Popped down to Lewisham the other Thursday about half past two and glanced up at the famous old clock tower to see the time showing about half past two.
I smiled to myself, pleased the iconic landmark was still helping the local populace going about its daily duties. I know everyone and their dog has the time on their “mobiles” these days but, nevertheless, you can’t beat a charming and strangely comforting reminder from yesteryear.
Trouble is, the clock face I was clocking – the one looking south – showed about half past two about five minutes later. And on further inspection (I’m a trained observer), I noted that the clock facing north thought it was about 8.56, while west went for about 1.39 and east about 2.54.
They couldn’t all be right but they could all be wrong, which they were. None of them was working. The famous old clock tower – which Mercury Man used to skip by with his hoop as a boy – was now nothing more than a scruffy old eyesore, presumably forgotten and ignored.
And the question, as always, is: who cares? Who really cares? It’s been like this for ages. Are we all supposed to shrug and say “oh well”? Has civic pride died?
I got one of my trusted stringers to tweet new Lewisham East MP Janet Daby and to ‘DM’ (whatever that is) Lewisham’s elected mayor Damien Egan about it. Nothing. No reply. Not a word. Busy people.
I tell them now that 20 years ago today (more or less) I hounded the otherwise magical mayor of Greenwich John Fahy to get the public hall clocks working, way up in the air at the former Greenwich Town Hall before humiliation set in a few months later at the new millennium. “The home of Time’s top clocks not working”, etc, etc.
John knows better than anyone how I get scruffy old eyesores working again. He has a bit of a gunslinger reputation in Greenwich – nickname “Bruiser” or something like that – but late in 1999 he caved in as gracefully as poss to the MM campaign. At least today, give or take the odd sweaty nightmare, he can confidently gaze up and see the right time on all four clock faces.
(Note to campaigning Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty: the clock faces at the Andrew Gibb Memorial Shelter on Blackheath have gone up the pictures again – as you must have noticed – and I’m counting on YOU to do something about it, as you did before. Go, Geoff, go!)
Invariably with campaigns like this you have to give examples of where civic pride still means something. My exemplification is that magnificent clock high up on Charlton House. What’s the secret? Top class wheels? Regular servicing?
I tried to get them to give themselves a pat on the back but communications didn’t go like clockwork, so let’s get hurriedly back to the Lewisham Clock Tower eyesore.
Theresa May’s Plan B might be Plan Botched but you won’t be surprised to learn that Mercury Man’s is delightfully out of the box (If you say so yourself – Ed).
My line with public clocks in Greenwich was that if you can’t repair the clocks then do something else with them! Remove ’em. Dump ’em. Or, in Lewisham’s case, why not put something novel and entertaining in their place?
Instead of gazing up at clock tower clocks that don’t work every day of the week, why not let the good people of Lewisham gaze up at portraits of people who have made an indelible mark in the borough? And why not get the community involved as well and hold some kind of poll for the four faces? You know, some kind of People’s Vote. And maybe change them every four years?
Some people would be exempt, of course. The planners who put up the Catford Cat won’t be out on parole until the spring (don’t you mess with the Catford Cat – Ed), and the likes of former mayors Dave Sullivan and Roger Godsiff might provoke interesting debate.
But there would be votes, I’m sure, for suffragette Rosa May Billinghurst, pugilist Henry Cooper, the great Spike Milligan, Jimi Hendrix (who lived in Hither Green for a while!), Ian Wright and countless others (Google ‘List of Lewisham People’ and let me know your choices!).
Meanwhile, a very professional response from Lewisham Council’s Media Relations office:
A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “We understand the contribution the Lewisham Clocktower makes to the area as a local landmark and we share the community’s wish to see the clock faces working once again. As we continue to face severe financial pressures and limited funding, we have had to prioritise ensuring our buildings are safe. We therefore opted to repair the door of this listed structure to prevent internal damage before turning to the repair of the clock mechanism. Now that has been completed, we are looking at options and costs to get the clock faces working again.”
Mmm… all very well but it’s got the makings, don’t you think, of another long delay? If I’m wrong I’ll hold my hands up. If I’m right, you’ll read all about it.
Today is February 14. Let’s see how long it takes to restore some civic pride in the heart of Lewisham.
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