I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear -
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s admonitory sonnet ‘Ozymandias’ was published in 1818, the same year as Mary Shelley’s prototype science-fiction novel Frankenstein. Feel free to abide by the warnings of each, that if we over-reach ourselves we’ll be slapped down by the large, podgy hand of retribution. But having just returned from a trip to the Suffolk seaside, via the dilapidation and decay of London’s magnificent Gunnersbury Park, I feel like celebrating the beauty of the rusted sculpture, the decayed building, the half-finished painting and the slightly wonky sandwich.
Aldeburgh’s Martello Tower, built to fend off coastal attack by Napoleon, is a vast, dumpy affair, constructed of more than a million bricks and a huge dose of defiant chutzpah. The chilly waters of the North Sea crash onto the pebbles and stones of the beach below. The sculptor Sir Antony Gormley has just installed a suitably defiant cast iron man to sit atop the tower’s strident form, with the instruction that it and its four siblings should be “catalysts for reflection”. I can only think that if Martello man had been around in Ozymandias’ day he would have told the ‘shattered visage’ and ‘trunkless legs’ to pull themselves together and stop being defeatist.
Just a mile along the Suffolk coastline, I marvelled at Maggi Hambling’s vast sculpture Scallop, its frilled metal edge punctured with words from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. As I stood on the beach, my first encounter with the words was like this:
“Voices that will be owned”? I don’t like the idea of that at all. But tramp a little further around the shell and the words are like this:
“I hear those voices that will not be drowned” — that’s more like it. I had driven to Aldeburgh via London’s Gunnersbury, possibly the capital’s least celebrated but most startling ornamental park. Its Palladian buildings are decayed, its ornamental trees marooned and its vegetable garden merely clinging to its old formality. But the park’s Gothic grandeur has a magnificent beauty that lifts the spirits.
Neither Gunnersbury nor Aldeburgh are places for perfectly constructed food, dainty sandwiches or small mouthfuls. You will, by now, know my love for picnics. To Gunnersbury and Aldeburgh I would take my wonky avocado sandwich. In Aldeburgh, as the wild wind compresses face to skull, I would tuck both a wonky sandwich and a flask of hot mulled wine into my pocket. (If I could, I would also take a box of the most delicious garlic fries I’ve just been treated to in San Francisco, at a Giants baseball game — a cardboard tray of plump chips scattered with enough shreds of snipped-up wild garlic leaves to fight off an attack by Ozymandias himself.)
A DEFIANT WONKY SANDWICH
- Slices of brown spelt bread, toasted — without question, this needs to be the kind of bread which goes into attritional battle with your teeth. You shouldn’t be quite sure who’s going to win until the end.
- I very ripe avocado for each 2 slices of bread
- Grated lemon zest and a little juice
- Handfuls of chopped lemon verbena, chives, mint and oregano
- Best olive oil
- A few slices of chilli, if you feel like it