Saturday, November 6, 2010


   "Go to the South Bank!" they said, smiles on their faces, "What a fine and lovely place!" Being carved from trusting material, I agreed.
   The South Bank. What is the South Bank? Well, there is the river Thames, bowels of the city and home to gaunt, muttering fish. It wriggles its way between glass towers, bloated museums and overpriced Italian joints, tirelessly carrying the offal of the world capitol off, off into the sea which waits, patiently, somewhere. Millions have trod over it, pissed and spat into its waves. It bisects London neatly in half and for generations things were nice and simple - North of the Thames was the place to be, South was not.
   Then, in a mad rush of Mongol conquest, that changed.

   The south bank was colonized by a race of clean cobblestones, trees arranged by geometric logic and bridges bred from ivory serpents. The drug dealers and cockney gangsters who had dwelt there sputtered in rage for a while and then followed the Neanderthal down the lonely roads of history. Overnight the South Bank swelled with the sound of pitter-pattering hordes, as Londoners, tourists and all manner of creatures in-between made the South Bank their Roman Highway. This was the scene of the Great March that leads not to Rome or the Vatican, but to plastic Big Ben replicas and a Ferris Wheel that costs you £20.
   And me? I slithered along with the best of them. There's all sorts of neat places like the National Theatre and, um, the Globe is there as well. In between that big silver snake bridge thing and that really expensive Ferris Wheel is the field where they've stored all the street performers. They've even allowed them to perform there, at least until the trucks come.
   The day was not bright, and sure the clouds were fat and angry and you could even see the rain down the river to the east, but being England such was to be expected. I was impressed with the sheer volume of families, fat men and stunned would be hippies calling the stones their own, and while I did not precisely feel welcome no one was threatening immolation. I leaned against the cold walls that overlook the eternal Thames, and prepared for a session of intense, serious-looking introspection.
   I heard something smacking its lips, once then twice, wetly.

   I looked about. Nothing but Frenchmen eating ice cream, but not THAT loudly. Could it have been the water lapping some five meters below me?
   I heard it again. Smack smack. Where was it coming from?
   It was then that I noticed the lamp posts. They were placed at regular intervals along the Thames wall, high things of wrought metal that just oozed Victorian elegance. The daylight, faint as it was, gave their dark hides a glistening, unhealthy sheen. It was not yet evening, and the lamps that blossomed above were dead.
   The base of these lamps was a fascinating design: two vast, scaled creatures with their heavy chins dripping over the wall, tails raised up and intertwined till finally their fins formed the cradle the lamp itself called home. What remarkable things! Their lips were heavy, their mouths agape in an expression not unlike a silent scream. Their eyes were unfocused, staring haphazardly into the passing crowd, devoid of expression and desire.

   I was amazed that I hadn't seen these things before! How many, I thought, passed by this incredible bit of urban sculpture without a glance, eyes only for the flashy and new? What a sad comment on this age, on this zeitgeist! I could barely restrain a grin - finding these statues would be a private gloat for me. For me alone would they reveal their aesthetic pleasures! Oh rapture! A closer examination was needed. The only thing spoiling the sight was a baby pacifier that some thoughtless suburban mom and left within the mouth of the statue, dangling, looking a little wet. I stood up from the wall, and prepared to step closer.
   In the corner of my eye I saw a woman standing next to the statue. She had been examining a map, her free hand placed idly on the baby carriage before her. Her brow furrowed. She leaned over. "Sam?" she cried, thinly. The carriage with empty.
   Indifferent, I turned back to the statue. I saw a red tongue sneak from its lips and haul the pacifier back into its gullet. It took only a moment. Not another inch of the thing had moved. The mother started to make a dry, retching noise.
   That night for dinner I had pasta and some toast with honey.