Blog number 1 ½
Hello everyone, I’m picking up my ‘walking to work’ story that I started a few weeks ago. The first thing I should say is that I’m still doing it, and enjoying it. I thought I was going to write two blogs, one about the route I walk to work in the morning, and another about the route I walk to get home in the evening. Today I should talk about going home… but I’ve changed my plan a little. This is not Blog Number 2, it seems to be Blog number 1 ½!
Let me explain. I’ve still got something to say about the morning walk. To get to work I have been walking from London Bridge railway station, along the northern bank of the River Thames, heading west. I showed you the pictures last time. But I have since discovered I can also get to work walking along the southern bank of the Thames, also heading West. And I can’t resist showing you two things. First, there is a steel barrier between me and the river, and there is something very interesting written on it. The problem is, I am not a good photographer, and I was too close to get the whole phrase in my photograph. So let’s see if you can solve the puzzle:
It is difficult to see, but what it says is MEN’S EVIL MANNERS LIVE IN BR… (and the complete missing word there is BRASS). The rest of the sentence continues…
..their virtues we wr(ite in)
… water. So the entire phrase is
‘Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water’.
I’m really fascinated by this, it has kept me thinking about it all day! The first thing I should say is that there is a gigantic clue right behind me, which I haven’t told you about – Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. Actually, the building is a reproduction of the original Globe, which is where William Shakespeare’s plays were performed in 1599 -1613, before it was destroyed in a fire. The current Globe was rebuilt in 1997. And, as you probably guessed, the phrase I photographed comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, which is Henry VIII, Act 4, Scene 2.
But what does it mean? I think the key word is ‘manners’. If you ask an English speaker today what the word ‘manners’ means, I think he or she would say it is to do with behaviour, whether you are polite and considerate, and whether you think about other people. They might even think about ‘table manners’ – how you hold your knife and fork at a formal dinner and so-on. But there is another wider meaning of ‘manners’ that was probably more in use in Shakespeare’s time – simply meaning ‘the way you live your life’. So in my mind the phrase is telling us that the bad things people do are ‘written in brass’ – in other words, fixed and remembered for a long, long time, while the good things people do – their ‘virtues’ are only written in water – meaning they easily wash away and are not remembered at all. By the way, brass is a metal, a mixture of copper and zinc. Actually, there is another little twist to the meaning: the phrase says ‘their virtues we write in water’. So I think it means that we – you and me – only remember the bad things people do, and we easily forget the good things, we write them in water.
What a dark and depressing thought! But maybe it is true? What do you think?
I think ‘writing in water’ is a really interesting image, a way of saying that what you write does not last. It reminds me of something someone else once said. I may need the help of any Latin American or Spanish readers of this blog to check if I have my facts right. You will of course know about Simón Bolivar, one of the great heroes of Latin America, who in the nineteenth century fought for the independence of Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia (Bolivia is named after him). Like many of the great figures of history, at the end of his life and after a long story of wars and revolutions, glory and despair, he questioned whether it had all been worth it. And I think the phrase he used to express his despair was ‘I have ploughed in the sea’. In other words, rather than ploughing and planting on fertile soil, he had tried to plough and plant in water, and of course his work had been in vain.
Strangely, perhaps, as I carry on walking and thinking about these things I am not depressed at all. I hope I haven’t depressed you! The sun is shining, and despite Shakespearean and Bolivarian gloom, everyone seems to be smiling. And the second thing I wanted to slip in about getting to work is this view, as I walk across the Millennium Bridge to cross back to the northern bank of the Thames, I am walking straight towards St Paul’s Cathedral.
I promise that my next blog will really be number 2, and be about my afternoon walk! Good bye until then!
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