I went to the Museum of London. It’s a delight for a passionate Londoner such as me to take time to absorb a perspective on London’s highs (the London Olympics in ’08, ’48 and ’12 and the Great Exhibition in 1851) and lows (the Great Fire and the Blitz). I wandered around and suddenly I stopped; I saw something and was transported back to the first year I came to live in London, just as if the Good Doctor had opened the door to the Tardis, ushered me in and flown me back to March 1979.
I saw this
Back then I worked, my two years training to be a lawyer, in a small firm just north of Oxford Street. Before I started cycling (about three months in) I caught a bus or the underground to and from Oxford Circus.
Every morning I walked west along Oxford Street and every evening I walked east. Commuting soon becomes a tedious necessity. But pretty much every evening I was given something to smile about.
Somewhere, wandering up and down Oxford Street I would see Stanley Green – Protein man.
Sandwich boards were still prevalent back then. Most days a large bewhiskered man in a bowler hat, frock coat and pinstriped trousers stood on the corner of Hanover Street and Oxford Street thumping his dog-eared bible with his board demanding the end of the world; a series of be-pimpled youths loafed aimlessly nearer Bond Street tube offering a variety of services from ensuring a gentleman dressed correctly to offering to help a gentleman undress improperly (though not in as many words).
But Protein Man was unique. He was adamant that the ills of the day were solely and exclusively the responsibility of an excess of protein in our diets. He was polite, discursive but unshakeable in his views. A protein zealot if you like. He handed out pamphlets, one of which I took to read on my way back to my shared flat on the Chelsea/Fulham borders – I was so on trend back then. And inside one of his targets was spelled out in his favoured CAPITALS
BEWARE THE POPULAR SAUSAGE
What on earth makes a sausage popular and why is it especially dangerous when compared say to the unpopular wurst or the ok-but-I-don’t-want-to-spend-the-evening-with-them saucission?
I never found out. But equally I never forgot Stanley with his Chairman Mao cap and corduroys. He was a small constant at a time of personal turbulence and uncertainty, working and living, as I was, in this huge nearly-but-not-quite-overwhelming city. He made me smile, he was a harmless eccentric and just by being present he told me in no uncertain terms that you didn’t have to fit into a mould, to be like others and survive here.
Acceptance can be a positive thing, a deliberate act but also an absence of rejection. Passive. With Stanley, he just wanted to be. He didn’t look for support especially or understanding. Just the ability to go on with his self allotted task without interference.
London gets a lot of things wrong, quite a lot of the time; it also gets the same things right. It’s knowing and gauche, bitchy and sympathetic, grim and glorious, fickle and loyal, friendly and frosty; but if it is to survive and thrive the one thing it must never lose is its tolerance of difference, of the Stanley Greens of this world.
I wore a pink beard to the Blogger’s Bash on Saturday. A fifty eight year old man with dyed face-fuzz. Not a eyelid was blinked on my way there or on my way home. Why would they? This is London.