Powerless Structures, Fig. 101

Unveiled on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth two days ago, the boy on a rocking horse is quite a different sculpture than the Prada shop installation that Nordic artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset  set up in the middle of the desert in Texas in 2005. A twist on a traditional war monument, it “celebrates the heroism of growing up. It is a visual statement celebrating expectation and change rather than glorifying the past.”

Love these photos that Where The Art Is captured and posted in the LLO Flickr pool. Creative compositions. I especially like the one with the water from the fountain!

The latest sculpture on the fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square, London

The latest sculpture on the fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square, London

The latest sculpture on the fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square, London

The latest sculpture on the fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square, London

The latest sculpture on the fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square, London

The latest sculpture on the fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square, London

Has anyone else managed to get down there to see it yet? What do you think?

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Listen to a Londoner: Martin Payne

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Martin Payne

Martin Payne, born in Barking but left with a family move at age 2, returned to work in London following a work re-location. He describes himself on Twitter (@MWPayne) as “Accountant on weekdays, Murderer at weekends, a Plinthian, and an occasional Gorilla … oh and I steward at the Globe / usher at Tristan Bates Theatres…”.

LLO: London is one of those places that thrives on random, unexpected moments. You’ve contributed to the randomness by recently wearing a gorilla costume for a charity’s silent disco and the gorilla run. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve done in London that may have made a few people look twice?
MP: The gorilla suit is worn to raise awareness of the Gorilla Organization (formerly the Dian Fossey Memorial Trust). It’s a charity I have only relatively recently started supporting – due to the sheer Great British Eccentricity of donning a full gorilla suit and running 7km to raise funds to help both gorilla protection and people support in Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo. The Gorilla Organization provides efficient fuel stoves and work for families living near the three Gorilla areas to try to minimise the need for poaching and thus protect the Gorillas. As well as the Silent Disco (Millennium Bridge) and the Run itself, I’ve also been videoed wandering around dressed in a business suit and gorilla head to raise awareness of the Run and the Organization – great fun to do and a real shock for people suddenly realising the guy in the crowd next to them is a Gorilla!

On Saturday 13 November 2010 (today!) I will exchange my Gorilla Suit for a fox suit as I’ll be the mascot for the Balfour Beatty London Youth Games float in the Lord Mayor’s Parade! I hope that will make more than a few people look twice – especially as the float is at almost at the head of the parade! I’ll just be trying to avoid any “messages” left by the horse of the City of London Police’s Assistant Commissioner which is immediately ahead of us, preceded by the Band of the Grenadier Guards. Being “Foxy”, the mascot of the Games, will certainly be a very different way of spending a Saturday in November!

LLO:Tell us about a favourite London moment that could only have happened in London.
MP: Only in London could a ‘normal’ person (if I am one) be able to stand on a Plinth in Trafalgar Square wearing a Gorilla Suit for an hour. A once in a lifetime opportunity and one that I will remember forever. Of course, it has to be in London since Trafalgar Square is here but …

That was the 2009 “One & Other” project by Antony Gormley as part of the London Mayor’s Fourth Plinth commission. Has any other city tried something similar? Only London could be the first.

LLO: Have you ever overheard anything really amusing on public transport that you’re willing to share?
MP: My exposure to public transport tends to be limited to the train into either Vauxhall or Victoria (depending on whether I wake up in time to change at Clapham or think the weather is nice enough to walk to work from Vauxhall – or ‘Boris Bike’ it). So I really can’t recall anything amusing – but there must be a law that says I will now hear something really amusing too late for this interview!

LLO: I want to go on a date in London – somewhere quirky or unusual. What would you suggest?
MP: Trudy, my ‘other half’, and I have decided that we need to spend a weekend in London being tourists and certainly one of the places on the list of places to visit (‘have a date’) is the Wellcome Collection. I was there in October 2010 for the launch of the “One & Other” book celebrating Antony Gormley’s “One & Other” on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square and so I picked up a few leaflets. That may be somewhere different…

LLO: Is there a place in London that always seems to make you happy? Why?
MP: I guess that my time spent stewarding at the Globe Theatre on Bankside would fit this question. The Globe seems to have exactly the right atmosphere for making Shakespeare work and be understandable – and it’s great for people watching! There is a degree of responsibility as a steward in looking after the safety of the audience members and trying to stop sections of the audience from irritating other sections with mobile phones etc, and it is a long evening standing, but it’s a great way of seeing a lot of performances at no cost!

LLO: What’s the best thing about living in your postcode?
MP: I don’t actually live in London, but in Windsor in Berkshire. The best thing is probably being close enough to London to be able to work here (an hour’s commute) and yet be almost instantly into green space walking out my front door. Mind you, the worst thing is easily the tourists … but my ‘other half’ and I have got into the habit of waving at the coach parties as they trundle past our front window as they invariably are looking directly into our house – most look away quite quickly when they realise we’re watching them as much as they are looking at us!

LLO: You’ve got a free day to explore a part of the city you’ve never been to. Where do you go and why?
MP: There is a place that I have wandered through once and I do want to go back and explore further – The Inns of Court. It seems to me to be a very tranquil place, away from the hustle and bustle of the City surrounding it. I’m waiting for the London Observationist to take some pictures…

LLO: I’ve got one night in London and want to head off the beaten track to find something to eat and drink. Where would you recommend?
MP: Just off the beaten track is a café called “Stockpot” (Panton Street, just off Leicester Square). Friends of mine took me and Trudy there for a meal after my stint on the Fourth Plinth. For that reason, it is memorable – and the food was excellent and good value despite being so close the Leicester Square / Trafalgar Square.

LLO: Best London discovery?
MP: I’m not sure it is really a discovery of my own, since it was suggested to me as something that Globe stewards could do during the Globe’s ‘close’ season (winter performances in an open air environment would not be generally well attended!). I spend some evenings ushering at Tristan Bates Theatre, just off Seven Dials. This is a very small theatre, attached to the Actors Centre, that has a maximum seating capacity of 70, and is usually not full despite the very cheap tickets (for a West End theatre, the average ticket price is £10 – £12). There’s never any major shows playing there but there are frequent changes of shows (perhaps a bit developmental and not necessarily as long an evening which means that you are in the West End and still have time to enjoy the after-show buzz – but, for me, early finishes there mean I don’t miss my last train home!

LLO: Who is the most interesting Londoner you’ve met and why?
MP: Difficult question because some of the most interesting people you meet simply have an impact on you but you may never know their name or meet them more than once. There was a great guy I met in a pub once near Westminster Bridge – he either was, or at least pretended to be, a town crier and knew many of the Pearly Kings and Queens. I think he passed away a few years ago.

More recently, I re-met “Captain John”, a fellow Fourth Plinthian and a staunch supporter of the Fourth Plinth project in general and ‘One & Other’ in particular as well as being one of the very few people who attended every day of the Diana Inquest….

That’s what makes London special.

Thanks Martin!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Fr Stephen Wang

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Fr Stephen Wang

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Westminster, London. He is Dean of Studies at Allen Hall seminary in Chelsea, where he also teaches philosophy and theology. His latest book is Aquinas and Sartre: On Freedom, Personal Identity, and the Possibility of Happiness, published by Catholic University of America Press. He blogs about culture and faith at Bridges and Tangents.

LLO: As a born and raised Londoner, what are the most noticeable ways the city has evolved in your lifetime?
SW:
It’s bigger and busier. I remember a study recently about how our walking speed has increased (they secretly time you crossing bridges etc). It’s more culturally and ethnically diverse. Immigration has enriched London immensely. Random landmarks that didn’t exist when I was born in 1966: the Gherkin, the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, Oyster Cards, sculptures on the fourth plinth, Boris Bikes, Tate Modern, the ubiquitous CCTV camera. Tragic losses: the Routemaster bus.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your background and your blog, Bridges and Tangents.
SW:
I was born in University College Hospital just off Tottenham Court Road, when my parents were living in Chiswick. I grew up in Harpenden, near St Albans. I’m a Catholic priest and I work in the seminary in Chelsea, where we prepare men for the priesthood. I never imagined I’d start a blog. It happened quite quickly. I was thinking of writing a book, and a friend pointed out that if I really wanted to communicate and share ideas, then a blog would be more immediate and reach far more people. The penny dropped.

LLO: Freedom is your most used tag on your blog. In a recent post, you wrote “Perfect freedom is being able to step off the back of a London bus whenever you want, whatever the reason, and walk into the sunset without a bus-stop in sight.” Are there other London moments that give you a perfect sense of freedom?
SW:
The fact that London is a city for walking around gives me the greatest sense of freedom. Other random moments of exhilaration, freedom and space include: sitting at the front on the top deck of a double-decker bus; looking at the cityscape from the middle of any of London’s beautiful bridges; jaywalking with abandon — in the knowledge that this would be illegal in some countries; walking through the parks; and along the river at South Bank.

LLO: Can you recommend a few places in London to go for a sense of spirituality without stepping foot in a church/temple/mosque, etc?
SW:
Whenever the next Kieslowski retrospective runs at the British Film Institute; standing over the Greenwich Prime Meridian line, knowing that you are at the still point of the cartographic world; walking round the Serpentine; the Jubilee Line station at Canary Wharf.

LLO: As a catholic priest and philosopher, how important would you say religion is in people’s lives in London today compared to when you started out in your career?
SW:
There are various crosscurrents: some people are much more secular, hardened in their secularism, and dismissive of religion. Yet many more people seem interested in religion who are not believers — as if they are more open to spiritual and transcendent questions, more open to the idea of spirituality and prayer. And religion is a bigger cultural and political reality than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Plus the new immigrants tend to be people of faith (indeed anyone coming to London from outside Western Europe tends to be a person of faith!)

LLO: You recently contributed to a BBC Online article about celibacy, sharing your own experiences. The post on your blog includes tags “happiness” and “loneliness”. Is this commitment one you ever regret or are you content in your decision?
SW:
I don’t regret the decision I have made at all. The whole life of being a priest, including celibacy, has brought me enormous happiness. And the celibacy itself has given me a real freedom, a freedom of heart – to be present with other people in all sorts of wonderful ways; and to pray in a way that would be difficult if I had the responsibilities of family life. I couldn’t live this way without the love of friends and extended family and the communities I have lived in over this time.

LLO: Tell us about something, someone or somewhere you’ve discovered in London that you think the rest of us should know about.
SW:
One secular and unknown: The Clockmakers’ Museum at Guildhall, a single room containing the whole history of clocks and watches, including John Harrison’s 5th marine timekeeper made famous by the book Longitude. One religious and very well known, but I’m still amazed by how many Londoners have never been in it: Westminster Cathedral (not the Abbey), an oasis of calm and devotion near Victoria Station, full of amazing art and architecture.

LLO: With Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and others living side by side in London, what sort of atmosphere is created when people of every religion mingle in this melting pot city?
SW:
The whole world is here in London, and probably every language and religion. It’s good that we can live side by side, and in peace. Perhaps people don’t talk enough: We occupy the same social space, but often stay within our own mental worlds – unless there is something like a school or sports club or whatever to bring people together. London Citizens is a wonderful grassroots example of people of all faiths and none coming together for justice issues and forming real bonds through that common work. When I get back from Lourdes I want to start talking to strangers in London, but very soon I realize I am becoming one of those crazy people that Londoners fear…

LLO: What do you say to people who are suspicious of religion as being manipulative or deceptive?
SW:
It’s true that religion can sometimes be manipulative and deceptive – we have to admit that and watch out for it very carefully. And as a Catholic priest I wouldn’t push the abstract idea of ‘religion’ for its own sake. But religions can also be sources of spirituality, community, liberation and healing for many people. That’s something to be open to and not afraid of.

LLO: What’s your favourite part about living in your postcode?
SW:
Being near the river; living close to three cinemas; the number 19 bus.

Thanks Stephen!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.