Back in 2014 there was a memorial at the Tower of London, with ceramic poppies, one for each Commonwealth casualty during WW1. It was memorable and very moving, especially when they read out my great uncle Willie Dyson’s name and sounded the last post.
It needs a major tragedy with many hundreds, or thousands impacted for such things really to resonate but the skill comes in making the memorial both breathtaking in its sweep and intrinsically human in its representation of each loss. The planting of a garden of ceramic poppies achieved just that.
Right now we are experiencing a similar National – international but forgive me my parochial thinking – tragedy with the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in the UK we have had a bad time, with the highest per capita deaths of all the larger nations. Today the death toll stands north of 125000. That is a lot of bereaved families.
I don’t know who thought of it, but a memorial wall has been started. On the Thames, here in London, there is a sunken footpath between the embankment and one of our best teaching hospitals, St Thomas’ where Boris Johnson our PM was treated in intensive care and probably had his life saved, as have many others. Between river and hospital is a Portland stone wall, almost certainly Victorian. Just a wall which happens to face the Houses of Parliament.
That humble simple façade is now being covered in hearts, one for each death. Some are purple, some have names but most are simple red hearts, as anonymous as a poppy yet speaking of a life lost, someone loved and now gone. There’s a sense of scale, a way of better imagining what 120000 deaths look like, but, step closer and this is not a number but a conglomeration of distress, of lives brutalised by something so small that it is bigger than all of us.
I hope it stays. We need to remember so much. The people of course. The way we might learn to be better for the (inevitable) next time. But also it tells us to stay humble. We’ve been humbled by this microbe.
If this wall needs a title I’d suggest
Don’t Fuck With Nature
But maybe someone can think of something more apposite.
And because I’m not one to stay gloomy or grim for too long, here are some pictures of our trip and Dog who kept me company.