Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 181: St.Paul’s Cathedral

Tomorrow, I was meant to be leaving for London, to enjoy a few weeks over there, but circumstances beyond my control prevent that from happening; not to worry, I will try again at Christmas and maybe that is what is meant to be.

When in London, I walk a lot, there is plenty of walking and, for me, thinking, to be done. Thinking, that precious commodity of the writer, is best accessed when I put in some repetitive physical action that distracts my mind from what it thinks it should be thinking about, to think other things. I combine my walking in London with the work of filling the creative well. Every day that I sit down to my trusty laptop and open up the synopsis, treatment or screenplay du jour, I summon up the Gods and go to the creative well for inspiration.

Julia Cameron, in 'The Artist’s Way', teaches that we must fill ourselves (our well) with matter to call on, when we dip our metaphoric buckets into that creative well (I think the “well” part of the metaphor is mine). Julia counsels for us to go on an “artist’s date” (alone), once a week: to the cinema, the art gallery, the second-hand book emporium, the aquarium or the concert hall (in Sydney’s case, maybe the beautifully monikered Angel Place Recital Hall [where on such a solo date, I saw the late, famed harmonica player Larry Adler play and met David ‘Shine’ Helfgott into the bargain]). In London, I am spoilt for such destinations.

London’s skyline may draw your eye to what was once called the Post Office Tower and the goofily-named “Gerkin” (Swiss Re Building), but really, it is dominated by one edifice: St. Paul’s Cathedral.

On Ludgate Hill, in the City, stands St. Paul's, dreamt of and designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1711. Great marriages and funerals have taken place there; who can forget the voluminous train of Diana’s entering and exiting St. Paul’s, on 29 July, twenty-nine years ago? Indeed, 750 million plus, watched the celebrated and joyous affair on television; how the bells rang out.

Those same bells, muted and muffled, tolled, sixteen years earlier, in 1965, when I was but a boy of seven, for Sir Winston Churchill, who lay in state for three days (by decree of the Queen) in the great cathedral. I have visual snatches in my memory of the sombre day of his funeral, pictures that haunt my mind as though from some Gothic tale. Churchill’s coffin was borne along the River Thames on the passenger ship the Havengore, as dockers lowered their crane jibs in salute, following the service of funeral in S.Paul’s.

Two of England’s greatest sons, rest in the crypt of St.Paul’s: hero of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington’s sarcophagus, sits alongside that of his naval counterpart, Viscount Horatio Nelson, Duke of Bronte, smasher of the French fleet in 1805 at Trafalgar. There are other non-fighting men to keep them company in the crypt, like Wren himself, Turner (the painter) and Sir Arthur Sullivan (of G&S fame).

Ironically, my favourite spot, within the City, to take in the skyline of London is from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, after all, St. Paul’s stand’s on the City of London’s highest spot; there’s bound to be a fee for this small adventure but you get to go up to the inside of the great dome and enjoy the phenomena that is “The Whispering Gallery” - stand on one side of the dome interior and whisper to the wall and it’ll carry 180 degrees around to a friend (if you have one handy, on the other side). But it’s outside, at this level that one can survey the Thames, both upstream looking towards the Embankment & West London and then back downstream to the City, Tower Hill and Bridge.

But for all this, what most stuns me about this building - testimony to man and God - is the fact that it survived the Blitz of 1940. Nightly, the Germans would drop their payloads over London (I have heard many eyewitness accounts from my late mother and her family), hundreds and hundreds of bombs, and yet the biggest target of them all, survived? The famous photograph, on this page, was taken by photographer Herbert Mason on the night of 29 December 1940 and published in the Daily Mail two days later, with the caption: symbolises the steadiness of London’s stand against the enemy: the firmness of Right against Wrong.”

Churchill said this “At all costs, St. Paul’s must be saved.” It did take a hit or two, but how on earth did this iconic landmark survive....maybe asking questions looking for “earthly” answers is not the best line of enquiry?

Day #181 Tip: Ours is not to judge
When the work is done, when the six months (or more) of screenplay writing is completed, we cannot survey what we have done with any objectivity until distance of time allows us to climb a hill and look over what we have created. In the meantime, others will make assessments for us, don’t worry about that. My scripts have sometimes had to endure slings and arrows of an outrageous nature, but still they’ve made it through, one way or another.

I can think of two films that I treasure, in which St. Paul’s features: Lawrence of Arabia, which begins with those who knew TE Lawrence leaving his memorial service in the cathedral and Mary Poppins, where the bird lady sits, feeding the pigeons. In the lyric of ‘Feed the Birds’ it says that “All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles look down as she sells her wares...” When my wares are done, I leave them (the wares) for others to look over and wait for the dust to settle before viewing the work myself.

London can wait....for a little longer.

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