.gov.uk, if you can bring yourself to:
“The Lord Mayor is Westminster's first citizen, second in status within the City to Royalty and to the Lord Lieutenant when the latter is representing The Queen. He is formally referred to as "The Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Westminster" and addressed as "My Lord Mayor" or, less formally, as "Lord Mayor"…On civic and major occasions the Lord Mayor of Westminster wears a blue and gold robe.”
Now Ken Livingstone, London&
#8217;s directly elected mayor, wears a beige suit for civic and major occasions. In fact for every occasion. He probably sleeps in that suit. But he and Bob Kiley are the only people talking any sense about the tube right now, so I’m not going to take issue with his dress sense. In any case, I just wanted to put that paragraph in because it made me chuckle.
Okay, so what else can you do in Westminster?
Well Buckingham Palace is in SW1, so you can see the changing of the guard. It smells of horse poo, but you’ll find yourself floating back into your childhood and humming that Christopher Robin song. Come on, you remember:
They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace
Christopher Robin went down with Alice
Alice is marrying one of the guard
A soldier’s life is terrible hard (says Alice)
No? Maybe it’s just me then. You could always go to St James’ Park instead, which is lovely and has some really strange ducks in it. They’re black and white and orange and their feet are massive. No, they’re not geese. Honest. They carry sticks in their beaks. And they’re really funny when they run. In summer this place is Civil Servant Central II (Strikes Back / Returns / The Revenge Of etc), with every square centimetre of lawn covered in civil servants chomping on their Vicky Street focaccia. In winter you can actually move around in there, and (like all London parks) it looks ace if you’re lucky enough to get snow.
Don’t fancy it? Scared of ducks, are you?
Taking in the view from Westminster Bridge is something that I would genuinely recommend that you do (actually from any of the Thames bridges, but particularly this one or Waterloo Bridge). Like hearing Big Ben’s Bongs (sounds like a porno somehow), looking out over this scene makes me proud to be a Londoner. Okay, I’m from Middlesex (we’ve been here before). But I’m proud to
call this city my home.
And yes, in spite of my general cynicism, I’m proud to tell people I work in Westminster, to be a tiny cog in a big machine, to be in amongst all the hustle and bustle, and to pass David Blunkett on the stairs. I did, you know.