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从不准点的苏格兰钟塔
Scotland’s clock that’s (almost) never on time

[2018年10月12日] 来源:BBC双语阅读 作者:迈克·麦卡伊克兰(Mike MacEacheran)   字号 [] [] []  

Arrive in Edinburgh on any given day and there are certain things you can guarantee. The fairy-tale Gothic of the royal castle, built on an extinct volcanic plug. The medieval riddle of alleys and lanes. The majesty of the churchyards and macabre spires set against a barb of basalt crags, all as if created by a mad god.


Yet there is one other given in the Scottish capital, and it is the hallmark of Princes Street, the city’s main thoroughfare that runs east to west joining Leith to the West End. The time on the turret clock atop The Balmoral Hotel is always wrong. By three minutes, to be exact.


While the clock tower’s story is legendary in Edinburgh, it remains a riddle for many first-timers. To the untrained eye, the 58m-high landmark is simply part of the grand finale when surveyed from Calton Hill, Edinburgh’s go-to city-centre viewpoint. There it sits to the left of the Dugald Stewart Monument, like a giant exclamation mark above the glazed roof of Waverley Train Station.


Likewise, the sandstone baronial tower looks equally glorious when eyed from the commanding northern ramparts of Edinburgh Castle while peering out over the battlements. It is placed at the city’s very centre of gravity, between the Old Town and the New Town, at the confluence of all business and life. Except, of course, that the dial’s big hand and little hand are out of sync with Greenwich Mean Time.

This bold irregularity is, in fact, a historical quirk first introduced in 1902 when the Edwardian-era building opened as the North British Station Hotel. Then, as now, it overlooked the platforms and signal boxes of Waverley Train Station, and just as porters in red jackets met guests off the train, whisking them from the station booking hall to the interconnected reception desk in the hotel’s basement, the North British Railway Company owners wanted to make sure their passengers – and Edinburgh’s hurrying public – wouldn’t miss their trains.


Given an extra three minutes, they reasoned, these travellers would have more time on the clock to collect their tickets, to reach their corridor carriages and to unload their luggage before the stationmaster’s whistle blew. Still today, it is a calculated miscalculation that helps keep the city on time.


The sky was overcast and the air bitingly cold on the day I visited to learn this history, guided by the hotel’s security manager Iain Davidson. After a quick briefing, I followed his echoing footsteps into the dimly lit brickwork turret, a transition from front of house to backstage. In between the sixth floor’s suites, we entered a door that could well have led to a broom cupboard. Above that, beyond the water storage tanks, a black spiral staircase corkscrewed into the tower’s crown through a series of wooden landings. Each step up was a step back in time.


“Visually, this is one of Edinburgh’s most interesting, if secretive, places,” said Davidson, reaching the top as daylight flooded in to reveal a brickwork gallery embellished with four symmetrical clock faces. Around us, the airy attic featured slit windows that afforded views of central Edinburgh’s commercial hodgepodge, raising us to the level of the castle and the chimneys of the Royal Mile. “Everyone always wonders what it’s like up here when they’re on the street below. Isn’t it marvellous?”


Everyone relies on it being wrong


While exploring the nooks and crannies, Davidson explained that the only major change over the past 116 years is the clock was manually wound until the 1970s, when it was electrified. “It means the tower doesn’t get as many visitors as people might think.”


That the clock is wrong every day of the year is not technically true, either. Its time is stretched to accommodate an annual event. On New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay as Scots call it, the tower welcomes a special one-off house call, when an engineer is dispatched to remedy the timekeeping error. “Plain and simple, the clock needs to be right for the traditional countdown to the midnight bells,” said Davidson, leading our two-man party back down to the hotel’s grand lobby. “Beyond that, everyone relies on it being wrong.”


While the turret clock has remained dependably inaccurate over the past century, the hotel has understandably moved with the times. Following World War Two and the 1948 nationalisation of Britain’s railways, the golden age of steam was over, and so, too, was the era of the railway-owned hotel. Where once stood 112 hotels on the map in 1913, there are now but a handful left. For its part, the North British Station Hotel severed links with the railway in the early 1980s, before being rebranded as The Balmoral in 1990. Two refurbishments totalling £30m and a change of ownership to the Sir Rocco Forte Group followed, and yet the clock’s time was left unaltered.


To learn more, I contacted Smith of Derby, a fifth-generation family-run clockmaker, which has maintained The Balmoral’s turret clock for almost a century through its Broxburn-based subsidiary James Ritchie & Son.


Among the other world-famous clocks under its guardianship are those aloft on St Paul’s Cathedral and the elegant Victorian dial at St Pancras Station in London; and the 64m tower anchoring the Majlis Oman, the parliament in Muscat. Smith of Derby’s greatest achievement, however, is the world’s largest mechanical clock, a 12.8m-diameter, pendulum-operated timepiece that decorates the Harmony Clock Tower in Ganzhou, China.


“We look after 5,000 different clock towers around the world, and to say The Balmoral’s is peculiar is a massive understatement,” the firm’s Tony Charlesworth told me. “It’s hard to believe, but it’s the only one we’re paid to keep wrong.”


Charlesworth has other stories, too. In 2012, the clock ran 90 minutes late after a power cut caused by tram workers, when Princes Street saw the return of electric tracks. Another episode, two years earlier, saw it inexplicably stop for the first time in 108 years. And for those romantics, a story lingers that the clock runs fast to give departing lovers longer to kiss before saying their goodbyes.


“There’s never been a time when we’ve been asked to make it right,” Charlesworth said, matter-of-factly. “People have smartphones and watches, of course, but you’ll be surprised by how much they rely on public clocks, especially when they’re in a rush. There’s still a need for it, and for the foreseeable future it’ll still be wrong.”


Today, the wrong time is taken for granted in Edinburgh, not because of retrospective sentimentality, but because familiarity breeds affection. Or at least that’s how Charlesworth sees it. “There’d be a public outcry if it was ever on time,” he said. “Remember, this is Scotland. People wouldn’t put up with it.”


There’d be a public outcry if it was ever on time


In this city of meticulous town planning, dependable tourist crowds and annual festivals, that’s something you could set your watch by. Those extra three minutes reveal everything about living here, right now.

随便哪一天到爱丁堡,有一些景象是你一定会看到的:童话中的哥特式(Gothic)皇家城堡屹立在一座死火山的熔岩管道口上,那些充满谜团的中世纪小巷和道路,庄严壮观的教堂墓地与令人毛骨悚然的尖塔和钩状的玄武岩峭壁相映生辉,所有这一切都宛若出自狂放的上帝之手。


然而在苏格兰的首府还有一件东西,它是王子大街(Princes Street)的标志,这条大街是城市的主干道,由东向西穿行,并在西端(West End)与赖斯(Leith)汇合。东端的巴尔莫勒酒店(The Balmoral Hotel)楼顶钟塔的时间一直不准。准确地说差了三分钟。


苏格兰爱丁堡巴尔莫勒酒店楼顶的钟一直快三分钟。

这座钟塔的故事在爱丁堡家喻户晓,然而对初来乍到的人来说它却依旧成谜。在普通人眼里,这个58米高的地标仅仅只是当人们从卡尔顿山(Calton Hill)丈量这座城市时所看到的“收官之作”的一部分,在卡尔顿山上人们可以俯瞰爱丁堡市中心。钟塔位于杜格尔德·斯图尔特纪念亭(Dugald Stewart Monument)左边,仿佛一个巨大的惊叹号矗立在威佛利火车站(Waverley Train Station)的釉色楼顶之上。


相似的是,当人们从爱丁堡城堡(Edinburgh Castle)那居高临下的北城墙眺望城垛的时候,这座由砂石筑成的华丽塔楼显得同样宏伟壮观。它恰巧位于城市的重心,在老城(Old Town)与新城(New Town)之间,汇聚了所有的商业活动和民生生活。当然,除了有一点——表盘的分针和时针与格林尼治标准时间(Greenwich Mean Time)并不同步。


这一明显的“不合规”之处其实是一则历史趣谈,它首次出现于1902年,当时这座称为北不列颠车站酒店(North British Station Hotel)的爱德华时期(Edwardian-era)建筑刚开幕。接下来,正如现在这样,它俯瞰着威佛利火车站的月台和信号塔,仿若身着红衣的列车服务员在车外迎送旅客,带着他们飞快地从车站售票大厅来到酒店地下室的互通接待处,北不列颠铁路公司(North British Railway Company)想要确保他们的旅客,以及爱丁堡步履匆忙的大众不会错过火车。


他们认为,将钟拨快三分钟能使旅客们在站长的口哨吹响之前有更多的时间去取车票、到达走廊车厢并放下行李。直到今天,这一误算仍然有意为之,以帮助这座城市保持准点。


巴尔莫勒的时钟故意调快,以给旅客额外的时间去搭乘从邻近威佛利火车站出发的火车

这是一个阴天,空气寒冷刺骨,我来到这座城市了解这段历史,我的向导是酒店的安保经理戴维森(Iain Davidson)。快速简介之后,我跟着他回音阵阵的脚步走进光线昏暗的砖砌塔楼,一下子从台前来到了幕后。在六楼的几个套房中间,我们走进一道好像是通向一个清洁用具壁橱的门。往上越过储水槽,一道黑色的螺旋状楼梯一圈圈地延伸到塔顶,中间有几个木质平台。拾级而上的每一步都像是时光倒流。


“从视觉上来讲,这是爱丁堡最有趣的地方之一,如果觉得它是个秘密的话,”戴维森说这话时,我和他已来到塔顶,这时,日光倾泻而入,照亮了这座由四个对称钟面所装饰的砖砌长廊。在我们周遭,通风的阁楼最引人注目的是它那狭缝般的窗子,人们透过窗子可以饱览爱丁堡中心形形色色的商店,也让皇家哩(Royal Mile)的城堡和烟囱与我们似乎近在咫尺。“站在下面街上的人都会猜想,如果站在钟塔顶上,不知会看到什么。这不是很奇妙吗?”


戴维森巡视着塔楼顶的角落和缝隙,向我解释说,116年以来间最大的变化是,这个钟之前一直是手工上发条,一直到20世纪70年代才用上电力。“也就是说,这座塔所接待的游客并不像人们想象得那么多。”


新年夜(或称大年夜)是巴尔莫勒大钟唯一显示准确时刻的时候。

所谓钟的时间一年到头都不准,这句话技术上也并不准确。它的时间会有所调整,以适应一件年度盛事的需要。在新年前夜,或者说苏格兰人所称之的大年夜(Hogmanay),这座钟塔会迎来这特别的一次钟鸣,那时一位工匠会被派到这儿来修理这一计时错误。“简单直白地说,钟的读数得是正确的,这样才能进行午夜钟声的传统倒数,”戴维森一边说一边带着我们这个二人小组下到酒店大堂。“除此之外,大家靠的都是钟的不准确读数。”


在过去的一百年间,钟楼时间一直不准确但很可靠,但酒店却几经变迁,这也不难理解。第二次世界大战及1948年英国铁路收归国有之后,蒸汽火车的黄金时代便一去不复返,而同样一去不复返的还有铁路持有酒店的时代。1913年,在地图上的这个地方曾经有112间酒店,而如今所剩则寥寥可数。20世纪80年代早期,北不列颠车站酒店终止了与铁路的联系,1990年改名为巴尔莫勒酒店。两次整修总共花费三千万英镑,还有一次产权变动,酒店现在的东主是洛克福特爵士集团(Sir Rocco Forte Group),然而塔楼上的钟没有改变,仍然快了3分钟。


20世纪70年代之前,钟都要靠人手上发条。

为了能有更多的了解,我联系了经营已五代的家族钟表制造商德比史密斯(Smith of Derby)。这家钟表制造商通过其位于布罗克斯本(Broxburn)的附属公司詹姆斯·里奇父子公司(James Ritchie & Son),对巴尔莫勒酒店塔楼上的钟做维修保养,已历时长达一百年。


这个家族公司维修保养的世界名钟还包括伦敦圣保罗大教堂(St Paul's Cathedral)的钟,圣潘克斯车站(St Pancras Station)钟楼上维多利亚风格的优雅时钟,以及阿曼首都马斯喀特议会64米高塔上的巨钟。然而德比史密斯最大的成就却是生产了一具全球最大的机械钟,这座机械钟为中国赣州(Ganzhou)的和谐钟塔(Harmony Clock Tower)做装饰,其直径达12.8米,由钟摆进行运转。


查尔斯沃思:“从来没有哪一次人们要求我们把时钟的读数调准确”。

这间公司的查尔斯沃思(Tony Charlesworth)告诉我,“我们管理全世界大约5000座不同的钟塔,要说巴尔莫勒的那个钟不同寻常,这也太轻描淡写了。这几乎难以置信,它是我们唯一一个收费保养却要让时间不准的钟。”


查尔斯沃思还有其他的故事可说。2012年,这个钟因为有轨电车工人造成的停电而慢了90分钟,当时王子大街见证了电器轨道的回归。另一段小插曲发生在两年前,当时大钟莫名其妙地停了,这在108年来尚属首次。而讲到罗曼蒂克的故事,有一则一直广为流传,说巴尔莫勒大钟被拨快,是为了让即将天各一方的情侣能够来一个更长的吻别。


查尔斯沃思平静地说,“从来没有哪一次人们要求我们把这具钟的读数调准确。当然,人们有智能手机和手表,但是你会惊讶于他们对公共时钟的依赖程度,尤其是当他们很赶时间的时候。人们仍然需要公共时钟,而且在可以预见的将来,这个大钟还是会不准。”


如今在爱丁堡,人们觉得巴尔莫勒大钟时间不准是理所当然的,这并不是因为人们感怀过去,而是因为熟悉会生发感情。或者至少查尔斯沃思是这样认为的。他说,“如果哪天这座钟准时了,大众会强烈抗议。记住,这是苏格兰。人们不会容忍钟是准时的。”


这座城市里有着一丝不苟的市镇规划,值得信赖的旅游人潮和年度节庆,这些你都可以用来校对你的手表。那多出的三分钟则揭示了这里的生活和当下的一切。

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