hand-baked no. 4: come, friendly bombs!

How exciting! And look, here are some happy people! And St Paul’s, there’s always room for St Paul’s – there’s hardly anything else left.

And things, nice things, random things, lots of fun:

A better tomorrow! with bicycles, birds and butterflies! That’d be the imagination running wild. Not sure about the colours though. I’m finding that aquamarine a bit sinister. And look at this:

Regenerative lifts and openable windows! And that green rose again. But who is this:

Recognise him? He’s been copied and pasted. Sir John Betjeman, a photo of the statue that stands in St Pancras, where he is admiring the restored roof which he campaigned to save. And this is what the lover of Victorian architecture appears to be gazing up at here:

Yes, it’s London’s Latest Riverside Landmark! Though to be fair, Sir John is probably not staring at building site but wildly imagining the future, but at the moment, apart from the birds and roses (and there’s a swan and a big balloon and lots of dynamic young people dancing and running and smiling), it looks like this:

The building we are asked to imagine – although it looks as if the developers and architects have already done that – is in the foreground. To the left of it you can see the beginning of the millennium footbridge and in the background St Paul’s. Everything else, apart from several church needles in the dull haystack, is new, all the older buildings have been smothered.

Betjeman was the originator of Private Eye’s regular column Nooks and Corners of the New Barbarism, the masthead of which is in an ironic curly gothic script, which features the demolition or threatened demolition or simply the wilful neglect of Victorian churches and municipal buildings, Edwardian banks, 18th century country seats etcetera and their replacement usually by utilitarian dullness. At St Pancras Victorian and late twentieth century engineering make a happy marriage, (shame about the shopping mall which stretches the long length of the concourse), but on this hoarding he is gazing admiringly at everything he hated. How knowing was the theft? And is it even legal? Nowadays the biggest cultural thieves and borrowers have lawyers to protect what they define in law as their intellectual property rights. Who holds the rights to Betjeman’s statue? Network Rail? The train companies? The sculptor, Martin Jennings?

Of course it’s only the marketing people, playing with primary colours and dull cliches and collages who are permitted to let their limited imaginations run wild or rather, hop up and down. Here’s a taste of Betjeman’s imagination:

‘What the Londoner sees in his mind’s eye is that cluster of towers and pinnacles seen from Pentonville Hill and outlined against a foggy sunset, and the great arc of Barlow’s train shed gaping to devour incoming engines, and the sudden burst of exuberant Gothic of the hotel seen from gloomy Judd Street.’

He was a co-founder of the Victorian society which campaigned for the preservation of St Pancras and is credited with saving Wilton’s music hall, he admired the Hackney Empire and the Granada cinema in Tooting Broadway which he described as ‘a Spanish-Moorish-Gothic cathedral for the people of Tooting’.

His best known poem now has to be the notorious: Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough, / It isn’t fit for humans now / There isn’t grass to graze a cow / Swarm over, Death! Successive mayors of Slough objected, and a local punk band took these lines as lyrics for a song. The poem was published in 1937 when the possibility of Slough being bombed might still have seemed remote. It wasn’t just any dreary satellite town: between the two world wars it became a dumping ground for war surplus materials and then the site of Britain’s first Industrial Estate, with 850 new factories. (! well, that’s what wikipedia says.) On the 100th anniversary of Betjeman’s birth in 2006 his daughter Candida Lycett-Green visited the town and said sorry. She presented the Mayor with a book of her father’s poems; inside was written “we love Slough”, which has got to be a lie. Ricky Gervaise kept the whole joke going with a scene in the Office in which he reads part of the poem and says: “you don’t solve planning problems by dropping bombs all over the place”.

It’s worth reading the whole poem. It’s more than a good joke. It contains the verse – still addressed to the bombs: And get that man with double chin / Who’ll always cheat and always win / Who washes his repulsive skin / In women’s tears.

This entry was posted in and the city, history, politics, in the City. Bookmark the permalink.

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