Saturday, January 30, 2010

My heroes in Postman's Park by Christopher Reid

My heroes in Postman's Park, by Christopher Reid

Christopher Reid
Saturday 30 January 2010

find it difficult to nominate any one person as my hero. Heroism seems to me a more common, if hidden, quality than is widely supposed. It may even be a defining characteristic of humanity, although instances of its opposites – cowardice, selfishness – flourish around us.

When I contemplate the word "hero", no particular face or figure, no documented life – with its compromising flaws and peccadilloes – comes to mind. I do, however, have a topographical focus. This is the patch of green in the City of London that has come to be known as Postman's Park, from its proximity to what was the General Post Office across King ­Edward Street.
The park stands on the old burial ground of St Botolph's Aldersgate. Along one edge there is a sort of ­arcade or loggia, like a single side of a cloister, lined with ceramic plaques memorialising the bravery of individuals who died while saving the lives of others. I say "individuals", and of course that is what they were when they lived, but little or nothing is now known about them beyond the courageous actions recorded tersely in the Arts and Crafts lettering of these plaques. If we did know more, then we might have to take into account that X, who, snatching a stranger from a river, was drowned himself, was also a rogue and wife-beater; or that Y, who rescued children from a fire but was ­fatally burned in the process, had the morals of a slut.
In literary terms, these citations are not unlike the gleanings of newspaper reports from 1906 that Félix Fénéon collected privately and which were published not long ago as Novels in Three Lines. But whereas Fénéon's treatment emphasises the brutality and folly of human behaviour, the shrine in Postman's Park, which the painter GF Watts paid for just a few years earlier, presents, in a contradictory spirit but without false piety, reasons to be humbled and hopeful. So my almost vanished, multiple heroes are to be found in this sacred place.







Saturday, January 23, 2010

My hero / My father John Gross by Philip Gross

My hero, my father John Gross, by Philip Gross

Philip Gross
Saturday 23 January 2010

ere's an old man, older than he ever reckoned to be. He doesn't look much like a hero – hair and beard a bit unkempt, and you can tell his eyesight's not up to the job of catching a food stain here and there. But he's got his walking stick and his eccentric beret, and he strides through the backstreets, rain or shine. Don't ask him where he's going; he'll just see your lips moving, your look of slight impatience or concern . . . because his hearing has crumbled, from the top registers downwards: birdsong went first; now there's mainly the confusing growl of traffic. Bang a car door and he'll startle, as if it's a gunshot. For him that isn't a figure of speech; 65 years ago he was ducking and weaving his way across Europe in the awful closing movements of the war.

But that's another story, one he won't tell now, because words have deserted him – the three or four languages he had at his command gone with a series of small strokes, the attrition of age, aphasia . . . Can you imagine: cut off from the sound of human voices, and from your own voice? You can read just, inch by inch, up close, and your fine motor control isn't up to more than two or three words before it goes haywire.
Now, look up. Address the world fairly in whatever phonemes you can muster. Put a bold foot forward. In the words of early Quaker George Fox, "Walk cheerfully over the world . . ."
We have never been a family for filial piety, still less for hero-worship. I have no idea whether he was a brave man in that war, or simply human. But looking at my father now, the way he bears his old age . . . I call that a bit heroic.







Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Hero / Sebastian Walker by Julie Myerson

Sebastian Walker

My Hero Sebastian Walker

Julie Myerson
Sat 16 Jan 2010

started working as Walker Books' publicist in 1988. Less than a month into the job – not great timing – I found I was pregnant. But Sebastian's face lit up. "My dear, I'll start a nursery. You can bring the baby into work with you!"

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My hero / Bob Moog by Don Paterson

My hero Bob Moog

Don Paterson
Saturday 9 January 2010

ob Moog had a great name, which seemed to fit his machines almost as well as Mr Hoover's did his. (He never convinced anyone to pronounce it correctly: it rhymes with rogue.) He was also as far from the public image of "Dr Moog", the lab-coated evil genius and destroyer of human music, as it was possible to get: a sweet, patient, articulate man who saw himself purely as a toolmaker, determined to narrow, not widen, the gap between the player and the instrument.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Life and style / Viggo Mortensen / This world, the love of my life


Q&A: Viggo Mortensen

'If I could go back in time, I'd go to the first Viking ship to land in America'
"This world, the love of my life" 

Rosanna Greenstreet
Saturday 2 January 2010 00.10 GMT

Viggo Mortensen, 51, was born in New York to an American mother and a Danish father. He made his feature film debut in Peter Weir's Witness and went on to appear in Carlito's Way, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises, for which he was Oscar-nominated in 2008. His latest film, The Road, an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy book, opens on Friday. He is divorced with one son, and lives in Idaho.
When were you happiest?

Right now. The past has gone.

What is your greatest fear?

The next thing I ought to do. With few exceptions, one ought always do what one is afraid of.

What is your earliest memory? 

Lying in my mother's lap and looking up at her face. I think we were in a car. I was one and a half, two, maybe. My next memory is also in a car, and I was standing behind my dad. I remember getting sick and throwing up down the back of my dad's shirt. He remembers it well.

Which living person do you most admire, and why? 

My son, Henry, because he is kind, which I think is the highest wisdom.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? 

Occasionally being mistrustful of others.

What is your most unappealing habit? 

It's hard to pick one!

What is your favourite smell? 

To truthfully answer at this time, I'd have to reveal something that is too intimate to reveal.

What is your guiltiest pleasure? 


What is the worst job you've done? 

In a factory in Denmark when I was 20. All day long I had to punch a single hole in the centre of a square piece of metal.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why? 

My body – we all do things we shouldn't.

What is the love of your life? 

This world.

Which living person do you most despise? 

I don't think it solves anything to despise.

Which phrases do you most overuse? 

"Let me think about it."

What has been your biggest disappointment? 

That Barack Obama seems to be more concerned with becoming re-elected than with doing his very best to fulfil the promise of his candidacy.

If you could go back in time, where would you go? 

To the first Viking ship to land in North America.

When did you last cry, and why? 

Last night, because of a beautiful thing someone told me on the phone.

How do you relax? 

I go for a walk, play the piano or take a long bath.

What is the closest you've come to death? 

Quite a few times in cars, in water, on horseback and on motorcycles.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life? 
Not dying.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

Understanding that my parents are not gods, and that I'm not one, either.

What keeps you awake at night? 

Yesterday and tomorrow, but I eventually fall asleep because neither exists.

What song would you like played at your funeral? 

It doesn't really matter.

How would you like to be remembered? 

That doesn't really matter, either.