Saturday, 17 March 2018

Only Nine Months to Go!


The end of the world is nigh again. I saw the notification, outside Pret a Manger, by Victoria Station, written in black felt-tip on two sheets of cardboard propped against a wall. The sentences were ungrammatical, written more like a mood-poem with words like Lord Jesus, final judgement, angels, fire, destroy, etc. However, it conveyed its message effectively and was unequivocal about the date: December 2018. The presumed author and wild-haired prophet of doom sat at a nearby pavement table, a camouflage-print survivalist rucksack and a freebie golfing umbrella at his feet. He was nursing a Pret beverage and studying a copy of the Metro. Just why he would bother reading about news and current affairs is a mystery, considering that soon they will cease to be. I watched him through the window while I sipped my coffee. Was he was taking a well-earned break from proselytising, or just idly passing the time ‘til December? Whichever, he was making very little impact on his target audience. One person did stop to read the notices, a middle-aged woman carrying shopping bags, but then she glanced disdainfully at the off-duty prophet and plodded on, shaking her head.
I certainly hope the world will not end that soon – there is so much I would like to do that I can’t fit it all into the next nine months – but if it does, it will certainly not be the work of an avenging god and his cohorts of angels. If there were a god, why would he go to all the trouble of creating disobedient humans only to destroy them when they proved to be disobedient? In any case, would he do it just before his son’s birthday? I don’t think so. More likely, if the end comes at all, it will be because of the falling-out of two pumped-up egotists with eccentric hairstyles and itchy trigger-fingers. Still, it got me thinking that I should draw up a list of priorities to allow for life’s shorter-than-expected span. I could make a start by getting up earlier, then eliminating every moment of downtime from my daily schedule e.g. staring into space or watching property-porn on TV. Then I could pick off other pointless activities, such as going to the gym: fitness will not be advantageous in the event of one’s imminent and inevitable demise.
I finished my coffee and, with a renewed sense of urgency, went to catch my train for Margate, one of the places I have been curious to visit – but only since it got its new art gallery, the Turner Contemporary. Margate is one of many seaside resorts that lost its appeal when holidays in Spain became popular. The town’s investment in a ‘destination’ gallery aims to compensate for that loss of trade. I certainly hope it works although, like the Council’s other major developments in recent times – the civic centre, the tower of flats, the shopping centre – it is an ugly brute of a building in a very prominent position. The magic only happens when you step inside: the windows face the sea, so that the marring of Margate, be it new and overbearing or old and decaying, is not visible. Looking out to the sea and sky, it is possible to imagine a positive future for the children busy in the bright studios and workshops.
The main exhibition, currently, is themed to connect with T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. He worked on his creation while in the town, recuperating from a nervous disorder. In 1921, he sat in the ornate Edwardian shelter overlooking Nayland Rocks and wrote “On Margate Sands / I can connect / Nothing with nothing.” A bit like the Council, I thought, as I looked up at the wall of the adjacent bunker-like public toilets, where they had tacked the blue plaque commemorating the poet. How much more ugliness could they conceive in nine months?



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