One & Other: Londonist on the Plinth, the Night Shift

SallyB2
By SallyB2 Last edited 108 months ago
One & Other: Londonist on the Plinth, the Night Shift
Nation of shopkeepers
Nation of shopkeepers
It takes a special sort of husband to put up with this sort of madness.
It takes a special sort of husband to put up with this sort of madness.
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Kind of scary to see self super-imposed against the National Gallery.
Kind of scary to see self super-imposed against the National Gallery.
Off to pick cherries in Trafalgar Square
Off to pick cherries in Trafalgar Square

Two Londonistas were selected to take part in Antony Gormley's installation for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. We share the experience, from behind the scenes, in the crane and up above the square then back down again. Second shift: SallyB, 3-4am, Monday 31st August.

It’s when we’re trying to park near Trafalgar Square that the absurdity of it all hits us. Not the fact that there are actually quite a few parking spaces, although this in itself is worth a blog post. But the fact that we are effectively staying up most of the night to go stand on a bit of concrete in the middle of London, at the mercy of the wind and the drunks, in a panoply of silly hats. Our nearest and dearest are with us (because we would have sacked them if they hadn’t been), but they are bestowing us with those looks normally reserved for when we are very poorly or heading for a fall (on this occasion we can’t tell if it’s worry or pity). There are two types of feeling special: there’s when you’ve had a splendid result and are basking in general acclaim, and then there’s the special where you simply feel slightly out of sync with the rest of the planet. Tonight we are definitely experiencing the latter.

Struggling across the square with a range of batty props in the increasingly gusty wind simply serves to enhance our feeling of unease. But then we reach the magic green hutch, which turns out to be full of fluffy One & Other bunnies. And which was, bizarrely, where all feelings of nervousness deserted us. The hut is a flurry of comings and goings, of smiles and tears, of props and taffeta and rucksacks. The camaraderie of the pre-plinthers and the post-plinthers is wonderful, warming, encouraging. Even the squillions of forms which we have to fill in can’t stop the grin which is slowly spreading across our faces. We are part of something. Not entirely sure what. But something nice.

The hut people have got it all worked out - everything runs like well-oiled, hushed clockwork. Time for our interview - all plinthers are photographed and interviewed for a catalogue which is to go into the National Portrait Gallery at the end of the project. As the next plinther arrives - a stunning girl in a sweeping dress, we are starting to wish we’d gone with simple elegance instead of complicated buffoonery - but it’s a bit late to change our theme now. We are also looking enviously at the plinthman before us, who spent his time asleep in a tent.

And then suddenly we are in the winchy thing crossing the square. Hoping that this doesn’t turn out to be the most exciting bit of the ride. Tent man looks calm and collected. We feel deranged and disarrayed. We have opted to take a stand for shopkeepers, and are to change our hat every two minutes to represent all the different roles that we, that all shopkeepers play. Shopkeepers being people too. Nation of shopkeepers and all that. Thirty hats, with bits of string and signs back and front to indicate what each one means. And a big flappy flag (please, wind, please drop…). We’ve been watching too much Blue Peter, clearly.

And then the winch has gone, and we’re on our own up there. Struggling to get organised in the breeze. Gabbling into the webcam mic in the hope that we are making some sense, and just in case someone in Japan is watching. A few deep breaths - there - all sorted. Aww - family actually starting to look proud now (well, they’re smiling: we think that’s a good sign). And a fellow Londonista has turned out in support (woop!).

D’ya know: it’s dead peaceful up there. We felt really serene. On top of the world. Of course it helped that it was night time: the lights shining into our face and up from below served to cut us off from the rest of the world. We seemed to be floating over London. Astonishing: we really weren’t prepared for it to be this much fun. Even the hecklers (WOT YOU DOIN’?) were rather sweet - gosh we were lucky. Lucky with the weather too: the wind dropped away, and although it was a tad chilly we are so not going to complain. The plinthers who do it in lashing rain and gales need a medal.

All too soon we were back shivering in the hut. AND the proud owners of a plinther t-shirt (we are very shallow - that so made it all worthwhile). We have a strange urge to hug everyone. And a very big, although utterly unmerited, sense of achievement. Mean, we haven’t overcome any fears by going up there (born show-off, actually), we haven’t raised any money for good causes, nor have we travelled far to get there. So what. The plinth rocks, and major respect to Mr. Gormley for getting us off the ground.

Last Updated 20 September 2009