Tuesday, 29 September 2015

What the Middle Classes Don't Like to See

My late Uncle Tony — actually he was always early, getting up in the dark to arrive at his pickle factory before any of his employees — came from Kingston upon Hull. Other notable residents have been the poets Andrew Marvell and Philip Larkin, and William Wilberforce, the campaigner against slavery. There is a statue to the latter on top of a high column; he is shown handing some sort of large rolled-up charter to someone or other. This must have been some important event in the campaign against slavery; I don’t know the details but it doesn’t matter; what matters is that from a certain viewpoint it looks as if he’s holding something else altogether. When the statue first went up, this viewpoint was right in the middle of one of Hull’s great fishing-boat docks, so it was seen by, and invited ribald comment from, only hardened Hull fishermen. But such is capitalism that the dock was filled in and became a public park, where young middle-class mums would take their offspring for a stroll. The matter came to the attention of Alderman Fairbottom of the City Watch Committee (I kid you not), and steeplejacks were sent up to turn the statue round. When I first went to Hull, the offending viewpoint was in a slummy run-down back street, inhabited only by proles, whose sensibilities of course don’t matter. That area has almost certainly been ‘redeveloped’ by now, and the proles packed off to one of those soulless housing estates, far away out of sight of the people who matter. I wonder if they’ve had to go up and re-orient poor Willy again?

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