Travel Report: Trafalgar Square, London.
May 2019. Situated right in the heart of central London, Trafalgar Square is one of the city’s most buzzing public areas. This is where people come to attend protests and rallies, to enjoy street performers and to see world class art at The National Gallery. It’s also home to Nelson’s Column, the four Landseer Lions and flocks and flocks of pesky pigeons desperate for the scraps that excitable tourists keep throwing their way. As a Londoner, I felt like I should have known all about Trafalgar Square’s history. But when The Fairy asked me about it I found myself more than a bit lacking. So I did some research which basically boils down to the following:
1- Lord Admiral Nelson kicks Napoleon’s ass by sinking lots of French and Spanish ships at The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
2- King George IV wakes up one morning in the mid 1820s and decides he wants to redevelop a big old patch of Central London land into something a bit fancier.
3- After lengthy work from architects John Nash and Charles Barry, Trafalgar Square finally opens to the public in 1844. The square is named after the famous naval victory, while Lord Nelson is honoured personally with a statue atop a towering 169-foot column.
4- Lay-tun-tun and The Fairy arrive at Trafalgar Square in 2019 to great fanfare.
May 2019. Ok, so that last part isn’t exactly a key moment of Trafalgar Square history. More important are the famous bronze Landseer Lions that decorate the base of Nelson’s Column. These amazing statues were added in 1867 by the famous painter Edward Landseer, who simply turned his hand to sculpting when offered the commission. The beasts took him ten years to make and, amazingly, the bronze he used had been melted down from the original cannons aboard those French and Spanish ships bombed into oblivion by Lord Nelson!
Being back at Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column that day gave me a serious surge of nostalgia. Suddenly I was remembering the last time I’d been here back in the summer of 2003. I’d climbed up to one of the lions that day, as many visitors here do. I felt sure there was a photo of it somewhere and right enough I dug the very shot out of my archives later that evening.
Trafalgar Square is also home to The National Gallery, where visitors are invited to “explore the story of European art”. Inside you’ll be treated to originals from all the heavyweights, including Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Turner and Renoir. Even better, entrance is free, free, free, unless you’re seeking out one of the special exhibitions. Sadly an ambulance had parked itself in front of the building as I lined up my shot and, after a short while, a homeless girl who’d been sleeping on the square was taken away for some kind of treatment. The Fairy and I didn’t have time to look around The National Gallery that day, but needless to say I’ve added it to my list on places I wanna report on. For more info read here.
The Fairy was fascinated by Trafalgar Squares’s performers that day. Some of the displays like this one were deceptively simple. Just place a coin on your country’s flag and get an idea of where the day’s visiting tourists are from.
Not everyone had come up with a clever way to entice people to part with their coins. I couldn’t work out what this guy’s Dali-esque melding of colours and shapes was supposed to be and the only accompanying text was a tatty old sign that read: Please lord, don’t let it rain, let me earn a bob or two. So I asked him what his piece was about and he just shrugged me off. “Ah, I dunno… it’s just an expression innit? I just see what comes out”.
Much more meaningful was this slightly creepy white rabbit, whose display of thought-provoking statements and hard-hitting questions is known as The Seedling Project. Are you working to live or are you living to work? Are you living your life or is your life living you? Is your government fighting terrorism, or is it creating terrorism? The kind of questions I’m guessing most people don’t want to be asked when they’re out sightseeing. Nevertheless, in lieu of any conversation with the mute bunny, a sign urged me to follow the white rabbit, who is literally trying to plant seeds of consciousness in all humankind. Check out his/her underappreciated Facebook page.
In the end The Fairy was swept off her feet by the promise of a 10-minute sketch portrait by this softly spoken street artist. It was something like £5 for a caricature £8 for a sketch and he did a far better job than I’d expected. In fact so impressed were the crowd of onlookers gathered that a queue of eager customers quickly formed for his services.
While The Fairy was getting the Trafalgar Square sketch treatment I took a wander and sat on its famous steps for a spot of people watching. I guess I was hoping to catch some sittin’ doin’ nothin’ but it was a hive of activity that afternoon with chatting teens, photo taking tourists and pairs of munching colleagues on their lunch breaks. It was The Fairy’s last day in London and tomorrow she’d be returning to China and I’d probably never see her again. I’ve been here before of course, people come and go, that is the way of it. Ah well, we’ll always have Trafalgar.
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