Thursday, 16 September 2010

A bullet proof box on wheels

It’s my brother’s birthday today. He’s 38 years-old and we had lunch together at the Barbican to celebrate. What a curious place that is. It’s obviously incredibly well-loved. I can think of few other examples of 1960s brutalism that are so well-kept. It seems that almost every resident, for example, has flowers cascading over his or her balcony, dripping down towards the bright green ponds underneath. I can’t help but like the place and I’m a man who loathes concrete! Edward said the complex wouldn’t feel out of place in a former communist country and that it suddenly struck him how the brutal architecture we associate with those regimes, was perhaps less a result of socialist principals and more to do with the era during which communism thrived –and perhaps ultimately died.

I managed to find Edward a present for his birthday that hopefully generated a great deal of nostalgia. It's a set of music books which we used to have at our junior school. They’re chock-a-block full of the songs we used to sing in assemblies; those 1960s part-religious, part do-gooder ditties with pretty melodies, and recorder accompaniments, that I suspect only have a shelf-life within classrooms and halls that smell of bleach and school dinners.

I watched some footage today of the Pope in Glasgow. The ghastly sight of him in a bullet proof box on wheels waving inanely at the crowds, made me feel incredibly sad. It’s a horrible thing to watch a person who's so obviously disassociated from the people who love him. A girl presented flowers through the window of the pope-mobile, which pulled up for a minute before continuing on its snaking journey around a make-shift road in a park. A photograph was taken; “something this young girl will treasure for life”, Hugh Edwards said, but no doubt all the picture will show is a white blur behind a window reflecting sunlight. More worryingly, the only flags that people were waving were of the Irish and Italian variety; a sea of orange, white and green. It was all very pretty, but where were the union flags? Where were the Scottish flags? Everything felt so incredibly phoney.

The only thing that moved me slightly was a young woman, billed as a “single mother of 4 from a council estate in Glagow.” She sounded genuinely thrilled and said she’d come to see the pope, and that if she got to actually meet him, she’d get down on her knees. They asked her what she'd say to him, and she replied; “I’ll pray for you and you pray for me and we’ll both get through this life together.” Which I thought was a lovely statement, but what good is praying when you could actually get off your arse and DO some good? Also, I’m sure I’m not the only one who wondered whether she might not have been in such a terrible financial situation if she hadn’t signed up to a religion that encouraged unsafe sex!

Pepys was typically busy on this day 350 years ago, darting from place to place, meeting people en route. It was a Sunday, so naturally he went to church twice; the second time to Westminster Abbey, where he “walked up and down” until it was time for the sermon.

Later in the day, he wondered around St James’ Park, taking a look at the work Charles II was having done to Pall Mall, and the canal that was taking shape in the park itself. It was here that Pepys saw the King, who was mourning for his brother in purple. Pepys was also sad to announce that the Earl of Oxford had died of the pox; with no heirs, thus bringing an end to a title which was some 500 years old. Pepys needn’t have worried, however, because the Earl’s death was a vicious rumour .The man actually lived as long as Pepys himself, right the way into the next century. He still died without an heir, however, so Pepys was right in one respect.

Pepys also bumped into the young Diana Crisp, who said she needed to talk to him the next time he was in Westminster. Quite why she couldn’t talk to him there and then I’ve no idea, but it properly freaked him out, possibly because he thought she was going to announce a pregnancy that he may or may not have something to do with! When he eventually arrived at his house, it was very late at night. On his way home; “a gentleman in the Poultry had a great and dirty fall over a waterpipe that lay along the channel.” Man, those streets were dangerous!

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