Time Stands Still in London

Mar 25, 2008
Punctuality is the politeness of kings - these words will most probably come across your mind when you are on the streets of London. You will see hundreds of public clocks but there is only one clock you can trust - legendary Big Ben.

The clock on the Victoria Station features the correct time twice a day - in the morning and in the evening. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, as mentioned by Austrian novelist Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach. Telling the correct time just twice a day is all hundreds of public clocks in London do these days. 'What is the time?' may sound as a provocative question in the City of London where every intersection keeps its own time.

Alfie Dennen, a bank clerk, for whom every minute is really precious, remembers that once he left his wristwatch and mobile phone at home and found himself in a real desert - not a single clock showed the correct time in the City of London. Overwhelmed by eccentric curiosity, Alfie has counted 348 clocks only in the downtown. These clocks seem to have forgotten about the politeness of kings and deceive the city's dwellers and visitors.

In a state of disrepair, many clocks stopped or have been removed from buildings in London - and that's in the country so well-endowed with historic public clocks.

The UK is home to a lot of finest and most famous public clocks in the world. Besides Big Ben, the country is proud of the astronomical clock at Hampton Court and the medieval clock at Salisbury Cathedral, considered to be the oldest working clock in the world. The City of London has long maintained the tradition of having a clock on every house.

Clocks are about much more than mere timekeeping for the British. A public clock serves as a local landmark, reflecting a sense of community and values that are cherished today the same as they were in the past.

Poor maintenance of public clocks is explained by a lack of cash in the public and private sectors. No one wants to be responsible for their upkeep. It takes considerable manpower and money to keep a clock going, so the clocks are repaired only by those who need passers-by to remember about the time - about 5-o'clock-tea, buying cakes, tickets to the theater or flowers, or being in time for a Parliament meeting.

Three-century-old Big Ben is almost the only British clock telling the correct time. The clock is given special care. The task is especially difficult in cold whether when the rubber parts become hard and the mechanism gets slightly frozen. It is manually adjusted with help of one-penny coins that are added or taken away through a hole in the balance wheel.

Alfie Dennen is the founder of the 'Stopped Clocks' Campaign. He has set up a site where everyone can post locations and pictures of stopped clocks. The site is a space for people to unite their efforts and campaign for their local clocks to be repaired.

According to Alfie, public clocks are part of the community, part of being British. For the British punctuality is of great importance. Clocks help to bring people together via their imaginations. When used by artists and film makers, a ticking clock symbolizes so many things.

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posted by: / Mar 25, 2008

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