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Spectator competition winners: Big Ben’s bongs

17 September 2017

9:45 AM

17 September 2017

9:45 AM

For the latest competition you were asked to compose poems 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 entries 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.

Some of you, in a bid to be original, or perhaps just finding the whole kerfuffle too boring, composed entries about a man called Big Ben and the other type of bong. 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.

Bill Greenwell
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!


Paul Freeman
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.

Mike Morrison
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.

D.A. Prince
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.

Alan Millard
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.

Paul Evans
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?

Last autumn’s bestselling Little Book of Hygge has been followed by another how-to-be-happy manual The Little Book of Lykke. Your next challenge is 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 lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 27 September.

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