The Cenotaph review
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The Cenotaph is the one thing in London that you're not allowed to denigrate -- but what the hell, I'm going to do it anyway. If I go to hell, then I go to hell. I'm probably going there anyway so it doesn't matter.
My big criticism of the Cenotaph is its location: they've marooned it on top of a tarmac island between two busy lanes of traffic. Hardly anybody goes over there to pay their respects because they don't want to get flattened by a thundering truck. The only time that people ponder on the war dead is during November, or when they glimpse it quickly from a passing bus, and that's not right. That's why they need to shift it.
It doesn't even work well on parade day. I've been to the Remembrance Day Parade myself and unless you're standing fifty feet from the memorial you can hardly see a thing. You can't see the Queen, you can't see the service, you can't see what's going on. You can't even hear the silence. The street is too narrow to fit everybody in. What they should do is move it to the top end of Whitehall, on the south side of Trafalgar Square (in place of that Charles I statue). Then they can have the parade marching up the full length of Whitehall and hold the service in the square. Or maybe they could give it pride of place on the western edge of Horse Guards parade ground, opposite the Guards' Memorial. Either spot is better than here. But soldiers always get lumbered with the lousy tombs, don't they? The soldiers get a postage stamp patch of grass with an anonymous cross on top, or a concrete box opposite a bus stop in Whitehall, whilst the generals get a marble monument in Westminster Abbey.
I'm going to walk over and have a closer look...
The only hand salutes on show today are of the two-fingered variety (the road rage kind) as the cyclists get cut up by the cars. I can't see any glinting medals either -- just the glinting glass of a gigantic camera that's been set up to watch who's coming out of Downing Street. But here's the most depressing thing: a lot of the poppy wreaths have pooled up with stale rain water. They look like a forgotten dog bowl outside the pub. An old bowl that has been catching raindrops from the roof. All the green leaves have dried up and browned. Their handwritten words of remembrance have all run and smeared in the rain. Whatever kind words they wrote have now floated down the street.
That isn't remembering, is it? That is forgetting.
If you think this review is rather harsh then do me a favour: check out my piece on Temple Bar, because that monument occupies a similar spot in Fleet Street that this one does in Whitehall. Now compare how much time and effort the Victorians must have put into that, with how much we put into the Cenotaph. We built the Cenotaph to remember the war dead. They built theirs to remember a gate.
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