Lucy Vickery

Watching the clock

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In Competition No. 3015 you were invited to submit a poem about Big Ben’s bongs.

The decision to remove the 13-tonne bell during the four-year restoration works on Elizabeth Tower has caused a right old ding-dong, with senior ministers, including the PM, joining the fray.

There were lots of poems about health and safety gone mad, though given that being at close quarters to the Great Bell’s 120-decibel bong is the equivalent of putting your ear right next to a police siren, I am not so sure about that. Commendations go to Nathan Weston and Adam Rylander (aged 15). And with echoes of Wordsworth, Gray, Auden, Lear and Newbolt echoing in my ears, I award the bonus fiver to Bill Greenwell. The rest take £25.

We were first pets of Bosanquet,

Burnet and Sandy Gall:

Sonorous, we tried to whet the appetite of all —

ITN is never wrong!

Bong! and Bong! and Bong! and Bong!

When the hammer strikes our bell,

We fly from out his throat:

Deep as from an ancient well, our half-hypnotic note —

Listen to our one-sound song:

Bong! and Bong! and Bong! and Bong!

Now we must rest, and that’s a fact:

We’re like the government —

Ponderous, a little cracked, no instinct to repent:

Hear the ding-dong of its throng!

Bong! and Bong! and Bong! and Bong!

Bill Greenwell

Since eighteen fifty-nine, Big Ben has tolled

the hours of one to twelve for England’s peers;

yet wear-and-tear has put his voice on hold

and stopped his hands, his clapper, wheels and gears.

His stately bongs, before, were briefly stayed

by zeppelins, by resting birds, by snow;

a fallen workman’s hammer once delayed

repairs while German bombers struck their blow.

Today, uncanny silence looms until

a four-year spell, replete with doubts and fears,

has passed; but ne’er did such a bitter pill

taste better for the chimes of coming years.

Rejuvenation’s borrowed at a cost —

a bell un-struck marks time forever lost.

Paul Freeman

There’s a breathless hush over Bridge Street,

All along the Embankment as well;

Poor worthies of Whitehall, bereft of

The adagio bongs of their bell.

The nine-foot diameter alloy

Leviathan, thirteen tonnes tare,

Remains tristamente sordino

For the four-year-long mega-repair.

This state-of-the-art restoration’s

A cool forty-million-quid job;

For that price the workmen should silence

The whole ruddy Westminster mob.

So, Ladies and Lords in attendance,

Every wizened or callow MP,

Never send to ask for whom the bell tolls —

Assuredly, ’tis not for thee.

Mike Morrison 

Big Ben has bonged its knell — its ‘parting day

As journalists note, sadly, in its lee.

The tourist with his guidebook plods away

And Westminster’s the sadder, just like me.

Beneath that gilded tower, by Abbey’s shade,

Act piled on Act in history’s mould’ring heap,

Foundations for democracy were laid

Where rude MPs now argue, tweet and sleep.

The boast of Big Ben’s bongs, the pompous Tower,

That status being a UK icon gave,

Now falls diminished to each unmarked hour

And Westminster as silent as the grave.

On Radio 4 recorded bongs command

Attention — but their fake tones we despise.

This bong-less time is symbol of a land

That cannot speak with sense in Europe’s eyes..

D.A. Prince

Benumbed Big Ben (long may his grime be greased)

Awoke one noon to find his bongs had ceased

And, in the gloom, beheld a workman toil

Armed with a bag of tools and can of oil;

‘What brings you here?’ Ben asked. The kindly man

Smiled pityingly and raised his oily can,

‘I bring to life,’ he said, ‘each battered bell

That bongs no more but once served all men well.’

‘And shall I be among them?’ Big Ben said.

The workman turned and sadly shook his head.

‘Then,’ sighed the bell, ‘record one who was called

To bong his best, but, being cracked, was flawed!’

Four sombre years passed by in silence deep

When suddenly, as if aroused from sleep,

All London’s mighty bells rang loud and long

And lo! Big Ben produced the loudest bong.

Alan Millard

There’s a God-almighty ding-dong

About the absent bing-bong

As powers-that-be emasculate Big Ben.

Behind this ringtone hoo-hah

Is an idiotic Pooh-Bah,

The saviour, he says, of working men

Under threat each quarter hour,

While refurbishing the tower…

Soon, time itself will be beyond our ken.

Let’s hope there’s no more blips —

Just imagine if the pips

Were silenced by an H & S decree!

There should be some sort of chime

To mark official time…

What next? Will they abandon GMT?

Paul Evans

No. 3018: get a life

Last autumn’s bestselling Little Book of Hygge has been followed by another how-to-be-happy manual, The Little Book of Lykke. You are invited to leap aboard the bandwagon and provide an extract of up to 150 words from your own Little Book of [fill in the gap]. Please email entries, with a word count, to by midday on 27 September.