And we were first up. Well, almost. One over-keen journalist stormed up the 311 steps faster than you could say 'world's tallest freestanding column', leaving us to a huffing, puffing second place. We didn't get a silver medal, but did acquire a certificate of stair-climbing ability, should anyone seek proof.
Now we're sure you're all familiar with the history: in short, the Monument was designed by Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren as both a monument to the Great Fire of London and an unusual laboratory for astronomical observations and pendulum experiments. The rest you can read here.
Everyone's favourite Doric erection has been closed for a year and a half for extensive restoration. Now, the stonework is clean, the staircase is smooth, an elegant birdcage canopy enrobes the viewing gallery and the surmounting orb shines resplendent in fresh gilding (note, that's 'gilding', not 'gelding'; curiously, though, a pony was led to the top of the column by a fishmonger's lad in 1814, according to the Annals of London. And, to stretch the theme further, a pony or two of the monetary kind was lost from the Monument during regilding; one representative of the architects firm told us that the 23.5 carat gold leaf was difficult to apply in strong winds, and the shiny stuff would occasionally blow away. Fortunately, the £4.5 million project was not funded by the taxpayer but the City Lands and Bridge House Estates Committee. This is turning into a hell of a digression. Sorry.)
The tower also sports a few technological improvements. The architects resisted the urge to fit the world's longest and most treacherous wheelchair ramp and instead settled for a digital solution. A specially designed panoramic camera system will relay live images from the top of the column to both a website and a viewing screen at the base. Meanwhile, talking telescopes have been fitted to the viewing platform to help you spot the key buildings. And down below, a new grate in the floor allows a shadowy peek into Hooke and Wren's long-hidden basement laboratory.
The work was only just completed in time. Restorers worked extra shifts to make up for time lost during the recent snows. The handrail varnish was still a little fresh in places, but otherwise the Monument looked ready for business and good to go for another hundred years. And one final tip: take a small camera rather than a DSLR. The new meshing at platform level might look elegant, but it's no friend of the photographer.