Tate Modern: A Bricked Insult

During opaque weeks containing a few job interviews, I met my brothers on the Southbank for a decompression, who-would-want-THAT-job drink. Trying to get off a street level bustling with autumnal tourists we took to the Tate Modern bar. My eldest brother told the story of the designer of the Millennium Bridge, who had drawn up the expansion looking like an extended middle finger leading straight to St Paul’s as something of a synechdochial fuck you to the church.

On getting, accepting, launching into, being admonished by and finally, I would hope,
settling into the job which sprang forth from the original set of interviews, I’ve traipsed across that bridge to get to work dozens of times as my own little laugh at London’s public transport (even though I am belched from a bus before I can do so). The journey, monotonous as any work-transit can get, finally led me me to explore this concept further.

When I yabba-dabba-doo out of that office every evening, am I waddling up someone’s digit to enter the rectum of priests united? Your turn boys! Or, better yet, journeying North to South every morning, am I excreted out by someone’s vision of God so that I may take my seat of employment?

And is that actually what flipping someone the bird indicates? With the accompanying warcry “up yours!” I would think that that’s your intention: to stick your finger into someone’s anus. And while it won’t necessarily be pleasant for the other party, at the end of the day you’ve just stuck one of your ten best friends into the bum of your rival, so at best its a score draw.

From what I have read the Greek established accessibility of such non-verbal assaults by contextualising a gesture contrived by primates. It is thought that with mere rags at best to cover us, it was easy to get our actual bits out and wave them at enemies as a means of expressing your sexual virility over them. It was a ploy which could presumably be scuppered by cold weather, the clap or (heaven forbid) the superior weight, length and/or girth of your target’s bits. Greeks, being clever (invented the olives, lets not forget) took the risk out of the situation by adapting the gesture to involve one’s hand. From there the Roman’s picked it up, and being a saucy lot took it on a run of poetic debauchery so intense as to ensure that these centuries later we still use and discuss it. Between then and now the whole gesture may or may not have taken a turn through the on-again, off-again myth of the French and their threats in Agincourt. Popular truth one moment, pedantic QI style put-down the next.

All academic anyway, as it turns out my brother mentioned nothing of the bridge, but that the gesture is embodied in the Tate itself, formerly Bankside Power Station. Once this is a fact you are aware of, it is impossible to see the building without imagining it as a large, bricked insult. If it is indeed a fact, being as it is hard to track down any firm evidence. It could be that, as a Catholic, architect Giles Gilbert Scott’s trapped subconscious decided it had had enough. More easy to believe, at least for the petty among us, is that it was petulant rebellion at being forced to keep Bankside’s chimney at a height lower than that of St Paul’s spire. This further research revealed that my decompression drinks may have administered the bends.

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