A dove, Trinity and a clock – or the pecker pecked


A propos of nothing very much, a wonderful story in the paper yesterday about the Cambridge college where my daughter works as a gardener. Alas, it took place a quarter of an hour after she left for home, so she entirely missed the drama, but tells me that the hawk is a familiar figure – a professional bird who does the rounds of several colleges with his handler, scaring the pigeons.

A university clock was stopped for three dramatic minutes yesterday when a bird of prey attacked a pigeon and became trapped behind the minute hand.

The Harris’s hawk swooped as the pigeon perched on the timepiece at Trinity College, Cambridge, but as it went for the kill the clock’s minute hand swung into action pinning it to the clock face for 186 seconds as it ticked towards 4.30 pm.

Staff restarted the pendulum-driven machinery with a “top-up wind.” The clock, which dates from 1910, is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Trinity, King Edwards’s Gate, originally the entrance to King’s Hall.

I like the idea of desperate porters, no doubt in bowler hats and three-piece pinstripes, and perhaps in long canvas aprons if they had been interrupted polishing the college door-knobs, wrestling desperately with the clock-hands as the clock moved inexorably towards half past four. It is a scene at once from Gormenghast and from a Hollywood thriller where the hero watches the seconds ticking away on a digital clock before a massive explosion, and saves the world at the very last moment.

According to the college website, “the running of the 1910 clock has been the the subject of an engineering project coordinated by a Fellow of Trinity, Dr Hugh Hunt, calibrating the clock’s movements against the National Physical Laboratory time signal and various variables, including the amplitude of the pendulum, humidity, air temperature, air pressure, and air density.” Variables which were not, I suppose, envisaged as including a 186-second hawk-stoppage.

But what, I wonder, would actually have happened at half past four: a hawk deafened by the bong? Or a sickening squelch as the hawk was wiped round past 30 at the bottom – more like The Pit and the Pendulum?

I don’t suppose they would have done it for the pigeon.

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