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.

001 My hero / Oscar Wilde by Michael Holroyd
002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm


017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
042 My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford
043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
045 My hero / Edmund Burke by David Marquand
046 My hero / Shelagh Deleaney by Jeanette Winterson
047 My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid
048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
049 My hero / Michael Mayne by Susan Hill
050 My hero / Stanley Spencer by Howard Jacobson

051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
052 My hero / Jean McConville by Amanda Foreman
053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal

079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
100 Thomas Tranströmer by Robin Robertson
102 My hero / David Hockney by Susan Hill


190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
194 My hero / René Descartes by James Kelman
199 My hero / Albert Camus by Geoff Dyer


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