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Kevin Kiernan muses on the scaffolding which has sprung up around the Barbican Tower blocks -, traffic light sequencing and Nelson’s Column

Kevin Kiernan I

like to think the Barbican Estate and I are growing old together. We are both mellowing nicely,


only one of us is allowed to be, as the Bard put it, ‘Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’ Or, In other words, bits dropping off. So it was therefore disturbing and strangely ironic that Shakespeare Tower should be the first Tower Block to start shedding lumps of concrete. As a result, scaffolding has been put around all three towers rather like geriatric patients clutching low level Zimmer frames.

The scaffolding looks like a solution in search of a problem. I am not quite sure what it is trying to achieve. For example, what is the netting just above the platform of planks there for? The large holes in the netting would only catch the larger lumps. Moreover, the netting


either laying on, or is just inches above the planking. Indeed some of the scaffolding poles are poking up right through it, so if any of the repairers , bobbing up and down the towers, are expecting the netting to break their fall they will have the same luck with a Pole as Scott of the Antartic had a century ago. A strange way to mark the centenary. Ironically the elaborate scaffolding around Lauderdale, no doubt blessed by Health and Safety officials, is just a few feet away from the traffics lights by Barbican Station. The traffic light sequence has changed recently. For many years the eastbound traffic would wait while the West bound, heading for the delights of Mayfair, no doubt, scuttled through. No longer. They both set off together. No problem, in principle, but a bit of notice to the pedestrian would have helped. Knowing traffic light sequences is like knowing the habits of an old friend. You assume things will remain the same and you take a few chances. While the occasional visitor to Barbican is dithering on the kerb, I step off confidently despite the dire warning of the red man. Alas no more. Health and Safety has protected me from bits of Lauderdale,


but not from a few tonnes of red metal in the shape of a 153 bus.

Looking on the bright side of the scaffolding issue, at least it must be a welcome break for these workers on the Tower, abseiling up and down. Normally, I assume, they are on window cleaning duty – (the one rule for window cleaners, apparently,


that you can stare in discreetly, as long as you keep the chamois moving) - but now they can park the squeegee pro tem and do a bit of restoration work.

Of course my first thought, when I heard that Shakespeare Tower


starting to crumble, was that the Cross Rail tunnelers had given their Black and Deckers a bit more welly than normal, and a shiver had run through the Tower blocks. It’s a worry. When will it happen again? Apparently, according to official sources, there shouldn’t be any more problems, but who knows? Are we being told the whole story? The Estate Office may be taking a lead from the Captain of the Costa Concordia, ie - it’s always too soon to press the panic button (although it’s never too soon to get into the life boat). So if the Estate Office, in the shadow of Lauderdale Tower, suddenly decamps a mile or two away, things may be amiss.

Perhaps we could train the Peregrine Falcons, who know our Towers well enough, to give us an early warning (rather like the canaries in mines or the Ravens in the Tower). When they biff off we would know that something is coming. We could employ a soothsayer :

‘When ye Peregrines escape in

flock Your head - it will be hit by a rock’ In the meantime just to be safe we should stipulate that no-one in the Towers can do anything too rhythmical: no disco dancing but possibly a bit of Tai Chi or shadow puppetry.

Of course, It‘s a good job that we are in a respectable area as a lump of concrete flying through the air must be business as usual in some of the

more troubled boroughs and may go unremarked. Here we would check the lump for provenance, elsewhere they might check it for fingerprints. If more lumps do fall what shall we do with them? As the Estate is now so iconic we could break the lumps into small cubes and sell them to fans of brutalist architecture. It could be part of the goody bag given to people on the Architecture tours. Our Estate Agents could offer disappointed buyers, frustrated at the lack of properties on the market, a little souvenir rock as a consolation prize. Alternatively with enough lumps we could meld them into a statue. But of whom?

It seems a great shame that the Barbican has no statues to its past and present heroes and heroines. For example how about Louis Garchey, who invented the disposal system? Indeed rather than use our precious lumps, pieces of discarded Garchey systems (there are plenty of them around) could be melted down. But in this diverse society there will always be a voice of protest against whomsoever is suggested. Even a popular choice, such as Louis Garchey. So few statues are ever erected. The Arts Centre’s Sculpture Court remains empty. Indeed the endless debate about the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square suggests that we are a nation unable to make a decision on these matters.

How different in the early 19th Century when they built Nelson’s Column! The Navy, fed up with statues of their admirals simply standing (whereas Army generals were always mounted), got their own back with a 50 metre plus column. The lions are, of course, a strange adornment for a naval hero. Tricky to have a lion as shipmate, even in one of the larger galleons. I can only hope that the column isn’t made of the same material as Shakespeare Tower. Otherwise Nelson’s hat would have been blown away by the wind long ago. Sans Eye, Sans Arm is bad enough but Sans Hat would cap it all.

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