Saturday, 14 December 2013

Dignity


Having survived the outbreak of pox in the 18th century, this house on Barton Street stood too close to The Francis Hotel one night in 1942 and has the scars to prove it. The pink stone around the lower, central window is the effect of the fire which also gutted it that night.

I'm sure you know why six windows are blocked up, but I'll tell you anyway. The government - as keen as ever to milk the populace for revenue - decided to tax properties on the basis of how many windows they had, and the populace - as keen as ever to avoid as much taxation as possible - filled as many as they could with the local stone.

When they abolished 'the light tax' as a bad job, most people unblocked the windows, but a lot still remain, with recesses ready to take wooden sash-boxes. I unblocked a few some years ago, and it felt as though I was destroying a little bit of history.

Just past the woman with the shopping bags, there are three adjoining streets named 'Quiet Street', 'John Street' and 'Wood Street'. John Wood (the foremost architect of Georgian Bath) was at a council meeting one night, and anxious to see the business of the naming of his three new terraces seen out, so shouted, "What are we going to call my three new streets?"

The chairman shouted back, "Quiet, John Wood!"

There is a campaign being fought here right now to name a street in Bath, 'Nelson Mandela Street'. Here we bloody go again.

There is something a bit North Korean about naming streets after heroes, but at least we wait until the hero is dead before we start changing the names of airports and railway stations.

I am so glad that the stupid practice of putting up statues of dignitaries has gone out of fashion. I think the last one to be commissioned here was of Margaret Thatcher, and you would be hard-pressed to find an uglier piece of scrap metal lying around in a public place, waiting to be vandalised or melted down.

I don't think that there has ever been a statue of a human ever put up that does not look instantly ridiculous, especially with a pigeon perched on its head and white shit streaming down its face, and the effect is further enhanced if the hero is sitting upon a prancing horse.

Whenever I have been on horseback, I always felt a bit ridiculous and self-concious, and they were even real horses. The most extreme form of public humiliation used to be being forced to ride a horse through the streets back to front, and I don't know why this little detail should have made it so much more humiliating.

As I write this, I am looking out of the window at a rather fine statue of Queen Victoria, carved out of Portland stone by an Italian man who lived and worked in Bath at the turn of the 19th century. She has the characteristic, stern expression on her chubby, regal face.

A few years ago, some students climbed up and gave her a red plastic clown's nose, and now I cannot look at her in the same light again. Nothing is sacred.

30 comments:

  1. There's a modern 'statue' of Venus not far from here; it's really just a naked woman. Recently some jolly japesters painted a bra and pants on her; it looked wonderful.

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    1. That grass Mohican they gave Churchill was good too.

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  2. The renaming of streets here in Austria is fast becoming a standing joke. Its great news for the signmakers that there are towns in Austria called Bad Fucking and Wank. In Vienna during WWII there used to be in common with most towns an Adolf Hitler Platz and a Hermann Göring Platz. The first reverted to its old name of Rathaus Platz and the other became Roosevelt Platz. There's now talk of renaming Kennedy Bridge and Karl Lueger Platz. Maybe be one of them will become Vienna's Mandela bandwagon of Zeitgeist thing.

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    1. My impressions of Austria are that quite a few of the older generation would have like to have kept Adolf Hitler Platz named like that.

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    2. I think its much less these days. I think there is a certain affection for the older traditions of the k u. k Empire of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Lederhosen, Dirndl, etc.. The President always greets visitors to the Hofburg under the portrait of the Empress Maria Theresa. And although a Republic without a monarchy they seem to have 'crown' witnesses and even a popular newspaper called 'the crown'. Stories on European Royals and British Royals dominated the daily chitchat pages. At the moment Prince Harry at the south pole is a live theme.

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    3. I had many Maria Theresa silver dollars once.

      I was almost attacked in Salzburg by a bunch of 80 year-old nazis, but they must be dead by now.

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  3. "And then in 1966, on March the seventh day
    A bloody great explosion made Lord Nelson rock and sway
    He crashed and Dan O'Connell cried in woeful misery
    "There are twice as many pigeons now will come and sit on me"

    A Tommy Makem song written when the I.R.A.blew up the statue of Lord Nelson. The price that statues pay...

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    1. I don't remember Nelson being blown up. I once turned off the fountains in Trafalgar Square - officially.

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    2. Belfast, not Trafalgar.

      An official act of fountain manipulation. Sounds like a story.

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    3. Ah.

      It would be a story of 1960s rebellion, when idiot students like me had some idiotic sympathy for the IRA, just like you American idiots who contributed to Noraid.

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    4. Oh, please.
      Amazing how many years it took the IRA and the British military to realize neither could defeat the other and call an end to it. Wasn't Nelson Mandela involved?

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    5. I don't believe he was, but I could be mistaken. The IRA would have sunk years before without Noraid funding. Now there are bombs going off in Belfast again by a third generation.

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    6. I'm sorry, I don't mean to be personally insulting - I just think that we were all idiots in those days, and I include myself in that.

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    7. No offense taken. Of course we all were idiots, it was our job. And too poor to send money anywhere.

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  4. I have walked by that statue often. Next time I will wave just in case

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  5. Having poop running down your statue is a metaphor for the importance of humility in all 'important' people, even ones who turn off fountains. But then you may be missing out the bit where you had to spend the next ten days scrubbing all the manky gunge out of the fountains.

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    1. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair...

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  6. Hence the expression ' daylight robbery ' APPARENTLY !!
    Statues in London { …. and elsewhere } give me the heebeejeebees !! ….. bird poo on them makes them more tolerable !! XXXX

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    1. Just above the steps down to the ICA in London, there is a massive statue of the Great Grandfather of a girlfriend of mine. I always think of her when I drive past it.

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    2. Daylight robbery eh? That's interesting.

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    3. That is apparently where the expression ' daylight robbery ' comes from. We used to live in a cottage built in 1646 and, the window on the flank wall was bricked up. I think that the first window tax came into force in 1696 and was repealed in 1851. XXXX

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    4. We had (have) one bricked-up in a house in Brighton, but as the house is Victorian, I'm not sure why!

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    5. There's probably a secret room behind it which you never knew was there.

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  7. Here in the US, we just tear all buildings down. Once it reaches that 50 year mark it seems to take itself apart. Sad really. I think tonight while the hubbie sleeps I'll just block up some of our windows on the farmhouse to see if anyone notices, or better yet, gives us a tax break.

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    1. You would need planning permission to do that here.

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  8. Agree Tom. Did you see where they had tumbled over a statue of Lenin this week? How are the mighty fallen.

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    1. Yes - I am amazed that it lasted so long.

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  9. Alexei Sayle said that all statues of Lenin looked as though he was hailing a taxi.

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