Monumental decisions for the man in the street

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These vague prophecies, randomly dreamed up in the cookie factory, were devised to entertain diners in Chinese restaurants and are little heard of in China.

Nonetheless, the fortune inside a cookie I once cracked open in a Chinese restaurant in St Helier has always stuck in mind. It read: ‘One day, pigeons will mess on a statue of you.’

While I would prefer not to be remembered as a roost for pigeons, the idea of having a monument erected in my memory is appealing. It would have to be an impressive affair – all marble, granite and gilded bronze, like the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace, or at least an impressive chunk of carved granite such as dominates the headland at Grantez gifted to the National Trust.

A memorial bench is a definite no-no. ‘Creeping bench syndrome’ is beginning to blight beauty spots. We all like to pause for a breather while out walking, or to enjoy a view and rest awhile, but knowing that Fred and Elsie did so before shuffling off this mortal coil rather detracts from the pleasure. In small doses, memorial benches are fine, but not when they stretch, side by side, to dominate paths and seafronts.

The prospects of there ever being a monument in my memory are zilch, but it’s nice to dream of immortality. My public legacy lies in the archives of the Jersey Evening Post, where, in generations to come, a researcher may come across something I wrote, pause to read my words and (I hope) glance at the byline.

As for memorials, I have to face the stark reality of my existence. I am just not famous enough, nor have I contributed anything of significance to my community, mankind or the history of the world, to warrant even a tiny plaque.

Man has been erecting monuments since our ancestors discovered the technique of making huge slabs of stone stand upright. We progressed to shape stone in human form, and hey ho, public sculpture was born.

Today, statues and monuments to the great and the good of the past, from monarchs to those ingenious souls whose intellects were applied to propel the human race forward to the next stage of development, litter cities, stand sentinel on hilltops or stare down on humanity from some lofty vantage point that reflects their supreme efforts.

At the lower end of the scale, a life lived in public service or in selfless dedication to a cause is remembered in a place or street name, a park or an iconic building, school, an airport or a boat. Not for many the supreme accolade of having an entire country named after you, as in the case of the 19th-century South American liberator Simon Bolivar, who gave his name to Bolivia.

The former states of the Soviet Union had a penchant for erecting monuments and statues – and the bigger, the better. As a fellow traveller remarked as we approached Kiev and the statue of an impossibly tall female warrior crafted in steel and aluminum loomed into view: ‘I bet that led to the saucepan shortage of 1957.’

Quite. But the Ukrainians, Russians and Byelorussians had good reason to erect statues to commemorate the millions who died in the Second World War. When communism fell, an industry grew up taking down the thousands of statues of Lenin, his fellow heroes of the oppressed masses and his successors, who had not already fallen out of favour.

But what, at such notice, went up in their place? Fortunately, the edifices of the old empire and the Tsars which had not been destroyed during the Russian revolution were bought out of storage and restored to their former glory.

Jersey is no different from any British community. It has a smattering of statues of civic leaders, wartime heroes and kings and queens. They range from the magnificent memorial to General Don in Parade Gardens to George V in Howard Davis Park. The park itself is also a memorial, dedicated – along with Howard Davis Farm and the hall of the same name at Victoria College – to the memory of the son of philanthropist TB Davis, who was killed in the Battle of the Somme.

We also name civic buildings after the more statesmanlike of our beloved politicians. There is the Gywneth Huelin wing at the Hospital, named after a former Health president, and Cyril Le Marquand House, named after a former Island ‘chancellor’ of repute who was also a founder of the Jersey Progressive Party.

The recollection of the fortune cookie led me to ponder, over an unseasonally cold late April weekend, which inmates of the current shift in Charlie Chuckle’s Laughter Factory would warrant similar public recognition when they quit office. Or shall we just be pleased and relieved to see them disappear back into obscurity?

As it says in the Old Testament: ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.’ So how about starting a public subscription sculpture fund with the purpose of encouraging statesmanlike behaviour? Those wishing to make the list must, at all times in their civic service, behave appropriately and in the collective good.

If a Member does make the grade, his or her contribution to the Island will determine the size and prominence of the recognition.

The immortality afforded to our politicians comes in many shapes and forms. Former St Helier No 3 Deputy Guy de Faye, who was also the very first Minister of Transport and Technical Services, can content himself that his name will live for ever, albeit in an obscure block of granite.

Carved into the last stone to be laid in the breach on the seawall at West Park caused by last year’s spring storm are the words: ‘400 metres of this seawall was knocked down during the storm of March 2008. Guy de Faye, Minister of Transport and Technical Services, laid the final stone of the repairs on 1 August 2008.’

Don’t knock it. Mont Rushmore it is not, but it’s more than most of us can ever aspire to or the average local politician deserves – fortune cookie prophecies or not.

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