Horologists are working around the clock to ensure that the world’s most iconic timepiece and in particular its eponymous great bell are working in time for the next official opening of parliament in 2021. Contractors acknowledged being late and over budget and were told by the Westminster Clerk of Works, Ben Little, that the “clock is ticking”, an unfortunate turn of phrase seized upon by the media who were quick to point out that “the clock is very much not ticking”.
This soon deteriorated into a tsunami of silly questions and jokes which the wretched Clerk was totally unprepared for. The Daily Express asked if this was a “wind up”, the Mail on Sunday suggested that management should have been more “hands on”. A Sun reporter called him a “two-faced bell end” who had “dropped a major clanger and should be strung up”. Another reporter said it was “time to ring in the changes” and “expel the bats from the Westminster belfry”. Mr Little provided scant cause for comfort, as he was unable to confirm whether or not the work would be finished on time.
Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the striking clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London and is usually extended to refer to both the clock and the clock tower. The official name of the tower in which Big Ben is located was originally the Clock Tower, but it was renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
The tower was designed by Augustus Pugin in a neo-Gothic style. When completed in 1859, its clock was the largest and most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world.
On 21 August 2017, a four-year schedule of renovation works began on the tower, which are to include the addition of a lift. There are also plans to re-glaze and repaint the clock dials. With a few exceptions, such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday, the bells are to be silent until the work is completed in 2021.
Why swap a vintage Lada for a cheap BMW? Why build a McDonalds in an improvement area? Why tear down a perfectly good wall? These fascinating questions and their answers give us a glimpse into the enigmatic nature of the Berliner. From dictators and despots through presidents and pastries, history has shown the Berliner to be a determined, if ill-defined force in the battle against conservatism, mediocrity and restraint. Why, after only a few minutes in that heady atmosphere of downtown Kurfürstendamm, was I overwhelmed by the urge to buy a pair of leopardskin platform shoes? Berlin is a city of extremes. Agony and ecstasy cuddle one another in an uneasy alliance born of adversity. The exquisite ecstasy of my purchase was finely balanced against the extreme agony of my feet. Those of you who know what that means may be indulging in a little Schadenfreude right now. Well, fuck you!!
As is the custom on my travels, my first night was spent “re-orientating”. This involves writing the name of the hotel on the soles of my feet and spraying an area in front of the main entrance. I was reassured to see that the neighbourhood, flush with upmarket shops and restaurants, had an elegant sufficiency of luxury goods on offer. Opposite the hotel, nestling between two boutiques, is a darkly glowing erotic bar, with “rooms upstairs” (so I’m told) . Round the corner, just past the railway bridge at Savigny Platz, is a fully-fledged brothel stocked with beauties from the Eastern Block (or so the barman tells me). Well, you may be asking, why, with an empty trolley in the supermarket of love, did I not treat myself to a microwave dinner? You see, with two perfectly good porn channels beamed directly into my hotel room (so the brochure says), it simply wasn’t necessary.
Berlin and I go back a long way. In 1987 we both had walls to be proud of. Neither the British Met Office nor the German Government was able to predict the orgy of destruction that was to follow over the next two years. Ever since then, I have been incubating a growing guilt for spending the insurance money on fancy clothes and wild parties. In its own way, Germany has trodden the same path. It has spent over £20 billion on a massive urban regeneration programme in this city alone. This money has been squandered on infrastructure, buildings and business and community development schemes. Like the perimeter of my garden, it is unlikely that the Berlin wall will be rebuilt in the foreseeable future. Years of painstaking work by an impoverished communist government and kilometres of priceless graffiti were raised to the ground in a matter of days in the name of freedom and unification. Hundreds of soldiers and guard dogs lost their jobs overnight as wall fever gripped the nation, dazzling East Berliners in the glaring excesses of the West. Fortunately, the sections of the wall are numbered, so in theory at least, it could be reconstructed if the political will is there. Not so with my sad pile of bricks back home, cruelly mocking me with their triumphant anarchy. We’ll see.
Enough of the wall per se. One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was to explore the differences between Berlin now and as it was when I was last there in 1987; that is Berlin with and without the wall. Apart from superficial differences, like seeing lots of East Germans in the shopping malls, a distinct lack of Ladas and the construction of new government buildings to house the parliament when it finally moves here, the most noticeable change has been the weather. Last time I was here, temperatures were in the thirties and the place was awash with bronzed, half-naked bodies (wholly naked in some places), iced coffee was being drunk like it was going out of fashion (which it was) and air-conditioning was a non-negotiable right.
Now I look out of my hotel room across a bleak snowscape, the Siberian winds howling across the yawning gap that used to be the wall. Traffic is at a standstill. Drifts build up in doorways and between cars. Those hardy enough to be out tramp silently through the heaving whiteness, buried deep inside layers of rubber, leather and PVC. No-one in their right mind could ascribe this sea change to mere chance or a winter/summer thing. No, it is a direct consequence of removing the wall at a critical point where two weather systems meet. It is imperative that the wall be put back as soon as possible, before Berlin becomes just another frozen penal colony on the fringes of civilisation.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed this afternoon that he is planning to build a wall along the entire US-Canadian border and that he is asking Donald Trump to pay for it.
A senior source close to the PM has leaked that this plan predates the COVID-19 outbreak and that the pandemic has simply provided a good opportunity to announce it.
When questioned off the record as to whether the wall was intended to stem the flow of corona virus victims across the border, he was heard to reply “and the rest!”. He went on to say that America has always treated Canada as a second class nation and that it was time show them otherwise. President Trump has yet to comment on the plan.
A paper published this week by the Department of Comparative Linguistics at the University of Melbourne, Australia reports that out of a sample of 150,000 native English speakers from around world excluding North America, only 5% were able to reliably identify a Canadian accent. Of the remaining 95%, only 12% said they actually cared. Creating a border wall will cause accents to diverge and help Canadians to be distinguished from their southern neighbours. Mr Trudeau said he would prefer it if everybody spoke French. In another study, researchers concluded that most people couldn’t tell the difference between a French accent and a French Canadian one. He said he didn’t think a wall would fix that one so easily (also off the record).
The screenplays for the first two films were written by one of my school contemporaries, Charlie Peters. For more on him, go to the section of the website dedicated to my school days. Lorenzo’s Oil was recommended by him.
Looking for Mr Goodbar is a steamy, violent film noir with Diane Keaton as a schoolteacher living an extraordinary double life, not unlike Kathleen Turner in the equally noir Crimes of Passion. This has been on my list of “must haves” for quite a while.
Liquid Sky, Themroc, Napoleon and Elvira Madigan are rare cult films normally shown only in obscure film clubs. Say no more. (Napoleon is five hours long by the way, so bring sandwiches & drinks).
The Joker is the recent multi-award winning Batman offshoot with Joaquín Phoenix in the title rôle.
There’s a new gallery “Extras” on the Cyberdrome Extras page with all the photos I have in my possession, starting with the initial “Dragon Quest” concept development in 1989 through to Crystal Maze construction in Dubai in 1998.
Unfortunately I can’t display the descriptions with the current gallery plugin I’m using, so you can’t see my carefully crafted explanations – this is work in progress!
Featured picture is of core on-site gang (minus Fiona) having a day off from the Honmoku Crystal Maze at Mount Fuji.
The next French film night will be on Thursday the 27th February and will be a showing of “Dialogue Avec Mon Jardinier” (“Conversations with my Gardener”, English subtitles). Hope to see you then!
Schedule: Please try to arrive by 8.00pm in time for some pre-film banter and to sort out seating arrangements, drinks, snacks etc. Film starts at 8.30pm.
BYO: Please bring anything you would like to eat or drink with you.
Registration: if you would like to come, please use the comment facility in this post so everyone can see who is coming.
Parking: There is room for two cars in the car park if you park immediately in front of mine (first come first served). If you are unsure of my address, please contact me via my private gmail or, failing that, the address given in the INFO section of this website.
Big thanks to Paul Winter for recommendation and loan of this DVD.