Monday, 17 August 2009

Monumental (Part One): Time Scything Down

David’s back with a few thoughts on London, London Walks guides and London Walks guiding (The illustration, below, is Gustave DorĂ©'s London Bridge 1872. That's The Monument scraping the sky in the centre background)…

“Caius Gabriel Cibber's bas relief on the base of the Monument is one of those look-but-don't-see London nodes. Everybody who goes by it glances at it. Who wouldn't? It's the eye level focal point, after all, of a 17th century skyscraper – the tallest free standing column in the world!

So, yes, most people look, but they don't see. You most certainly do ‘see’, though, if you go on a London Walk that bops by there. Because the guide's going to ‘unpack’ that art work for you. Five minutes later you're seeing it with his or her eyes – and what a difference that makes. You suddenly ‘get it’.

‘Get it’, for example, that the swooning lady in the lower left hand corner who's being helped back to her feet by Old Father Time (the which in itself is a curious reversal of ‘convention’ – i.e., Time normally is represented as scything down) is a personification of London.

And that's just for starters. What sets London Walks apart is the next step, what we call the ‘making connections’ step. It's the step that's the ‘killer app’ of great guiding. It's in a different league – a different universe – from ‘swotting up’ out of a guidebook or, shudder, ‘off the internet’. That dawg won't hunt with London Walks. What will hunt is wide and deep reading – and a certain intellectual audacity.”

(There’s more tomorrow!)

David guides in The City every Sunday on the Shakespeare's & Dickens's London Walk.

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