Let their names moulder in the graveyard of infamy…
In these dark times, it’s cheering to read of public-spirited citizens who wish to redress the wrongs of the past. Yesterday’s Huffington Post featured a campaign in the good city of Bristol to re-name any building bearing the accursed name of Wills. For it was Henry Overton Wills III – whose fortune came from his family’s slave owning, tobacco planting and cigarette manufacturing business – who endowed much of Bristol University and gave his name two of its most prominent buildings.
As I understand it, the instigators are undergraduates, shining examples of those hard-working, idealistic young people who spend their lives studying or supporting worthy causes such as this one.
And they’re quite right. Shame on the city to have accepted money from such an evil example of colonial capitalism. Better if they’d called the Wills Memorial Building, the largest gothic structure in the city, the Carcinoma Building, in memory of all the poor people who inhaled their benefactor’s noxious products. And the university hall of residence also named after the venal panjandrum, where one of my daughters spent a riotous year, should have been called Servitude Hall.
Why stop there? Pull down the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College, as the students of Oxford have advocated. No building should be named after a land-grabbing, racist, blood diamond merchant, should it? Replace it with a statue of the Zulu king Cetshwayo, the victor of Isandlwana. At least he gave our imperialist ancestors a bloody nose.
But I believe that the campaigners are aiming too low. We should expunge the name of Victoria, Queen Empress of half the planet – in whose name unspeakable atrocities were committed – from Victoria Falls, Victoria Station, the Australian state of Victoria and a hundred more institutions, buildings and monuments. If Lenin can be removed from every public square in the former Soviet empire, why not tear down the statues of the bug-eyed monarch wherever her subjects placed their baleful imprint?
And what of the beastly Hanover dynasty, whose scions snuffed out Scotland’s finest at Culloden, and under whose aegis Georg Freidrich Handel wrote operas employing unfortunate men forcibly castrated in their youth? Should we really be celebrating George I, who allegedly murdered his first wife’s lover, and George III, who lost America and paid the penalty by going mad? Get rid of Georgetowns, and rename everything else Georgian with a more appropriate moniker. Teutonic perhaps.
As for our classical “heroes”, cursed should be the name of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian thug who wiped out the enlightened civilisation of Cyrus the Great and his illustrious successors. The Egyptians should rename Alexandria immediately. And Julius Caesar, whose genocidal achievements approach those of Adolf Hitler, should never be commemorated again. No more Tsars, Kaisers and Shahs. And who wants to eat a salad named after the man who slaughtered a million Gauls and enslaved a million more?
Only after we have expunged every tyrant, kleptocrat and robber baron with blood on their hands (and nicotine on their fingers in the case of Wills) from our cities, streets and buildings should we rest content that we’ve set the record straight, happy that their names will moulder away, never to be mentioned again unless with contempt.
Come to think of it, many of our city and street names have unpleasant connotations, not to mention our villages. Names like Piddletrenthide and Buttocks Booth are affronts to public decency. And towns ending with -caster or -chester are constant reminders of Roman oppression. Perhaps we should rename them all to avoid future disagreements. Numbers would be best. Change London to Metro One, Birmingham to Metro Two, Manchester to Metro Three and so on. Though on second thoughts that might not work. You’d have Brummies arguing with Mancunians, and the Scots would have to re-name their cities once they leave the UK.
Oh well, you know what I’m getting at. If you work hard enough, you can be offended by any name, so best not to have any. What a harmonious country we’d live in then! Free of historical controversies. Looking only forward to a glorious future untainted by the polluting influence of the past.
We’re not quite there yet, but there’s always hope, especially with activists like me fighting the good fight. With that in mind, I’ve decided never again to buy a cappuccino from Caffé Nero, in solidarity with murdered mothers and victims of arson. Nor shall I ever buy a can of Campbell’s soup, in sympathy with exploited Cornish tin miners and all the MacDonalds massacred at Glencoe.
Actually, we should really be proactive, and work on words that might in future be mistakenly associated with the infamous. So it goes without saying that I shall never again play bridge until the World Bridge Federation renames the trump card. And no more dancing round the maypole for that matter.
Every little helps, wouldn’t you say?