Plinth People

Trafalgar Square is probably one of the most famous places in London. Every movie or TV show that shows a montage of London scenery includes it. The square is bordered by four plinths, three of which are regularly occupied by the same statues. This summer, however, the fourth plinth is being used differently. The full info can be found here: http://www.london.gov.uk/fourthplinth/

Basically, every hour of every day for the duration of the summer, a different person will occupy the empty plinth. The people are allowed to do whatever they wish, except, I assume, for blatant sexual performances or violence. Mr. B. F. and I made Trafalgar Square a hub during our visit to London. We kept going back, sometimes up to four times a day, so we could see what the current Plinth Person was doing.

Our first wasn’t very exciting. She was sitting up on the plinth in a folding chair, and sketching. She didn’t interact with the crowd, not even for a moment. I’m sure that she enjoyed the experience of sketching from such a spot, a place that there would be no reason for her to access at any other time, but the crowd around her wasn’t a part of her experience. There were quite a few Plinth People who were there in this way – writing in notebooks or on computers – but I shan’t elaborate about them, because I cannot speak of what sort of experiences they had.

The first Plinth Person we enjoyed seeing we referred to as The Lady in Pink. She was, indeed, dressed all in pink, holding a glass of pink champagne and standing on a pink rug she’d spread across the plinth. She was throwing pink paper airplanes into the crowd, and occasionally she’d toast the crowd and take a sip of her champagne. Then she started throwing candy, and the children went wild for it. We managed to find a couple of the empty candy wrappers – that’s how we figured out that this lady’s message was optimism. She’d written heartwarming compliments and phrases on her paper airplanes and tied encouraging little notes to the candies. My favorite was this: Someone is proud of you right now. Lovely!

The next interesting Plinth Person we got to see was a young man, early twenties probably, who was holding a megaphone and giving a history lesson. He’d brought notes with him, and was reading to the crowd, explaining some battle or another. He soon finished, and asked if the crowd wanted more. Some people, including us, cheered and whooped. He began then to tell us about Trafalgar Square itself; he told us about how it was a gathering place used for everything from protesting wars to mourning Micheal Jackson. He also explained that it was built to restrain such gatherings – the fountain in the middle, for instance, was a good way to break a crowd up and leave some movable space, also thus restricting just how many people could occupy the square.

Another of the fun Plinth People we saw was part of a whole group. She was young as well, presumable a student, and she was holding a sign which we could see from far off: FREE HUGS. We wandered closer, wondering how on earth she’d be able to give free hugs when she was on the plinth, secluded, with no way for anyone to reach her. As we drew near, we figured it out – she was simply the advertisement. A small platoon of her cronies stood underneath the plinth holding identical signs, and these were the ones who were giving the hugs away. I claimed one.

Our shared favorite, however, was a man we saw in the evening, around ten PM. He seemed to be in his thirties, but his hair was already all white. He was singing nursery rhymes – both aloud, and in sign language. He was teaching the crowd sign language in the simplest way possible – through Five Little Ducks and Old McDonald Had A Farm. It was wondrous. There were some women who stood there and sang along with him constantly, never missing a line, figuring out, as we did, what each gesture the man made was and understanding the words that went with the gestures.

If anyone is going to be in London by the end of the summer, I recommend frequent stops at Trafalgar Square. You’ll see some incredible things.

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8 thoughts on “Plinth People

  1. That was so cool! I located the video of Trafalgar Square which gave me a renewed visual perspective on your description. Did you go to the cafe?

    I am so unbearably jealous right now!

  2. J.W. – nope, didn’t go into the cafe. Probably way overpriced because of the placing and all… We were kind of careful about money, being young ‘uns and all!

    Jealous? Well then, I have the perfect solution – or rather, a perfect graduation present for your son! It’s a couple years away at least, so it could be planned, right? A trip to London would be a great thing to do before starting college!

    • I’m afraid I might not be the best role model in that situation, what with all the fanciful British ladies strolling about in removed conversation. He’s never seen me drool before, and that one experience might just undo all the work I’ve invested thus far ;^)

      I have a ‘thing’ for the female British accent.

      • By the time your son is 18 he should be able to see you drool without it being too much of a traumatic experience! The problem with English women is that so many of them are also so exquisitely dressed, at least in my opinion, thus becoming even more drool-worthy :P.

  3. Sarah says:

    What a great idea! I’ll have to tell my brother about this since he’s traveling over there in September to go to school.

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