Letters: Big Ben's fatigue

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The Independent Online

Don't blame the Victorians for Big Ben's fatigue

Sir: In an otherwise excellent piece on the silencing of the quarter chimes of "Big Ben" (5 June) Cahal Milmo and your leader of the same day give the unfortunate impression that mechanical problems with the clock and bells are the result of faulty 19th century design and manufacture.

As modern designers of aircraft, trains, bridges and other machines well know, no matter how perfect the structure, the processes of degradation due to metal fatigue, wear and corrosion are inevitable, and are best designed against by recognising that they will occur and predicting the service life before catastrophic failure ensues.

The designers of the Westminster clock in 1856 are unlikely to have been aware of the first researches into metal fatigue which had begun to cause accidents on the Victorian railways some 10 to 20 years earlier. Nevertheless, the process of metal fatigue, begun on installation of the clock at that time and continuing throughout the succeeding decades, was responsible 120 years later in 1976 for a catastrophic failure of the clock mechanism in which almost the entire structure was destroyed. Following a detailed investigation into the origins of the failure, the clock was rebuilt, replacing Victorian iron with 20th century steel. Thus the current clock mechanism is largely of modern material.

Modern techniques of fatigue analysis, used in 1976 to introduce regular inspections of the clock in exactly the same way as they are used to ensure the safety of modern aircraft, have their ultimate origins in those Victorian engineers puzzling over the cracks which had appeared in their railway axles and which some thought might be due to the metal becoming "fatigued". It is intriguing that the Westminster clock transcends both that era and, with the benefit of 150 years of research, our own more knowledgeable and - we hope - more capable one.



Cycling needs to become 'normal'

Sir: To see cycling featured in a mainstream newspaper was significant (7 June) . When we see a cyclist on Eastenders we'll know we are "normal". This is key, and the assertion that cycle lanes will generate cycling is possibly over-simplistic. Holland built lanes retrospectively to accommodate cyclists not to create them.

In eight years of cycling research for the Department for Transport and others I never really understood why five times more people cycle in Hull than in Middlesbrough, unless it was the idea of being "normal". Similarly I could never understand why "fear of traffic" was the biggest barrier and yet London shows the greatest growth. These are complex psychological issues unlikely to be resolved by special advocates on either side.



Sir: I was most interested in the comments of Matthew Dexter about cycling in Japan (letter, 7 June). I live in Leicester and work in Derby. Other road users in Derby have a sense of anticipatory courtesy - they envisage the projected action of a cyclist and act accordingly. They will stop or allow the cyclist room or generally seem to be aware.

Road users in Leicester do not act in the same way, encroaching on specific provision for cyclists, not allowing enough room and lacking a sense of courtesy. I would suggest it is down to the nature of the place. No amount of money spent on facilities such as cycle lanes would alter the behaviour of other road users



Sir: As an enthusiastic cyclist and the Mayor of London's green transport adviser, I too get furious at cyclists who run red lights and use the pavements dangerously, because they make it more difficult to make to case for cyclists.

Over the past six years London's road safety measures have given us the best road safety record in the world and we have almost halved deaths and serious injuries on the capital's roads.

That means it's time for cyclists to reclaim the roads by riding in a legal way. Don't frighten pedestrians by riding selfishly on pavements - just like cyclists, they don't pollute the planet - don't run red lights, do wait in the special advanced stop line areas, and act as a calming, slowing effect on car traffic. That would make the roads even safer and save more lives, probably many of them cyclists.



Sir: Could everyone calm down about cyclists? There appears to be a fortress mentality growing, pitting "cyclists" against "pedestrians" and "motorists". Every day I am all of these things at various times, and I am becoming confused. Whose side should I be on? Can we not draw a line under the whole rant, and say, "We're all as bad as each other"?



Roots of suicide bombing in Iraq

Sir: It should come as no surprise to anyone that suicide bombers in Iraq are Palestinians ("Iraq: the face of the enemy", 7 June). Israel's security wall is forcing them to export themselves to another arena to fight in this ridiculous "war" against terrorism being waged by the donkeys who lead us in the West.

The injustices to Palestinians, following the creation of the state of Israel and the subsequent brutal occupation by that country lies at the very roots of the causes of terrorism and the ideology of Osama bin Laden. In desperate attempts not to be accused of anti-Semitism, our leaders refuse to accept this and carry on supporting the USA and its military base in the Middle East called Israel.

If someone in power does not do something to restore Palestine, even if only to acknowledge that Israel must withdraw to the pre 1967 borders, and allow the Palestinians to form a viable country, we shall have no peace.



Sir: The events at Haditha, discussed by Joan Smith (2 June), are probably best explained by the fact that the Iraq war is illegal, a realisation that inevitably affects those called on to fight (and possibly die) at the behest of political masters remote from bloody conflict.

Those of us who fought in the war to defeat fascism and secure democracy resisted the temptation to take it out on others after experiencing the death in action of a comrade. When my tank was messed up by German gunfire on St George's Day 1945 Edward Moulding was killed. Others were wounded. Post traumatic stress disorder persists to this day.

Later men in field grey taken captive were being hurried to the rear past survivors. But no revolvers were drawn and the safety pins stayed in Mills grenades. And yes World War II was legal.



Sir: In attempting to excuse any possible atrocities committed by the US Army in Iraq we are told by spokesmen - including self-appointed apologists in the British media - that we should understand American soldiers are under "terrible stress". Presumably the stress of combat, which every soldier in history has had to face.

Perhaps the SS perpetrators of the massacres at Oradour-sur-Glane, Malmédy, Stavelot and elsewhere should receive posthumous pardons.



Sir: It is crucial that the British government does not get away with using the plea of "difficult conditions" to excuse the atrocities committed by British and American forces in Iraq. Neither Britain nor the US was invited into those difficult conditions - they forced their way there at the cost of thousands of Iraqi lives.



Exxon's concern over climate change

Sir: In regard to "The man who sold the planet" (article, 1 June), we at ExxonMobil do recognise that human activities, mainly from the use of fossil fuels, have contributed to increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and that global temperatures have increased by 0.6°C since the mid-1800s.

Managing the future risks from these trends is an important concern forExxonMobil and we are taking actions on numerous fronts. Our approach is based on energy efficiency and the belief that technological breakthroughs, and not simply expanded scale, are key to unlocking the potential of alternative energy technologies.

Within our operations, we have made our refineries and chemical plants almost 40 per cent more energy efficient today than 25 years ago, with a consequent cumulative reduction in CO 2 emissions equating to more than the entire annual CO 2 emissions of the UK. We are also involved in research for the longer-term with our global climate and energy project at Stanford University which seeks to meet future energy needs with significantly lower greenhouse gases.

The project is addressing many areas of research, including solar energy and biomass. Separately we are also researching advanced vehicle technologies, hydrogen use in fuel cells, and carbon capture and storage.



Football fever grips women of England

Sir: I object to Elizabeth Meakins' article (6 June) entitled "Football: Why does it affect men differently to women?" It doesn't. The dear lady needs to get out more. I'm a woman and it affects me the same way it affects the lads at work, as it does many other women I know. My home is adorned with flags, as is my car, I will be watching every game slavishly and celebrating noisily, as I did when Liverpool won the FA Cup!



Sir: Why, did the England football team fly to Germany rather than go by surface transport? There is no reason why such a short journey could not have been undertaken via the excellent rail links from London to all major German World Cup venues. If the England team had announced a year ago that it would forgo such a ludicrous short flight, it would doubtless have encouraged many fans to avoid flying as well. I challenge world football officials to start now to design the next World Cup competition to be carbon neutral.



Sir: Whether getting married on 9 July is a wise move or an own goal for Jan East and her fiancé (letter, 7 June) I hope it will be for them the match of the day.



Sir: Will Rooney's metatarsal be England's Achilles heel?



Moral crusades fail to prevent disease

Sir: Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 5 June) repeats the moralist fantasy that telling people to desist from a sexual practice is an effective way to defeat sexually transmitted disease.

In past centuries many polemics and moral crusades were fought against the scourge of syphilis. All these campaigns failed miserably: in the early 1920s the annual death toll from syphilis exceeded 20,000. What defeated syphilis was a combination of condoms, education and medical advances, notably the discovery of antibiotics.

The same will happen with HIV, although we are without a cure at this moment. What transmits HIV is not buggery per se but not using condoms, a message imparted for over 20 years that Bruce seems to have missed. You can have safe sex with a regiment of Guards and remain uninfected and then have unsafe sex with a one person and become infected.

The Government message of the 1980s told people to protect themselves by using condoms, and it largely worked.



Whitebell mystery

Sir: Brian Arnopp's white bluebells (letter, 5 June) could be three-cornered garlic (onion weed), Allium triquetum. This looks remarkably like a white bluebell, but the garlicky smell and taste of the crushed leaves identifies it - and makes it an interesting herb for salads.



Not our teak

Sir: The Tropical Forest Trust (TFT) is a UK registered charity working to conserve tropical forests. None of our members trade in Burmese teak. We applaud your article (27 May) on Burmese teak discovered at the Chelsea Flower Show and strongly support the work of the Forest Stewardship Council. We wish to make it clear that the Tropical Forest Trust has no connection whatsoever with TFT Garden Furniture , mentioned in your article.



Chavez the democrat

Sir: Your caption to the picture accompanying the report of Peru's presidential election result (6 June) describes the Venezuelan president as a dictator. President Chavez has won nine electoral processes in a row, including the recall referendum in 2004 in which he gathered almost 60 per cent of the vote. As the propaganda drive to re-demonise Chavez in the run-up to December's election gets into gear, you should be more thoughtful in how you portray this independent leader and true democrat.



Eton scholarships

Sir: It is good of Eton College to offer academic scholarships to a handful of state school boys each year (letter, 7 June). However, be under no illusions; there is gain for both parties in this. Eton is looking for highly academic children who should go on to get straight As at A-level and entry to Oxbridge. This helps Eton to keep up in the public school academic pecking order. How do I know this? Because, in spite of the number of applicants, there is no guarantee that the full number of scholarships will be awarded.



Cold water

Sir: The reply received from Thames Water to my inquiry as to where I might be able to obtain a water-saving dual flush system encapsulates their commitment to putting things right. It ran as follows: "I note your comments that on the Continent most lavatories have a dual flush system. Unfortunately, we do not hold details of any companies that would be able to provide these for you." Needless to say, no further help was offered.