Friday, August 14, 2009

Postcard from Stirling, by Lee McGowan

Gather your hankies and prepare yourself.

The following is true and like the last flight of the haggis is no less disturbing for it. With the weight of a Victorian legacy and hundreds of years of history, it travels from a small town in Scotland to the big screen, through Hollywood’s corridors of power to the New York doorstep of a mover and shaker. It has already attracted hordes of deluded international travellers looking for a photo-opp, a real life distillery and a B ’n B with hot running porridge taps in every room.

The statue of Mel Gibson at the Wallace Monument in Stirling has been removed.
The ‘lease’ ran out. The truth is: they had to take it away.

Put there by a well-meaning local council wishing to tip its fluffy tammy, or bonnet, to the excessive success of the ‘Braveheart’ movie (and the gratefully accepted tourist dollars rolling in on the back of it), the statuesque celebration of the hero of the Scots was to capture the essence of Sir William Wallace. Not the real Wallace you understand, the Oscar winning, publicity shy actor/director film Wallace. The one the world had come to recognise.

That’s right, through fear, greed or stupidity, or all three, the boffins round the big table commissioned a local sculptor to fashion a sandstone work of wee Mel. Replete with blue face, mace in hand, and at least one severed Englishman’s head, the chiselled lump was unveiled on September 11 1997, as near as exactly 700 years after Sir William’s victory over the English at Stirling Bridge. Importantly, a single word had been inscribed at the foot of this stone homage, the now famous, oft-repeated battle cry, (stretch your lungs and roar it with me…) ‘Freedom’.

These days the movie (Irish pipe music and all), its overly-stretched artistic license and wee Mel’s braids and face paint have become as synonymous with Scottish kitsch as ‘500 miles’, orange haired tartan bunnets and Nessie shaped soft toys. And we, the Scottish People, can live with it. We’ve made a fortune off it.

Now, long before the short antipodean with his close but no cigar efforts at the accent got into extra-marital girlfriends, Britney Spears and DUI’s; long before he made the bloody crucifixion or apocalyptic tales in the jungle; long before he got hold of our wee piece of history, the Victorians had paid their respects to Wallace by erecting a 400-foot high Monument on a crag over-looking our fair town. The locals are very fond of it.

But the wee man’s statue is a different story. People were unhappy about it. Very unhappy. Someone took the face off it with a hammer. The literal and figurative defacement pleased the locals no end. The sculptor was happy too. The fluffy tammies paid him even more to apply the sandstone equivalent of botoxed, reconstructive rhinoplasty. It didn’t improve things. The face changed, but the affront, like the acrid taste of bitter disappointment and shite on purist tongues, remained.

Knowing this and fearing another assault, the fluffy tammies decided to do something very similar to the nobles in Wallace’s day. They kept the people away. The contemporary version, a fortified blue cage, was hastily constructed around wee Mel’s lookalike. They neglected, however, to remove the ‘Freedom’ from his feet. And made him, and themselves, look even dafter.

Last year, the fluffy tammies poured more salt on self-inflicted wounds and tried to sell the stone-faced wee man. There were no takers, not even real wee Mel. Mind you, he’s had his hands full of late – changing nappies on the fruit of an illicit affair.

The statue has since, apparently, been passed to the Trump organization. The man with the shredded wheat hair wants it for a hotel lobby. A fitting end? It certainly brings us neatly back to the stupidity.

The author: Lee McGowan is a doctoral student in Creative Writing at QUT.