OCH, it makes you proud, doesn’t it? Some po-faced council official suggests raising the plinth on Glasgow’s Duke of Wellington monument so late-night revellers can’t stick a cone on his head, and the city’s denizens respond as only they know how: with a rammy, albeit it a virtual one.
No Weegie worth his salt (or tomato ketchup) is going to be told he can’t scale a statue of a Saturday night by some jumped-up wee jobsworth who doesn’t recognise an important rite of passage when she sees one. Especially one that thinks the sight of an orange pokey hat sitting atop a British soldier and statesman is “depressing”, as opposed to a symbol of all that is good about the Dear Green Place.
And so, within minutes of the news of the attempted crackdown breaking, a campaign had been launched. And what a campaign it was, full of all the spirit and subversive humour the deadpan council document lacked. Soon, the cone had its own Twitter account and was lobbying for a seat on the Scotland Tonight sofa so it could fight for its survival. As it sent out witty messages, its follower count grew and the whole world went pun-crazy, with supporters vying to find the most inventive – if not to say contrived – way of slotting the word cone into a sentence.
Celebrities waded in, with Greg Hemphill tweeting “Cone-y No Do That”, while thousands signed a Facebook petition calling for plans to be scrapped and for the £65,000 it would have cost to raise the plinth to be spent on something more worthwhile.
For the first 12 hours, I thought the stushie was fantastic: didn’t it just sum up the irreverence and anti-authoritarianism of my fellow citizens? Like John Smeaton, the Glasgow Airport baggage handler whose message to the terrorists was: “This is Glesga, we’ll set aboot ya”, and Hurricane Bawbag, the nickname given to the gale-force winds that hit Scotland in winter 2011, the cone captured our distinctive wit and lack of pretension.
If visitors to the Commonwealth Games want a real taste of what it means to be Scottish, they’d be more likely to get it from this anarchic statement than from Carlo Marochetti’s original work, even if it is an A-listed structure. And though some complain the statue is a war memorial and should be treated with dignity, I’ll wager many a gallus squaddie has coned the duke and would more than appreciate the backlash.
There were other serious points to be made too. As the statue of the Duke of Wellington was paid for by public subscription, why shouldn’t the public have a say in its future, just as they did when the council wanted to carry out a £15 million makeover on George Square?
The city has benefitted from the cone in the past. It has earned the statue its own Wikipedia entry and a place in the Lonely Planet Guide’s top ten most bizarre monuments in the world, which also includes a statue of Rocky Balboa in the Serbian town of Zitiste.
If Brussels can have a urinating boy as its symbol and Berlin can have multi-coloured bears, I fail to see why Glasgow can’t be represented by a man with a cone on his head. It may cost the council £100 a time to remove it, as it is apparently forced to do in case it falls on someone’s head, but raising the plinth is just throwing down the gauntlet to the city’s daredevils to climb higher and makes accidents more likely.
Anyway, the cone’s supporters had a blast. And by the time Scotland Tonight featured the story, the battle was already won; minutes before the programme went on air, the council announced a U-turn (or at least a reprieve). Power to ra peeple!
But then, the following morning, I woke up with a bit of a Twitter hangover, a slight sense of shame and the certainty that if I ever saw a cone pun again it would be too soon. And by the time folk were celebrating outside the statue, complete with banners saying “We Came, We Saw, We Cone-quered”, I’d begun to worry we were beginning to look a bit trivial. I mean, far be it from me to stop anyone having a good time, but perhaps we ought to have had better things to do than to gather in the cold to celebrate a flash-in-the-pan controversy.
It also occurred to me that, while the cone does say something about aspects of the Glaswegian character, it does not define us. #Weareallthecone, as the hashtag had it, but we are also much, much more. I’d hate to think that outside observers looked at that party and thought our bolshiness and our banter were all there was.
When I think of my city, I do think of its humour and its lack of deference, but I also think of its friendliness and egalitarianism; its commitment to the idea that the arts and heritage are for everyone, in the form of free entry to its art galleries and museums. I think of its architecture, its wide open spaces, the way it welcomes immigrants and its resilience in the face of blows that would have crushed lesser cities.
So, fair enough, enjoy the great cone victory; it’s given us a bit of a lift in difficult times. But let’s not invest it with significance it doesn’t have.
The Duke of Wellington’s hat is a fun addition to a multi-faceted city, not its life and its soul. Twitter account or no Twitter account, it is still just a traffic control measure on a man’s head. Although please, @WellingtonCone, don’t unfollow me for saying so. «