It’s Sunday 24 March 2013; I’m sitting cross-legged, listening to Bartok quartets (how much more popular they would be if he had given them nicknames, or if Peter Greenaway had used them in his film soundtracks) and drinking coffee. On Sunday 24 March 1985, I remember sitting cross-legged listening to Mozart while a friend remained asleep in bed; later that day, we made our way into London and walked through the zoo in Regent’s Park, then went to see ‘2010’ at the pictures. I should have followed his suggestion that we see ‘Gremlins’ instead. Back in 1985 I had never driven a car or ridden a motorbike or travelled abroad or used a computer to produce reports.
It’s Sunday 24 March 2013 and I’m looking at ‘B-of-the-Bang’, a sculpture made of radiating metal spines which dominates the skyline of Eastlands Manchester. Or rather, it did so a few years back; shortly after completion, the towering structure began to disintegrate, with steel poles falling to the ground. The entire sculpture was dismantled for safety reasons and nothing remains, except some painful memories and a few picture postcards such as the one I’m presently holding.
The ‘B-of-the-Bang’ sculpture caused great excitement when it was originally proposed: in 2003, the BBC announced that
“A sculpture to be built next to Manchester’s Commonwealth Stadium will become the tallest in Britain.
The floodlit 184-foot steel work of art will be erected next to the City of Manchester stadium, built for the Commonwealth Games.
The sculpture, entitled B of the Bang, will feature 200 tapered columns shooting from its centre and is being compared to a fireworks explosion. The plan has been put forward by designer Tom Heatherwick to mark the success of the Games.
The artwork is aimed at capturing the power of athletics and the crack of the starting pistol.
A spokeswoman for New East Manchester, the regeneration project which commissioned the sculpture, said it was chosen by a team of judges which included local residents.
She added: “We hope this sculpture will become a landmark on the city’s skyline just as the City of Manchester stadium has become.”
Planning consent is likely to be granted later this month and the artwork is due to be completed in July.”
Instead of July 2003, the actual opening of the artwork was delayed until January 2005 – and the sculpture was hastily fenced-off when one of the spikes became detached and fell to earth.
On the ‘Welcome to Sportcity’ site, readers learn that:
“The UK’s tallest sculpture, standing at 180ft it is three times taller than the Angel of the North. Made of specially weathered steel to give it the famous rusty glow, the sculpture has 180 tapered spikes and leans at a 30º angle – more than the tower of Pisa.
The sculpture was commissioned by New East Manchester to commemorate the Commonwealth Games which took place in 2002. Chief Executive of New East Manchester Tom Russell, at the launch of B of the Bang in January 2005, said:
“The choice of B of the Bang as the centrepiece for Sportcity was a very clear and bold statement of intent. The regeneration of east Manchester needed a monumental piece of public art to provide a sense of identity and place and to represent the physical, economic and social changes underway in the area.”
The Sculpture was designed by Thomas Heatherwick Studios and represents the explosion of energy created by an athlete on the starter’s gun. It was inspired by a quote from British Athlete Linford Christie, who once claimed he always won a race when he started on B of the Bang.”
It is wonderful what can be achieved with nearly 2 million pounds of taxpayers’ money…
Snow in the Suburbs (first verse)
Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it; Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.
(Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928)
Journal Entry, 23 March 2013:
This morning I awoke with a modest hangover; during the night the snow had settled in a heavy blanket on my old six-fifty Honda, which slept beneath its yellow nylon cover. In Hardy’s poem, the world is completely still; in Eccles, however, occasional fierce gusts of wind rattled the fence. At one point the wind caught the bike cover, causing it to billow and shaking off great lumps of snow; for a brief magical moment it seemed to be alive. But as any rider will tell you, a bike in motion really is alive.
I recall once being in my landlord’s house in Oxford; he had invited some friends from Ghana to stay, and one of them was in the kitchen when I came down for breakfast. It was winter and the world had been transformed into its softer, whiter self. Inoni pointed out of the window in amazement: “Tell me, is that snow?” The harsh cold landscape took on new meaning as I suddenly began to see it through a foreign stranger’s eyes.
She, then, like snow in a dark night,
Fell secretly. And the world waked
With dazzling of the drowsy eye,
So that some muttered ‘Too much light’,
And drew the curtains close.
Like snow, warmer than fingers feared,
And to soil friendly;
Holding the histories of the night
In yet unmelted tracks.
(Robert Graves, 1895-1985)
And in March 1985, when I found myself walking with a friend through Regent’s Park, eating ham and chips in a scruffy café near Piccadilly Circus, and wondering where my life would take me next, it seems that Graves, master craftsman of the English Language, had just eight months left to live.