Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Reaching out.

Erk. My growing obsession with establishing some kind of connection between centuries old and young gathers pace.

I still dream of bringing Mr Vincent Van Gogh to the present day, of course, and in-so-doing rescuing his paintings from the prisons which cage them. Not for me, the cosy 21st Century Dr Who worldview of the tortured artist locked in history, waiting patiently for a Timelord to unveil the merit and acclaim that time has heaped on his Dutch shoulders. Oh no. My visionary version of events is a rescue mission, pure and simple: these priceless paintings need to be sprung from their temperature-controlled cells and pasted up on walls. Perhaps squat walls. Perhaps not. But given back to Vincent, whatever.

Similarly, I'm not entirely sure how much of our modern world Mr Charles Dickens would approve of. I find it increasingly easy to walk around London with an inherited sense of wonder at the miracles of the age: the under-construction Shard, the buzz of helicopters, the silver tubes of airliners tracing through the sky. How great, how amazing, it would be to show all these things to Mr D. But then I check myself with the thought that Mr Dickens might prefer to stay in the car. I'd be tempted to run him out of town for some fresh air. If he's not into the fellows walking into public houses without hats on, I fantasise, he's hardly going to appreciate the scallies drinking Special Vat outside William Hill.

The more I read of Dickens, the more I want to reach out and forge that spiritual connection between our respective centuries. But, however hard I look, I don't see that desire reciprocated. Where the mighty, ingenious and entertainingly original American-born writer Russell Hoban is clearly laying out his retirement-age London for future generations to savour - tube journey after walk after cafe after park - there is no indication, anywhere, that Mr Dickens was ever scribing for an age more advanced than his own. Maybe the need to have seen it all and to report to some future audience, like a time-sensitive recce mission, is a truly modern phenomenon?

Whatever, I feel sure Mr Dickens would be glad to see his works still in print in 2011. He might be more than a bit surprised - but pleased all the same. And for the time being, I'm happy to try to see modern London through the same kind of Victoria-tinted spectacles as he would have worn. It's a push, a big push, but sometimes I feel rewarded with just the merest hint that I might be on vaguely the same page. That's something to aspire to, isn't it?

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