Art Pact 203 - Walking along the bank


"I don't know," she says, putting her hat on. She pulls the brim down low, so that it covers her eyes when she lets her head nod forward even a fraction. They appear and disappear again as she speaks, flashing on and off like the lights above a zebra crossing. I feel afraid to cross her, though.

"It shouldn't be too bad."

"Well, not if everything goes according to plan. But if there's a cock-up somewhere along the line it could easily go - what was that expression you used? Go south, that's it." She muses. "Why do they say that?"

"I don't know. Look, look at it this way. What other choices do we have? We either go along with things as they are or we make some effort to change them. OK, that's not going to be pretty. OK, if it goes wrong it could be a bit disastrous. But things are just going to keep getting slowly and steadily worse if we do nothing, there's nothing to say that things won't end up disastrous anyway, so it's more a nothing ventured nothing gained sort of situation we're looking at here."

We come to the awkward lines snaking across the open park area in front of the eye, and with some difficulty negotiate our way through the queue. It seems unusually busy, and many of the younger people we pass (german or french students on school trips, I think, judging by their brightly-coloured anoraks and identical backpacks) turn to watch her go past, staring either at her hat (if they are girls) or her bum (if otherwise). I frown at a few after they accidentally catch my eye, but they show no remorse, and, I suppose, why should they? They are just teenagers doing what teenagers do. I step a bit closer to her, though, trying to shield her from a little of the attention her progress through the crowd is drawing to her.

"There's a big difference between something going wrong because it was already going wrong," she says, "and it going wrong because you - me - us, I suppose - pushed it until it gave way. There's a question of agency, of culpability. Like pushing a fat man off a bridge to stop a train."

"Yes - wait, what?"

"You know, those tests." I do not know, and when I have stared blankly at her for a few seconds, she adds: "Those ethical tests. You know!"

"Sorry."

"Never mind. It's not important. Stop thinking about it. All I'm saying is: it's different. It's not the same us throwing a spanner in the works."

We are at the rail and footbridge out of Waterloo now, the bridge whose name I can never remember - is it Waterloo bridge? Is it the Hungerford bridge? Not for the first time, I wonder if there isn't an argument for name reform in London bridges. They could get rid of London bridge, for one thing, or just roll the name up so that London and Tower are the same bridge. Then they could name the other bridges after things they're actually near rather than naming them after some remote town they might possibly have led to once upon a time (see also the number of different Cambridge roads).

She looks for a moment as if she is going to ascend the steps and go up and over, but at the last minute she veers back towards the river, and I say nothing. Perhaps this is where she normally leaves, which gives me one more clue about where she comes from. Not a big clue, I am willing to admit, since it might mean that she is used to going up the steps to Waterloo and from there to all places beyond, but it is something. Another piece of the jigsaw puzzle, although sadly not an edge piece.

We skirt some pieces of art chalked expertly onto the pavement - Venus ascending, and then - cruder but larger - the old olympic logo where the bright pink blocks of colour have been replaced with caricatures of the sponsoring companies that managed to dodge out of their promises to pay their taxes. It seems pointless, I can hardly believe that people are still worrying about that when there are far more pressing matters, but then I remember that she and I are among only a handful of people who understand quite how pressing those matters actuallly are. It is not safe to accuse anyone of misplaced priorities when I am simply walking down the bank of the Thames with a pretty woman, arguing with her over whether we need to do something about a situation that will be the end of us all if we let it go on too long.

Out of the other side and we are in studio land - the theatres and gallerys and television buildings that fill the space east of Waterloo, and the accompanying art pieces and street performers. We navigate around a juggler tossing up flower vases complete with flowers and sploshing water, then stop for a moment to listen to a young lady (I say that, but she can't be old enough to be out of school yet) saxophonist. I take a step to walk on, but she leans forward and tosses a pound coin into the young lady's open instrument case, and embarrassed I root around in my own pocket - coming up with a couple of twenty-pence pieces and a broken biro. I throw in the coins (but keep the biro).

The crowds here are not as dense as around the Eye, but they seem a little more alive, and I suddenly feel that the solution to our problem might lie in the meta-problem that I am already aware of. I say it aloud, before I can think about it too much.

"We should let people know," I say.

"Which people?"

"All people."

"Ah." She stops, reaches up with her pointer finger extended to the brim of her hat and pushes it up to a jaunty angle. "Now that is something we must definitely discuss with the others."

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