Welcome To Wherever I Am By Dom Joly

A man is rarely a tourist in his own country. This was certainly true for me, Until the toppling of the slave trader, Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, I’d never really given our statues a second glance. Yesterday, I wandered the deserted promenades of Regency Cheltenham eagerly inspecting every public monument that I come across. The Boer War Memorial? Probably best to topple, feels a touch colonial.

King William IV? If I’m honest, I don’t know anything about him. I could Google him but, who has the time? Shakespeare wrote- “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” and that’s good enough for me. Off with his head. In Imperial Gardens (uh-oh) stands a statue of an ebullient Gustav Holst? Sounds like he could have been a bit of a Nazi and I don’t like classical music anyway. It’s probably safer to
replace it with one of FK Twigs, one of Cheltenham’s more successful musical exports. I pause beside the Italianate splendour of Neptune’s Fountain and can’t help noticing that Neptune is brandishing a trident in what appears to be a rather fascistic manner…

Let’s face it, if you try hard enough, we can pretty quickly find an argument to remove most statues. The only Cheltenham one that seems properly safe is that of Edward Wilson, a local boy who joined Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912 and died on the job. I suppose that there might even be an argument against him from climate-change activists and seal enthusiasts but I think he is probably OK.

Despite having never paid any attention to British statues before, on my travels around the world, they have always been a source of interest. In 2014 I travelled to Bosnia-Herzegovina on the centenary of the assassination of The Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. Having been to the site of the shooting and retraced the route of the Archduke’s procession I was advised to visit a small housing estate in the eastern suburbs of the Bosnian capital.

My favourite statue in the world is that of Paddington Bear that sits in the London railway station of the same name. At least this is a statue that nobody could have a problem with?

There I found a recently erected, rather poor-quality statue of the assassin. It had been commissioned by Bosnian Serbs who viewed Princip as a hero as opposed to the Bosnian Croats and Muslims who saw him as somebody who wanted to have Bosnia occupied by
Serbia. In such a divided country it was hardly surprising that there might not be unity on statue selection. Disputes there often end with a stick or two of dynamite.

I’ve visited Communist statue graveyards in Moscow, Budapest and Sofia. These are countries who have more experience with replacing history as it happens. The great and good of their once-all powerful communist regimes now lie gathering moss. Admittedly, they do make an exceedingly good backdrop for scenes in movies where spies have to meet up furtively, but apart from that they have had their day and nobody is making too much fuss.

You’d be in trouble if you tried to mess with statues in North Korea. I spent two weeks travelling around the Hermit Kingdom in 2009 and they really take their statues seriously.

There is even statue protocol. When standing in front of the two massive statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il that overlook Pyongyang, you are issued with instructions. You approach them respectfully, you must bow when you stop in front of them, you must not turn your back on them, and you never, ever take a photograph that is not of the whole statue.

It’s no surprise- it’s almost their only national industry. The DPRK is the IKEA for first-time dictators. The joke going around Pyongyang when I was there was that if you popped into one of the massive state factories you could see where in the world the next revolution was going to take place. The organised revolutionary is well prepared and orders his stoneware ahead of time.

I joked in my book, The Dark Tourist that when I was there, the factories were hard at work making loads of statues of Boris Johnson. I now realise this wasn’t funny, just prescient, but nothing is really funny anymore. We are all just bile and confusion.

My favourite statue in the world is that of Paddington Bear that sits in the London railway station of the same name. At least this is a statue that nobody could have a problem with?

Sadly, Señor Bear is an immigrant from Peru with indeterminate residential status. There is also the possibility that Señor Bear is not just bringing marmalade sandwiches into the country. Peru has a virulent narcotics problem and mules carrying their favourite export are all-too common. It won’t be long, mark my words.

Perhaps Marcus Cato got it right? “I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue than why I have one.”

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