Philip Hensher: Is this how we want to be remembered?

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The Independent Online

Bristol City Council is understandably proud of its local business, Ardman Animations. It has taken clay-mation techniques from small-scale films of limited circulation to major feature films, funded by Hollywood and gathering critical plaudits and substantial audiences. Its guiding spirit, Nick Park, has probably made more impact on Hollywood than any product of Bristol since Archy Leach changed his name to Cary Grant.

The council has decided that it wants to commemorate this success, and is about to hold a reception, serving, no doubt, the favourite Wensleydale cheese of Park's best-known characters, Wallace and his dog Gromit. A nice thing to do. It wants, too, to go further, and erect a statue "in marble or bronze" of Wallace and Gromit themselves, and is starting a public fund to pay for the statue. I hope the people of Bristol have far too much sense to contribute to so ridiculous and embarrassing an idea.

Public statuary seems to be going through a bit of a revival at the moment. In the last year or two, a pair of notable omissions were filled in London, and two new war memorials have been put up. The first, in Park Lane, was to the animals sacrificed in the world wars - a handsome, slightly soppy affair. The second, much uglier but a more serious subject, was put up in Whitehall to the women who served in the two conflicts. Those, combined with a series of new statues for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, have shown a new willingness to mark in marble or metal what now seems important to us.

But that's always been the reason for monumental statuary. One of the reasons why urban memorial statuary goes on being interesting is that it massively preserves things which seemed important at the time. Two statues, at least, in Trafalgar Square are of subjects no longer well-known to us. But they go on inciting us to an interest in our history, and to wonder why one of them is of a general, and was put up, as it records, through the subscriptions of private soldiers.

But Wallace and Gromit in Bristol? The idea, I'm afraid, will preserve all too well the prevailing spirit of the age. We are too embarrassed to put up statues of great men or women, great creative figures or scientific innovators. It would seem absurd to put up a statue of Nick Park himself. Instead, we seem to live in a state of semi-moronic infantile pleasures; adults openly prefer to read books for children, go and see cartoons in preference to any kind of adult drama, live in a cultural world of softly-rounded shapes where no danger or power will ever turn out to bear any kind of threat.

There's bound to be a statue of Harry Potter at some point, but in the meantime, let's stop regarding enterprises like Bristol's proposed statue as "just a bit of fun" and ask ourselves whether this is really how we want our age to be remembered in the future.

Two hundred years ago, our ancestors put Nelson on a gigantic column because they thought that was the triumph of their age; 100 years ago, a huge monument to the great Queen-Empress landed at the end of the Mall. And now, what we most seem to admire is a cheese-eating bachelor and his cunning dog, taken out of their native plasticine and rendered in "marble or bronze". It will look embarrassing enough now; in 200 years, it will not just be baffling, but humiliating.

They don't make 'em like they used to

I was transfixed by the photographs of Princess Beatrice's 18th birthday party. It must have seemed a nice idea to have a fancy-dress party in the fashions of 1888, but how odd they looked. The silks were so brilliantly coloured, and the style so elaborately interpreted, that the girls ended up looking like saloon molls in a Western. Just look at the elegance of the clothes of the Princess of Wales, or the future Queen Mary, in the period, to see how wrong the whole thing appeared. But really, the mistake was in not taking the changes in the human body into account. The dresses of the period were designed for women who were corseted all day and night, their internal organs squashed beyond safety. I'm happy that Princess Beatrice, pictured here with her parents, the Duke and Duchess of York, and her friends have a much healthier shape, but nobody, now, has a realistic chance of fitting into the clothes of any epoch before the 1950s.

* People joke about John Prescott's vagueness about syntax, but I find the inadvertently broadcast conversation between Tony Blair and President Bush far more frightening. Here is Bush on the Israel-Lebanon crisis: "You see, the thing is what they need to do is get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over." Is that seriously the level of debate in the White House?

The naivety and vagueness of the style of talk reveals an almost incredibly naive grasp of the situation, and matched by Blair's ludicrous analysis of the Syrian president's motives: "He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if we get a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the same way." If you can't frame a sentence to express a complex thought, how easy the whole nightmarish situation must appear.

Just one question: in Bush's bizarre comment, who, realistically, could he suppose "they" to be?

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