Reversing Oxymandias

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.)


  • 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
Trickle a little olive oil over the toast and mash the avocado roughly on top. Don’t scatter, so much as carpet, the toast with the herbs, the lemon zest and a little juice, plus the chilli if you’re using it. Wrap the sandwich in a parcel of silver foil, and stick in your pocket, along with a flask of mulled wine. Sit on the beach and, in the absence of a Gormley iron man to look at, use the wonky sandwich as a “catalyst for reflection”. It should produce thoughts which are benign at worst, soaringly jolly at best.



    1. Thanks Karin – I’m so glad you like the sound of the wonky sandwich. It may not be to everyone’s taste!

  1. Great to get another diverting post so soon after the fortune cookies. This one somehow conveys the affinity of the bleakness of the East Coast with the faded Gothic of Gunnersbury Park, not to mention Ozymandias. A solid sandwich made with wonderful spelt flour would be a comfort. I make spelt bread with the gluten-free programme (spelt has little gluten) on my Panasonic bread maker and I highly recommend it. It only takes 2 hours which is an added bonus.

    1. So many recipes recommend mixing spelt with other flours, but I think you’re right – a loaf made with 100% spelt is absolutely delicious.

    1. I’m not very keen on manicured ones with gingham tablecloths – I’m more a sandwich and flask in the pocket kind of picnic-er. And they’re so much easier to prepare and therefore are more likely to happen!

  2. Your posts almost always make me smile. And this one made me crave an avocado sandwich, eaten outside on a windy day. With hot mulled wine, of course.

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