Monday, 26 September 2011

He has what you might call a trivial occupation!

It's hot, it’s wet and it’s incredibly sticky. I'm sitting on the tube during a rush hour. As we make our way progressively further north, the carriages are becoming more and more crowded. The windows have steamed over. Sweat is gushing from every pore.

I'm knackered. It’s a good form of knackered. I’ve been in Trafalgar Square all day today playing Samuel Pepys in a curious art installation-cum-peep show called "the Samuel Pepys show." Do you see what they did there? It's subtitle was "sneak a peek," but unfortunately someone wrote "peak" all over the branding, so midway through the day someone else arrived with a load of e's to paste over the offending a's!

Anyway, my task was to flounce about in 17th Century garb attempting to get passers by to look through a series of little windows which revealed a set of model boxes which represented what's being planned for London in 2012 for those of us who are all Olympic’d out. These corporate events can be excruciating, but the artist who'd made the model boxes had done such an incredible job that you couldn't halt the swathes of people who wanted to look through the windows. They fired everyone up, and it was a privilege to guide people over. The highlight was definitely the window which demonstrated the Globe Theatre’s “37 Shakespeare plays in 37 different languages” festival, which featured a real person sitting in a tiny cardboard theatre. He was dressed as a 16th century fool, and as the day went on, we switched roles so that I could have a go at sitting in the theatre. It was great fun. The weather held out until five minutes before we packed up and I think the majority of people who saw the installation went away enriched by the experience.

I felt rather pathetically proud to be playing Pepys. I was also pleased that so many Pepys fans came over to talk to me. There’s always a sort of stand-off between Pepys aficionados where the two parties sort of size one another’s knowledge up. One man spoke at me for about 4 minutes assuming I knew nothing about the man, and it was strangely satisfying to floor him with a nugget of knowledge as soon as I’d managed to get a word in edgeways.  I met a charming naval historian and had long chats with two people who claim to have ancestors who were part of the Pepys clan. I was also astonished by how many primary school children seemed to know who I was. One little girl came rushing over and said; “have you found your parmesan cheese yet?” It seems Pepys burying his cheese in the garden during the great fire has become the story that most children remember. Like when you learn about the Egyptians and only remember that they used to get the brains out by shoving sticks up the nostrils!!

Who's this little girl?

Sadly my feet hurt like hell on account of my having been given shoes that can only be described as having Cuban heels. Heaven knows how women manage to walk around in stilettos. I was also slightly disappointed by the wig I was given. I think it was a less Pepys and little more Jill Gascoine.


The fascinating part of the day was definitely arriving in Trafalgar Square at 8.30am to find two kestrels flying around. They had owners, who were wearing those leather gloves, but it was a very peculiar sight. I suddenly remembered hearing stories that the "troublesome" pigeons in Trafalgar Square had been scared away by kestrels and felt rather special to be up early enough to witness it happening for real. And it very much did the trick. The hawks flew about for half an hour or so, but by the end of the day I'd only seen about six pigeons in total. Not much fun for the family who came up to say "where have the pigeons gone? I brought my children to Trafalgar Square to see the pigeons!" And part of me felt very sad indeed.

350 years ago was a nasty rainy day and Pepys went to the theatre with his wife. Keen readers of this blog will remember that trips to the theatre were considered okay if Elizabeth was present. Pepys had a rather peculiar set of moral boundaries! They saw King or No King at the King’s Theatre and it was “very well done.” Because of the rain, they took a coach home. I wonder what they'd have made of the tube...

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a really fun day! Why didn't you give us advance warning, Ben, instead of teasing us afterwards?! I'd have definitely wandered down for a gander!

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