In 1014 King Olaf of Norway, failing to land in Danish-occupied London, fastened ropes around the pillars of London Bridge and, sailing away with the incoming tide, pulled the bridge down.
Recalling this incident is the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’; the rhyme has spanned the centuries far more effectively than any memory of King Olaf himself; a timely reminder to those who pursue the course of Islamic Fundamentalism that ideologies fade far faster than cities. Their twisted form of Jihad will be left, Ozymandias-style in the ‘lone and level sands’ of time. Indeed, there used to be a sundial on the old Medieval London Bridge that bore the engraved motto, ‘Time and Tide stay for no Man’; perhaps ISIS would do well to remember that the next time they think about trying to spread the ideals of their warped Caliphate.
It is important to note that despite the title, ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, the most oft repeated phrase in that nursery rhyme are the simple words, ‘build it up’. The call to ‘build it up’ comes twelve times in the traditional verses of the rhyme, becoming a mantra of renaissance and resistance. And after each successful assault on London Bridge and its people, Londoners have indeed ‘buil(t) it up’. Today’s bridge, completed in 1973 and deemed ugly by most architectural standards, stands on the site occupied by at least ten predecessors bearing the same name. The simple message is that Londoners always build it up again; any assault against the beautiful thing, which is itself a design of unity, spanning and joining two sides whilst refuting the tides that batter her banks, will be pointless. Many metaphors can be read into the beauty of a bridge and here the bridge becomes the heart of a multicultural, all-spanning London and all her myriad Londoners.
London used to display the heads of traitors on the bridge too. Many lifeless eyes have gazed out from London Bridge onto the city their tried to destroy (sorry William Wallace, Thomas Cromwell, Guy Fawkes et al). Those dead eyes would ‘see’ the opposite of the poet Coleridge’s ‘mawkish sensibility’ when he too gazed from the bridge; they would see resistance, determination, and the fierce heart of the city, which burns against all who would seek to destroy her. “Build it up. Build it up. Build it up…” London always sings; only the foolish don’t take heed.
Finally The Shard, the UK’s tallest building which overlooks London Bridge, was designed to represent many things: the church spires that dot the London landscape; the masts of the ships that once rested in its docks and finally, the hope of all humanity, reaching to skies, looking to better itself, like a giant finger pointing to the sun. Today it sits, framed by London Bridge hospital; it is another symbol, in a city of symbols, of the enduring power of hope, and of London’s ability to pierce the clouds that threaten it.