Yesterday afternoon, there was a naked man on the plinth. A young, good looking man who stood proudly naked, apart from his tattoos. The crowd wolf-whistled, cheered, photographed, admired and smiled especially the women. They were reduced to behaving like girls. Grown women giggled, nudged and whispered to their friends whilst all the while not taking their eyes off him. It was amusing but not dramatic.
Jug, unlike Susanna, was not modest but walked around, smiled and posed for pictures. He looked very comfortable but would he be asked to put his clothes back on? The police did come to have a look but, after discussions with the One & Other organizers which we couldn’t hear, he was allowed to continue with his hour, unclothed. So, no drama there then.
Yet, within that hour, a small unexpected drama was played out.
Many women stood appreciating the unexpected beauty of the art work in front of them but none so intently as a passing lady in blue. She stopped, she looked, she smiled. She then wrote a note as she spoke into her ‘phone. A note which she then gave to the security attendant, one presumes, to pass to the man on the plinth. It was only a few minutes and one small action but it now leaves me with a number of questions.
Did she realize she was caught on the webcam for the world to see, surmise and comment on? Did Jug get the note? I also want to know what the note said. Was it just admiring praise, asking for a life model, or a suggestion to have a drink together? If the latter, hopefully, she wasn’t doing anything she wasn’t supposed to! But what was his reaction?
From those very few minutes within the hour, a whole drama was potentially unfolding but, frustratingly, there was no neat Aristotelian beginning, middle and end. We just saw a start but what followed, if anything, we’ll never know! That’s real life for you…
Last Friday there were two people on the plinth and both of them chose activities that could be potentially disconcerting. At 7pm Susanna sat on the plinth in all her naked glory, very serenely but very modestly, appearing peaceful and relaxed.
The irony was, that whilst totally naked, Susanna seemed to reveal less of herself than if she had been wearing clothes or had props to assist her. In fact, she seemed more anonymous because she was naked, had no mic and, apart from a few smiles and waves to the crowd, was very self-contained.
It wasn’t, therefore, the ‘racy’ performance some might have feared, or even hoped for. Indeed, it was a very low-key event and she managed to last the whole hour with no one asking her to put her clothes back on. Which, I’m glad of because Susanna looked so serene and lovely up there.
That was in stark contrast to Anonymous at 9pm who, dressed as a carpenter, proceeded to pose with a very large cross. He imitated images of Christ dragging his cross to his crucifixion, being on the cross itself, he struck some very powerful poses using well known religious symbolism.
Yet, despite the ‘strength’ of his images his commentary revealed his doubts about so many things including himself. He seemed to feel he had failed in his hour in some way that was hard for an observer like me to perceive. He felt he wasn’t ‘up to’ the challenge, unlike other plinthians, which was very sad because the hour was his to do with as he wanted.
At was at this point he abandoned the religious imagery and started striking comic poses with the cross at people’s request so they could photograph him. It was shortly after that he was asked to put the cross down. He didn’t argue or refuse, he just pulled the cross apart, made a sort of bench out of it and lay on it for the remainder of his hour.
I wondered, therefore, what had been the fundamental difference between these two hours. Both plinthians were exercising their right to do what they wanted, both created powerful images that might have challenged or provoked adverse responses in their viewers but only one did, the man with the cross.
It seems to me, the difference between the two were their conflicting demeanors whilst they were on the plinth. Susanna was composed, quiet and in no way sexually overt whilst Anonymous took the symbol of the cross and used it as a wooden prop for crowd photos. It seemed to be this that caused the offense. That this should have been so, shows that people are still far from comfortable being challenged about what they hold dear and they expect others to show a respect they may not actually have for the images and symbols, those offended, find so important.
There is a discussion on the One&Other site about the application process. Whether it should have had a component of selection or, as it was, truly random. I can see why the question has been asked but for me the beauty of being ‘chosen’ is that it has nothing to do with being ‘deserved’. Deserved in the sense of ‘winning’ a place according to some criteria other than geographical location or sex.
This is because there has been such a variety of people on the plinth and they would never, I believe, have got up there by any other method. I love the idea of Kitchen Gadget Mum, Rickster whose dancing and bad language made me laugh, George and his fabulous poem, the man orating in a Roman toga, and Academic Grandad who seemed to have difficulty calling his grandsons on his mobile ‘phone without his glasses. All of these, plus many others, have provided brief insights into lives we’ll know nothing more about than we what see, and what they choose to present to us, in their hour on the plinth.
I’m glad winning a place is not about talent, though talent does abound amongst the plinthians whilst they raise issues, raise money for charity or just raise laughs! I prefer their talents to be discovered rather than presaged, that we find it unexpectedly whilst filling that spare half-hour watching the web-cams.
Essentially, I just like the idea that someone like me, not an artist or a performer, who is without a sob story so favoured by reality TV shows, can be on the plinth. I was given a gift, that was as unexpected as it was wonderful, and I want others to have that too regardless of age, talent or any other criteria so I believe they got the selection process spot on!
…it gets in the way!
I have discovered through this whole process that I really enjoy writing this blog. I’ve even discovered I don’t really care if it’s read though, obviously, I would prefer that it is; please go ahead, read away, continue.
As I say, real life gets in the way and I’ve really missed the opportunity to put my thoughts down in the last two weeks due to various demands on my time. I didn’t realize this would be the case.
I’ve been surprised how frustrated I’ve been, even angry, that I haven’t had the time to let the words flow and, surprisingly to me, they do exactly that, they flow. They pour out in a way I never expected because, whilst I write at work, I find it quite difficult at times. Then those of you that have written a project definition report know what fun they are. Yes, I do jest.
I’ve become quite adept at finding little bits of paper to jot down my thoughts. I have scraps of paper in my handbag, diary and book. I’ve become proficient at writing on the tube. The handwriting is rubbish but the movement of the train seems to shake loose my thoughts and the words flow onto the back of shopping lists, old envelopes and library receipts.
My objective is not originality or profundity and I find I don’t want to create characters and dialogue and devise imaginative scenarios for them. I enjoy reading too much for that. But I’ve become aware of sentence and paragraph construction, the use of words in a way I never have before. Though it might not seem so to you, dear reader. So writing this blog is very different for all these reasons and also because I have the freedom to write what I like, when I like, and have a ready-made vehicle to publish it. A control-freak’s dream!
There are so many aspects of this project, and the thoughts that it raises that I still want to make mention of, so this is just to let you know that I’m back on air and further installments will now appear on a regular basis, read or not!
In one 24 hour period, on Monday, we had two women, one the youngest so far at 16 years old and the other the oldest at 84 years old. The contrast between their different hours on the plinth was stark. One dancing around, constantly moving, in the early morning light whilst the other sat in her wheelchair with her semaphore flags, in the pouring rain, in the dark.
Given this project is about creating a portrait of Britain, I spend time whilst watching trying to work out who these many people are. Of course, I realize they are too rich and complex to give up themselves to understanding in a mere hour but I think to myself, the young woman, who will she become through the years, the older woman, what has she experienced, enjoyed, regretted, if anything.
This cannot be appreciated from one hour’s observation but what cannot be ignored is the energy and exuberance of the younger woman or the courage and experience of the older woman. For me, as someone in the middle of these two, neither young nor old, I would like to take the best qualities from each and as Tenacious said from her wheelchair ‘…this may not be the life you want but it’s the one you’ve got so stick a Geranium in your hat and be happy…’ which is good advice to us all.
…and East Ham Church ladies and today a Tamil rally. The plinthians that have been on over this weekend have coped with these distractions with varying degrees of success.
There were rowdy football fans singing and dancing around like only men, in a large group without their womenfolk around, can. This contrasted starkly with the ladies from the East Ham Church of God who were all dressed in white and singing their hymns. The two groups provided a complete contrast to each other in terms of gender, age, race, faith and behaviour.
Against this background, Ellympics was fantastic. It was fun and really involved the crowd. Elliott was not in the least over-shadowed by these distractions. There was an anthem, paper plane tossing, egg catching and a slow motion race, for which I couldn’t quite work out the rules. I would’ve thought the person who came last would win but, no, it was the little girl who crossed the line first – but just very slowly! As I say, I didn’t quite understand what it was about but everyone joined in including some passing cyclists.
The chap that came after Ellympics caused people to walk off in droves. He seemed to be doing an homage to the history of protest in the Square. He held up a banner about not paying the poll tax, wore a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Love and Taxes’ on it but as the crowd were not sure what was going on – they left, including me!
Today there was a huge Tamil protest rally in Trafalgar Square but the plinthian that took my eye was the ‘Dancing Dad’. He was doing his own silent disco wearing a man skirt, horns and wings! The picture explains all, well, nearly all.
Dancing Dad silently gyrated to his music whilst hundreds of people protesting below him made a huge noise. Given that he had both horns and wings, I wasn’t sure if he was an omen for good or bad but, I decided, it had to be for good because he looked so happy to be there dancing away on the plinth.
It then started raining – what’s new this summer - so I went to have afternoon tea in the National Gallery. It’s one of my favourite meals, full of refined carbs, diary fats and sugar, all washed down with lots of Earl Grey tea – lovely! I was waiting for the Knitted Flowers Lady but, whilst I waited, I ate cake…which is something we plinthians have been accused of lately, you know, world going to wrack and ruin and we just cavort on the plinth – well, it’s true and what fun it is.
…a donation made and a message left!
When planning my stint on the plinth I did hope the ‘charity message in a bottle’ idea would come to fruition. What I hadn’t planned on was the rain, especially with it meeting, head-on, the environmental requirements I had set myself.
The cards were made of recycled pulp and designed to degrade very quickly so quickly, in fact, they were falling apart as I put them on the balloons. I came down from the plinth with bits of card stuck all over my hands. This, combined with the absolute torrent of rain on the following day, I resigned myself to not getting any responses back at all.
Well, I’m glad to say I was wrong, and balloon label 42, which was Caryn’s balloon, was found in a horses' field in Drinkstone Green in Suffolk. The finder is Barbara Gregory who has decided to keep up her monthly gift aid to The Brooke Hospital and becomes donator number 70. I was also glad for Caryn because, as much as she wasn’t on the plinth, she has become an active part of my hour.
I was saddened by Barbara’s story of not being kept on by her employer when she turns 65. It’s a subject close to my heart as I get older. Self-interest, yes, but as someone who grew up in the 70s both here in the UK and in a small city in Australia – Adelaide – where opportunities were not always so forthcoming, having the opportunity to work is a subject that is very important to me. Especially as we find ourselves in a society being encouraged to work longer but faced with employers who are not always willing to allow people to do so.
I could write so much more about this subject, but I won’t, because the purpose of this blog is not to have a rant about political and social issues, there are others who can do that far better than I, but to say ‘thank you’ to Barbara and to wish her well in her job search.
…well one other, a £25 gift voucher from M&S.
I didn’t realise I was so shameless but, after the level of press coverage combined with the number of times I was asked about my dress, I decided to write to M&S. It was at this point I realised it was easier said than done.
On their website I could only find a general email address which I used but got absolutely no reply. I then tried the Corporate Comms email address but, again, got no reply. I then obtained the name of the Head of Design for Womenswear and sent him an email but, finally, I found the best address was Sir Stuart Rose himself which I made-up using the structure of all the other addresses I had tried.
When I initially didn’t get any replies I remonstrated with myself over my inflated sense of self-importance. Given the scale of M&S’s clothing operation somebody must be doing something significant in M&S clothing every day. Working, celebrating, grieving, getting married or just going to the shops. Why did I think they would be interested in me on the plinth in one of their dresses.
Well, to my surprise they were. I got a very nice email from the aforementioned Head of Design for Womenswear and a £25 gift voucher from Sir Stuart Rose. It was a gesture that was not required but was appreciated because I was grateful to that dress. It got soaked but didn’t go limp, it harmonized with the stonework of the Square but provided a really good contrast to my balloons. Best of all, due to that dress, I looked like a ‘real girl’ for my fifteen minutes of fame which is quite an achievement for a tomboy like me!
This all began two weeks previously when a story about me, my balloons and the plinth had appeared in the London Lite. I was meeting my plinth buddy that evening and given my sudden ‘fame’ he tried to get a free drink for me. The manager kindly declined – I don’t think I even rated a ‘z’ on the celebrity’ometer – but he did come over for a chat to find out what it was all about.
He then did offer a jug of Pimms if I would get BBC London to film in The Prince Regent the next day when they were due to do a piece on me as the first Londoner on the plinth. I did raise the possibility with the reporter but we decided we weren’t that desperate for a Pimms so went to Trafalgar Square instead!
Going back to Saturday night, I found out that the manager - sorry, I don’t know your name so had better introduce myself when I next go in – had heard me on Radio 4 on the day I was on the plinth. It was part of a common post-plinth refrain about how so many people had ‘woken up to me’ that day! We chatted about the day and how it had gone and, surprisingly, he is one of the few people I’ve talked to who has wanted to apply after hearing about it. Most other people consider me absolutely mad.
So, given the combination of free drink and applying for the plinth, I feel honour bound to mention The Prince Regent pub, which is no hardship, because it’s a great place – try it for yourself!
…and comments on the One and Other site around this project. Much has been positive, some negative, others repetitive but there has been one commentator that has stayed with me -‘Dictionary’. I found his comments particularly annoying which surprised me given some of the others on the site so I wanted to understand why.
Thinking about it, I believe it’s the structure he uses, the device of the dictionary itself. This structure implies knowledge, rationality, an understanding of true meaning we, as an average commentator, do not have. It is the implied intellectual superiority combined with anonymity, the hiding behind the lexicological structure, which really bothers me. So, I never thought I’d write this, but I realize I prefer the off the cuff invective in all it’s, often, badly spelt, badly argued glory.
Albeit, in your face, it strikes me as more understandable, though I might not agree with it, than the carefully constructed, carefully calculated rudeness to people who may or may not be some of the things Dictionary accuses them of. What I’m certain of, is they are not harming anyone in their hour, especially when they sit and view the world from ‘their’ plinth, but are opening themselves to the world in a way Dictionary seems unable to do.