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Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Richard Cooper's 2003 Hoban Adventure 16/28


Victoria Embankment

(The Lion of Boaz-Jachin & Jachin-Boaz)
From Temple I crossed the road towards the Thames, looking for a suitable spot for this quote. There is no evidence in the novel, incidentally, that the action actually takes place on the Victoria Embankment or even in London, and in fact one of the reasons I love the book so much is that it feels as if it could be happening anywhere at any time, in a time and place which occupies an eternal part of the imagination which could be called the Embankment of the Mind or the Nineveh of the Soul. But the embankment in the book still felt concrete enough to me to be the Victoria Embankment in my home city, and the river that Jachin-Boaz jumps into wet enough to be the Thames, so it definitely had a place on my tour.

The problem, again, was where to leave the quote. In front of me was Waterloo Bridge, and underneath the sadly almost traditional evidence of some serious rough sleeping – cardboard boxes, filthy sleeping bags, graffiti, empty cans of industrial-strength lager. You hardly ever see anybody there but you see the lives they lead. Today amongst the usual detritus was a complex makeshift shelter made out of blue tarpaulin, rope, planks of wood and any number of other found objects. It had obviously taken some time and effort to construct and there was no attempt being made to hide it from view, making it seem more disturbing than the simple sheets of cardboard, which, even though they would offer less protection from the elements, were temporary enough not to imply that it was somehow acceptable for someone to be living under these conditions. Along the railings between the pavement and the shelter was a row of sheets of white A4 paper covered with clear plastic to protect them from the weather. Another sheet of A4 said POEMS – READ AND ENJOY. One of the poems went:

To be flawed is human

Propensity is to sin

The flaw is the hole in the skin

Depleting the soul the life pours out of

Misdirection of love

Into the bookie’s lap

Or publicans or shady woman’s

Oftentimes mishap

The spending of money

The spending of energy

Nearly always unwisely.

Roped between the railings and the tarpaulin was a bucket with some small change in it. I tossed some coins in and walked on.

Intermittently while I’d been standing under the bridge I’d heard a strange metallic hee-haw sound, like the noise that heralded the arrival of Doctor Who’s TARDIS. I walked up along the embankment in the direction of Hungerford Bridge, and realised the sound was being made by the movements on the river of several tons of steel in the form of the QUEEN MARY (GLASGOW) moored nearby. The quote about Jachin-Boaz’s embankmentular confrontation with the lion had to go somewhere around here. A bit further up was Cleopatra’s Needle, the stone obelisk flanked by two beautiful black sphinxes. I wanted to leave the yellow paper in the protection of their enormous paws but I didn’t have anything to weigh the paper down with and in the sleet the print would just disintegrate anyway. Once again, a telephone booth stepped in to save the day.

I left the warm insulation of the phone box and was walking towards Hungerford Bridge when a thought struck me. Whoever was sleeping rough under the blue tarpaulin was obviously someone literate who could express themselves well and cared about language. I fished around in my rucksack for another favourite quote from Lion, folded it in quarters so I could throw it with some direction, and tossed it in the bucket of change. Luckily the bucket was angled slightly rather than being upright, so the quote was protected from the sleet. It was a tiny gesture given the person’s situation but I hope it helped:

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