Wednesday, 28 August 2013

More Landmarks That Are Secretly Awesome Transformers

I've just returned from a week offshore Mozambique, on a boat without any internet. I return to find that I've had another article published on Cracked - 6 Landmarks That Are Secretly Awesome Transformers.

As ever, the editors made various alterations to the article I submitted, trimming it for length, making it funnier and snappier, and adapting it a little more to the Cracked voice. The editors also spun my original premise around a little, which had been "Hidden Functions of Famous Landmarks". I think their version was a little jazzier, although it did elicit one message, sent privately via the Cracked mail system, which stated simply "that's not what a transformer is". My apologies if I've outraged any other fans of the TV/film series.

I submitted seven entries to the article, and they used six of them. They didn't use the following:

Big Ben has a prison cell

Big Ben is one of London’s most famous monuments, even though it’s now been given the boring official name of “Elizabeth Tower”, which we guess is named after someone famous... Lizzie McGuire? It was built in the 19th Century so that all of England could tell the time (Stonehenge proving to be an unreliable sundial).

Put a bowler hat on it and you’ve got the essence of England.

Pretty obviously a giant clock, but Big Ben also has an extra secret function – as a prison. About a third of the way up is a room, called very sensibly “the Prison Room”. Big Ben is attached to the Houses of Parliament, where all the United Kingdom’s politicians gather to debate the finer points of society, while taking snuff and swapping collapsible top hats (seriously - we’re not joking). Combined with the fact that the Houses of Parliament has several functioning bars, it was thought only prudent to install a nearby prison cell.

“Dammit woman, prison life is hell. Pass me the gin.

It has been described as one of the nicest prison cells a prisoner could occupy, with oak panels, a bedroom, and a sitting room. However, the room cannot be accessed from the Big Ben internal stairway, it is only accessible by a special route through Parliament. It was last used in 1880 when a politician named Charles Bradlaugh committed the heinous crime of refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria.

He was kept there until he’d grown a suitably impressive set of Victorian whiskers

There were a few other suggestions the editors rejected. Petra was regarded as being not surprising enough as it seemed not unlikely the feasting would be connected with a burial ritual, and both the World Trade Center and Tower Bridge weren't thought to fit the premise so well. Here they are, in pitched (i.e. not written up properly) form.

Petra tombs were also used as feast halls

As seen in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Transformers 2", Petra in Jordan is otherwise famous for its hundreds of 2000-year-old tombs cut out of the rock, many of which look like this.

This is just one of a city of elaborate cliff-face facades, which are all royal or elite tombs. The doorways of the facades lead to small chambers (which don't, alas, contain the Holy Grail, as per Indiana Jones), and in many of these chambers or sub-chambers are (usually three) benches called a triclinium. These rooms were used banquet halls, usually for regular feasts honouring the dead, but seemingly sometimes just for a big feed for the sake of it. Often these feasts would take place in the same room as the burial, which didn't appear to put anyone off their meal.

The World Trade Center was one of the world’s biggest gold depositories

No conspiracy theory (although a casual Google search reveals plenty), the WTC really did have underground vaults with 12 tons of gold and 935 tons of silver. Owned by a group of commercial banks, it was effectively there for safe keeping, in a colossal 16 acre underground basement – twice as much space as the Empire State Building. Despite the disaster, it proved to be a safe place – about a month after the towers were destroyed it was all removed intact.

Tower Bridge is a wedding venue

As you’d imagine, Tower Bridge’s main function is as a bridge – cars drive over it, and when the bascules open, boats sail through it. The towers don’t really do much, but originally the walkway at the top between  them was for pedestrian traffic – but closed in 1910 as nobody was using it except for thieves and prostitutes.

But it’s now being used for wedding receptions. Since 2003, you can either get married in the romantic settings of the old engine room for up to 120 people, or the walkways have been refurbished to fit 250 people for a long, thin, wedding reception 150 feet above the water.

As a short postscript, shortly after having submitted the completed article, I happened to visit Tower Bridge. And from the visit, I discovered it used to have an amazing hidden function - as a mortuary. Bodies found in the Thames would  be laid out in a certain area near the base of the bridge, not too far from the engine rooms. There's a little more about it here.

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