St Martin in the Fields Church steeple, behind Trafalgar Square fountain
I had a welcome teaching break in London last weekend, and I managed to fit in a day with my friend Jill. We met up in the area around Trafalgar Square, and thought we’d go and have a look in St Martin in the Fields Church, which is very nearby and rather nice inside – or so I’m told, anyway. I never did get to see it, as when we got there we saw a queue of people all holding tickets made out of red card, and then we spotted a notice saying there was to be a memorial service for Eric Sykes. Jill suggested we stick around to see if anyone famous turned up, and what do you know, they did! We spotted June Whitfield, Robert Powell, Richard Stilgoe (you may not know him – he used to do a lot of work with Esther Rantzen many years ago), a very well-known comedy actor whose name we couldn’t remember, Kevin Wateley (from Morse), and best of all, Michael Palin, on whom I have a bit of a big girl’s crush.
We got quite excited and there we were, two middle-aged women, squealing like teenagers every time we saw someone we recognised. It got me to wondering why it is that even when you hate the whole celebrity cult thing, it’s still really exciting to see someone in real life that you know from film or TV. And that got me to wondering if it was a bit similar to how you feel when you see a painting or a photograph that you’ve only ever seen in reproduction before. With these, of course, there’s the fact that you can finally see them in their original size, and with texture present (in the case of paintings), but I think there’s a little bit more to it than that.
I think there’s something in the fact that you don’t totally believe these things exist, in their own right, somewhere out there in the world, and then you finally see something that, say, Turner himself was in contact with and that you could reach out and touch for yourself – if that was allowed. So when you see an actor in real life, there’s a feeling of ‘wow, they really exist!’ and I could almost have reached out and touched Michael Palin’s sleeve – if that was the sort of thing that respectable middle-aged women were allowed to do. Whatever the reason, it added a little spark to our day, which was shaping up very nicely already.
All of this aside, outside the church there is a lovely sculpture of a baby boy emerging out of a large lump of stone. The baby is half in, half out of the stone and it reminded me of those rocks you can break in half to reveal an ammonite or other fossil inside. It was if the stone had been broken in half and revealed this perfect little baby hidden in its interior, still attached by its umbilical cord to the earth from which it’s emerging. It wasn’t easy to photograph, as the top of the stone was high enough to stop me getting above it, but I did my best. And with a bit of delving around on the web, I found out that it was created by someone called Mike Chapman, whose website is here. Oddly enough, the website for the church doesn’t even give it a mention.