There are few things that are quintessential to the London landscape – double-decker busses, cloudy skies, Ian McKellen, and of course, the Big Ben clock tower. Next week, however, Londoners and tourists alike will have to adapt to a change in their horse-drawn carriages and high-wheel bicycle rides past the Palace of Westminster. During a restoration process, the traditional bong of the Big Ben clock tower will be replaced by a high pitched screeching sound, akin to that of a tea kettle.
The change comes from the Great Clock’s need for expensive repairs.
“The way the clock is in its current state, much work has to be done to the delicate inner workings of the clock, or it may stop working entirely,” says the overseer of the project, Benebum Batchadic. “However, if we lean into the current disrepair of the clock tower, its parts will be under this controlled strain. At this point, all the parts running together combine to make this really grating and screeching noise, which sounds just like when your mum puts the kettle on. This phenomenon can be heard from kilometres away, thanks to the magnitude of the clock tower.”
“I was initially opposed to the change,” says Steve Jaggs, keeper of the Great Clock. “It didn’t seem like the proper way to honour the tower would be to allow the inner workings to deteriorate. But after considering it for longer, it makes so much sense to have such a standard British noise ringing throughout the city.”
“It was either the tea kettle sound, or spend the next four years with a silent Big Ben as it undergoes repairs. After Brexit, our GDP dwindled,” says Batchadic. “It left us stony-broke, without the money to even fix a bloody time piece. The decision to make the new chime a kettle screech came after much deliberation. We considered finding other shortcuts to repairing the clock entirely, other sounds that are indubitably British. If certain gears are sped up, it sounds like the whirring of a sonic screwdriver. If we get cats to meow inside the Great Bell, maybe we could get all of the local corgis to bark at the same time. Unfortunately, some of these plans were simply too bonkers to actually implement.”
The fix is not without its obstacles. “The screeching sound doesn’t pulse the same way as the chimes do,” Batchadic added. “Rather, the clock will screech for a number of seconds corresponding to the hour. If you hear an eight second screech, check your stove or check your watch.”
The change is set to take place by the end of the month. As the keeper, Jaggs has formally invited everyone to put on a kettle and “hear Big Ben’s final bong and first screech in the new era of London timekeeping.”
Written by: Paola Diaz, staff writer