Icons in SE1

David ‘Born to Dare’ Beckham is currently appearing, in rotation with various “punks” for Brewdog, on a monument, a stainless steel hoarding near the Imax roundabout in Waterloo which serves to block off the view of the National Theatre, those famous concrete towers and cubes that nobody can be bothered to hate any more, I don’t think even Prince Charles gets worked up about it, there are so many much more upsetting things in the built landscape these days. David is being an icon. He had lots of practise for this most boring of occupations because he spent the whole of his childhood kicking a football, not just against a wall, but against a particular brick in the wall. But it’s not so easy for David to be iconic because he loves to change his appearance. Jesus Christ and Nelson Mandela didn’t spend a lot of time at the barber’s or the tattoo parlour. And the man on the cross doesn’t need to have his name spelt out in the bottom left hand corner, but David Beckham does. The modern beard culture allows for so many tedious metamorphoses. David’s now is just a touch casual, as if he’s struggling to break free of the culture of metropolitan narcissistic decadence. Not every millimetre of his beard is under close control. He might be Admiral Sir David Beckham, a patriotic presence on the bridge through rough seas. As well as being an icon, David appears to be advertising watches, though the watch on his wrist is nicely camouflaged by the thick carpet of his tattoos.

Turn around and the IMAX cinema wears a big picture of Andy Murray # 1. That must mean World Number One. Oh dear. Andy has just been beaten by someone – nobody knows his name – ranked 920th. Andy is shown in cartoon form as a grim superstar with supercharged muscles. He too has his name written up in case we don’t recognise him – though the tennis racket is a pretty big clue. There is nothing to my eye that indicates what might be being advertised, though I think I can make out a perverse form of the letters U and A. In the background you can see the Shell redevelopment site, where thousands of workers from all over the world are working away to solve London’s housing crisis – er – 160 ‘affordable’ flats out of 868. The chief executive of the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co says: “South Bank Place is a true celebration of the South Bank’s heritage.” And the Canary Wharf Croup chairman (those two organisations are doing the South Bank together) said : “we are confident that this scheme will be a world-class addition to a culturally vibrant area of London.” (See my recent post, new outrage in SE1.)DSCF6578DSCF6583

Meanwhile the heavy 19th century gate, the main entrance into St John’s churchyard with its well hidden but vibrant display of world class eryngiums has been locked shut for years because it’s too expensive to repair it. Still, the South Bank Place developers have given us some new compost bins!

post script:   maybe men play with beards and tattoos because they have such limited options. Men can do what they like these days I know, but generally nails, lips, toes, eyelashes, extremes of leg, push-up bras, skin-tight jeans, heels, all that shimmers and glows and sails in the breeze, all that is left to women. We need more hair to play with. Would it be possible for evolution to reverse and make us hairy all over again? Gone would be all the torment of acne, excema, rashes, we’d be all smooth and silky like a beautiful dog. Unless you went to the parlour and got, say, a mohican all down your spine. The possibilities are endless. Hairless to the shoulders and then furry to the toes, with white streaks down the chest and white tips to the limbs in the manner of border collies – maybe we could have our tails back too? A good tail is a great gift to groomers. Fur just round the torso like a body warmer? Or curly-furred muscles? And of course the retro style, done from photos from the 20th century: hair on the head, in the armpits and around the genitals, and the rest of the body shaved, sprayed, waxed, smoothed, warmed, oiled, perfumed, coloured, moisturised.
I think extreme fur would suit all sorts of men, from Vidal, the Chilean who plays for Bayern Munich, who looks as if he’s trying desperately to invent his own kind of animal, to proper smoothies like David Cameron and Tony Blair. And then there’d be the ones who just couldn’t be bothered, and went around with seeds stuck in their coat, mud up to their knees, desert dust itchy against the skin but who cares.

post post-script:   ps this morning I think I got it: David is both the tattooed jolly Jack Tar, and the dignified admiral. Hence the vibrant complexity of his personality. Whereas his wife… she’s like Barking and Dagenham, voted London’s least vibrant borough.
then in the bath I got to thinking about my mother, who had a stern sense of the inadequacy of ‘nice’, which surprisingly is never wholly out of fashion, though ‘cool’ has pushed it to the edge. She replaced nice with pleasant. That never worked very well either. How was your drive through the 5 river valleys, the Nadder, Bourne, Ebble, Wylye and Avon, which cut gentle dips in the chalk downs and meet at Salisbury? was it a) nice, b) pleasant, c) vibrant, d) lively, e) none of these things?
(None Of These Things would be a title for a memoir.)

things that are vibrant
actually, it simply means lively, but is thought to have a higher status than lively, which is a feeble old-fashioned word. if you said that London’s Southbank was lively it puts it in the same category as a group of old friends having a drink in a pub, or a birthday party for a three year old. Vibrant presumably links with the now redundant ‘vibes’, and suggests liveliness with deep cultural significance, whilst at the same time, like most cliches, closing the door to any examination of what that significance might be. For example, it might be to do with the carefully policed meeting of wealth and poverty, privilege and deprivation, entitlement and exclusion. A banker at a falafel stall, the skateboarders’ little ghetto and its audience, the beggars and the benefactors.
barking and dagenham voted london’s least vibrant borough.

and don’t forget the old word for vibrant: bustling. Quaint, isn’t it?  It’s like a street scene in a Dickens movie.

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2 Responses to Icons in SE1

  1. Tina Talbot says:

    What is Brewdog? We’ve recently had an explosion of hoardings in Exeter – on the road to the station and the road leading into the industrial estate there must be,oh, as many as 15 or 20. But none mention Brewdog.

    • Brewdog is actually very good beer. They must have heavy financial backing; they’ve made the supermarket breakthrough, although it’s quite expensive. They promote this ‘punk’ image.Bit like the old fashioned idea of the British eccentric except that it involves more swearing in public. I stopped drinking it when I heard that they had marketed a new brand of vodka called something like Lone Wolf, and sent their rotweiler lawyers in pursuit of a bar in Birmingham with the same name. If you’ve not heard of it down in Devon that’s because you’re just not trendy enough. xx

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