Today the infamous London clock, Big Ben, fell silent for the next four years as its restoration project begins.
I actually lived in halls on Westminster Bridge for my last two years of university. I could see the clock tower from our flat. Therefore, Big Ben served as my own personal alarm clock; it bonged every 15 minutes so matter what time of day. It is one of the many aspects that I truly miss about living in the city.
Prior to packing up and moving out of halls for good, I decided to visit the Houses of Parliament for a guided tour having walked past it every single day. Although I had visited the site on past school trips, the tour was far more fascinating than I ever remembered; maybe it is because I am no longer a know-it-all 13-year-old I-don’t-really-care-about-the-world teenager.
I had my photo taken upon leaving my timed visit; and today, I felt it the right time to share the story behind the photograph below.
Grab a cuppa and sit back.
I visited the Houses of Parliament on June 1st as part of a guided audio tour. It lasted a couple of hours and was very informative. I’d highly recommend it for those interested in politics or the UK Government.
Upon leaving the building, I was being hurried along as it was 6 pm and therefore closing time for visitors. There was no one else in sight aside from site staff, several armed police officers and members of the army; as following the Manchester bombings security was heightened throughout London.
It was a strange time for the city as it was not long after Westminster Bridge, but pre-London Bridge; and everyone seemed under a cast of gloom, sadness, and fear following an episode of terrorism. Individuals, unlike before, considered the armed police and soldiers to be a symbol of uncertainty and something to worry about.
However, as I stopped to snap a photograph (number 9,432) of Big Ben, an armed police officer came bundling over. You can probably imagine the terrified look on my face; I mean, let’s be honest, I had stayed until the very last minute and managed to upset staff members inside ‘The Palace of Westminster’.
The conversation went a bit like this, Police Officer: “Do you want me to take a photograph of you?”
Me: “Err-errm. Yes please, if you don’t mind!”
I handed over the camera, to which he then took one photo. I thanked him and went to retrieve my camera. The reply I received was, “No wait, the angle isn’t right, let me get down on one knee a minute...”. There was an awkward silence, he then joked, “Oh, don’t get the wrong impression, I am already married…”, I am pretty sure by this time I was bright red and shaking in my boots.
Before I knew it, all of his colleagues, also armed, came marching over laughing and joking amongst themselves. They were taking photos of him down on one knee, still fully armed, in front of me on their phones.
One exclaimed, “Wait until I show your wife this one mate!” – I burst out laughing, and so did he.
Another officer then goes, “Out of curiosity, if he wasn’t married, would you say yes?“. I flashed all sorts of shades, rosy red to hot pink, with the response, “He’s armed, so I probably wouldn’t want to risk saying no…”.
He got back-up off the floor, handed the camera back and told me to check the photos to ensure I liked at least one of them. We all stood chatting for a while; they asked me what I studied at university and if I liked living in London, etc.
For a minute time stood still, and these armed police officers in front of me seemed like ‘normal’ individuals able to laugh and joke about. But isn’t that the point, they are just like you-and-me; all by one thing, and that is, they protect us when we need it most. They are all human at the end of the day. The things that they witness are often beyond our imaginations; it was only weeks after one of their own colleagues was murdered on that very spot. I thanked them for their commitment to society and went on my way. They even let me out the posh exit, you know, where the real politicians leave from.
I left the Houses of Parliament grounds with a smile on my face with a moment that will stay with me forever. I do have one regret, I didn’t get a photo with the officer – it completely slipped my mind but maybe next time I visit we shall bump into each other once more.
Do you have any positive memories regarding Big Ben, Police Officers, sheer kindness/humanity or London in general? Let me know in the comments below or by contacting me on Twitter.