Saturday, 22 November 2014

Saturday 22 November 2014

Well, I should like to be regaling you with information from sweet Gisèle - but when I chatted to her about her news and about what she wished to bark, when she began with "Hihihihi... I's on heat - write my 'phone number and address and tell all boy dogs to come and visit pretty Giz, hihihihiiiiiiiii...", I knew that it would not end well.

Instead, therefore, whilst our diminutive heroine "cools down", here is a piece written by my partner; composed as she visited the WWI commemorative art installation of poppies at the Tower of London.


Blood Swept Lands & Seas of Red

 

 
This was the name of the art installation in London, consisting of 888,246 ceramic poppies (one for every British military fatality), created to mark 100 years since the beginning of World War One.  I happened to be in London & went to see it two days before it was fully dismantled.  I found the experience somewhat unsettling & sat on a step to capture my thoughts in writing.  This is what I wrote:

The Tower of London, 15 November 2014, 11:52am

They are coming in waves.  Something vaguely unsettling [is] going on here. [On my] arrival here [earlier, there was] only a certain amount of good-natured jostling followed by apologies & awkward smiles.  But now tourists of all hues & accents pour down Tower Hill as the coaches & tubes disgorge their contents in droves.  A man holds a ladder above the heads of the slowly-moving morass & a pair of Police-officers keeps a vigilant watch, mounted atop powerful, patient horses, both of whom blink unflinchingly as their photographs are taken & their noses are repeatedly tapped by strangers.

The art installation is undeniably beautiful. A single poppy for every UK soldier lost in the bloody slaughter of WWI – & [in this] setting; England’s mighty fortress, which has held firm for centuries -  stronghold of our crown & resting place for executed monarchs & traitors alike.  The mere words “the Tower” once filled Londoners’ hearts with dread – & now it is almost impossible to withstand the huge tides of people rushing to its walls, marshalled by a small army of people with loudhailers trying desperately to keep the crowds in motion & avoid a devastating crush.

There is something ugly about this now.  People are pushing to get at the front, for the “best” view.  An heavily-pregnant woman has just stumbled after being shoved.  Those with high-powered cameras seem utterly oblivious to the presence of tiny children in front of them as they jostle & position in order to get the best angle.  One man barely notices that he has kicked over a toddler, so absorbed is he in focussing his lenses, & he grunts the most cursory of apologies to the tot’s parents.  Helicopters offering “aerial tours” fly & hover noisily overhead at regular intervals, & still more surges of people come.
 
What have they come to see?  The sea of red spilling from the mighty Tower & filling its moat, representing the blood of the fallen?  The art installation that is the current zeitgeist, the pièce du jour, to keep pace with fashion?  An opportunity for a “poppy selfie” to prove to their Facebook friends that they were here?
 
Or do they fix their eye on one single poppy & spare a thought for the lost life that that individual ceramic bloom commemorates?  Perhaps a 19 year-old Tommy, shot in the throat by a German sniper, fallen to the ground in abject terror; the last coherent sound he is able to fix upon as he begins to drown in the endless mud & his own blood is that of his mates being yelled at by their commanding officer: “Forget him!  Leave him! He’s gone; there’s nothing you can do! Keep going…!”
 
Perhaps some do see these poppies as the 888,246 individual lives snuffed out so brutally.  But for the most part – today, at least – more visitors seem keener to push & mutter obscenities at the back of a stranger’s head, when they deem him to have “taken too long” to capture his photograph & his memory.

I wonder what the ghosts of the Tower make of all this?  I found elements here more ghoulish than even Anne Boleyn’s reputed spectral wanderings.




 
Post a Comment