Fiona McCade: Selfish and misguided romantics

The craze for leaving ‘lasting memorials’, be they padlocks or plaques, in our shared spaces is just mindless selfishness, writesFiona McCade

Locked in an embrace: canoodling at the padlock-festooned Pont des Arts. Picture: Getty
Locked in an embrace: canoodling at the padlock-festooned Pont des Arts. Picture: Getty

What makes you so important? What makes me so important? Let me tell you, because the answer is very simple: nothing. Absolutely nothing.

When I die, I hope those who have loved me will remember me, but apart from that, I’m perfectly happy to go back to dust and leave no trace. Even if I deserved it, I wouldn’t want a Walter Scott-type memorial – I’d just worry that it was spoiling everyone’s view of Princes Street.

Earlier this week, in Paris, a large piece of the Pont des Arts fell off – luckily, inwards and not on to anybody sailing by underneath. It didn’t fall off because the Pont des Arts was badly constructed. It collapsed under the weight of thousands of padlocks, attached to the bridge over the past six years by so-called “romantics” as tokens of their love.

The Pont des Arts is arguably the loveliest bridge in Paris. It’s purely for pedestrians, and its graceful, republican simplicity has never been matched in the 212 years since it was built. Unfortunately, in 2008, people started proving their love for each other by fixing padlocks to the bridge’s ironwork, and disaster has resulted.

There are so many romantic things you can do in Paris without even slightly defacing the city, and yet this pointless charade has caused the Pont des Arts to suffer serious structural harm.

The fad originated in Rome, where an even older bridge, the 2,200 year-old Ponte Milvio, started being mutilated by padlocks after the success of an Italian novel. In Federico Moccia’s 2006 book I Want You, the main character tries to seduce a girl by making up a story that if they attach a padlock to the Ponte Milvio, then throw the key into the River Tiber, they will never be parted. The thousands of people who have copied this idea have all failed to notice that not only is this hardly an age-old tradition, but also that the novel’s protagonist didn’t even do it seriously, for the sake of true love. It was just a line, to get a lass into bed.

The sort of people who attach padlocks to bridges are the sort of people who have Every Step You Take played at their weddings. They haven’t looked at the words, or given a moment’s thought to what any of it actually means. When it comes to sticking ugly bits of metal to beautiful and ancient monuments, they haven’t the imagination to work out what the consequences of their actions might be. They are the very definition of “sheeple”. They haven’t an original thought in their heads, so they go and do something because they’ve been told it’s “romantic” and because they’ve seen others doing it. And that’s as far as their tiny minds can take them.

Don’t get me started on using a padlock as a symbol for a loving relationship; I can’t even begin to get my head around that one. No, what bothers me most is that it hasn’t occurred to the sheeple, not even for one moment, that they are part of a movement which is disfiguring and even demolishing things that are wonderful and valuable, and which belong to every one of us, not just them.

We have a similar problem in Scotland, where our breathtaking wilds are often damaged by people who probably don’t mean to cause harm or destruction, but who, through simple thoughtlessness or blind selfishness, wreak it nevertheless.

I once read a thought-provoking article by a ranger on the Balmoral estate, who wrote that “mountain memorials have a worse impact than litter”. He also recalled how the family of someone called Doug had screwed a plaque which read “Doug’s favourite place” into the stones at a glorious viewpoint. “I wonder,” he asked in the piece, “if ‘Doug’s favourite place’ would have been his favourite place if, when he had first visited, he found a plaque already on it declaring it to be ‘Bob’s favourite place’.”

I don’t mind anyone expressing their feelings, especially feelings of love or remembrance, but try as I might, I can’t imagine loving someone in such a way that it would move me to an act of vandalism.

I realise this is an emotive subject, but come on; there is a bigger picture here. Maybe it’s difficult for the Me Generation to realise that there are more important things than their own personal wishes, but inspirational places are being ruined because certain people apparently believe that their emotions deserve more attention than others’.

So I ask again, you people who make these bold statements at the expense of everybody else: what makes you so important? Why does this have to be all about you? Why should your wants beat the rights of all the other people with whom you share the planet? Why is your love so special, it must be celebrated by an act which destroys something lovely, and prevents it from being enjoyed by everybody? What makes your loss so different, that while the rest of us can manage to mourn while treading lightly through our shared environment, you have to emblazon your stamp on it, and claim it as yours alone?

We have all loved; we have all lost. Yet if you have any sense of history, of nature, or of a spirit of togetherness, you must see that there are so many better and more imaginative ways of honouring these milestones in our lives.

We shudder at the way our forefathers chipped pieces off the great menhirs at Stonehenge for souvenirs, or defaced antique art with graffiti. We think we’re so superior to them, but we’re not.

When I die, I hope my family does something creative and worthwhile in my name; like planting trees, or saving something unphotogenic from extinction.

What I don’t want my loved ones to do is deliberately wreck a little bit of Scotland, simply because they haven’t the wit to remember me any other way.