The Undivided Trinity.
“The time of my departure is approaching.
Nigh is the hurricane that will scatter my leaves.
Tomorrow, perhaps, the wanderer will appear –
His eye will search for me round every spot,
And will, – not find me.”
Thomas Chatterton, quoted in ‘Chatterton’, Peter Ackroyd, 1987.
The evening sky casts its spell over a desolate Millennium Square as three bronze statues, one modern two ancient stir slowly as their shadows lengthen. Cary Grant checks his multiple reflection in the chrome plated Imaginarium, then adjusts his cummerbund to languidly stroll over to the seated William Tyndall, still arthritically hunched over his James the First Bible.
The urbane Cary good-naturedly teases William, while William in turn wearily berates Cary for the shallowness and ease of his previous existence, compared to the seriousness of his purpose in Bible translation, a passion that resulted in his being burnt at the stake. Despite their habitual banter, and their gulfs in background, they recognize that they are in this together. Cary helps William to his feet, shaking off the leaves as they proceed to an adjoining bench where upon sits Thomas Chatterton, eyes absently gazing into the middle distance, forlornly seeking inspiration from the tradesman’s entrance of the LloydsTsb Amphitheatre. He joins their conversation on the frustrations of another interminable day of inanimation.
His muse has been blighted today by a photo-shoot promoting Bristol tourism. He has endured a supermodel being draped over him all day; she oblivious to his suspended animation and without a care as to the effects of her feigned intimacy upon his hormonal system. Cary bemoans the fact that whereas in Hollywood he could control his contact with fans – staging the apparent naturalness of those encounters for the lens of sympathetic cameramen – now it seems that anyone who feels so inclined can assume familiarity, sticky fingers everywhere, posing suggestively for their clumsy amateur snaps. William laments that the visitors have no idea that his sacrifice was made to popularise the word of God. They venerate the photographic image, but are quite lost to the Word.
Our unlikely triumvirate shuffle across the Square, to conduct their evening ritual. They pass through the space in the iridescent wall of mirrored water, where a mysterious process transforms their carapaces of bronze into the resplendent hues of their original clothing, their countenances assuming a pale but human pallor. Thus attired, they are prepared for their self-appointed evening task of posing as Council sponsored historical animations. They head across Anchor Square with trepidation, anxious as always lest the gigantic black beetle, ever menacing on its plinth, should learn their trick of transubstantiation.
Safely delivered to the strip of Waterfront bars, Cary, ever the leader selects for their cocktail hour the cool Californian minimalism of the Pitcher and Piano. By the door they spy a man wearing a Superman outfit. He appears quite crestfallen, as if he had fallen rather than glided from the Bristol and West Building. Tables proving scarce in this popular bar, they join our fallen hero. He shifts along the table with a grunt, hoisting his belt under his ample belly, barely noticing in his self-absorption their antiquated garb, contrasting as it does with his iconic modernism. William, ever concerned, inquires as to his disposition.
Grudgingly pleased at the opportunity to share his misfortune, he explains that he is one of the founders of Fathers4Justice, now a nationwide movement which all began in Bristol. Today he was badly let down by so called co-conspirators while planning to scale the Council House and hang a banner. When he tried to contact them, the new leaders from ‘Up North’ told him that he was now banished from their number. They gave no reason, had not even been man enough to tell him face to face, merely dumping him by text message. He growls that, though gutted, he will fight on, start up a splinter group, recover the loss of his children and his protest movement. Single handedly if need be.
Enlivened by this show of defiance, and appreciative of their sympathetic witness, he finishes his pint, wipes his hand across his mouth, and offers them a drink. All three eagerly assent, although Tom’s attention has drifted towards the group of young tourists sat at the adjoining table. These visitors have clocked our incongruous threesome, an American among them loudly conjecturing that the guy in the bow tie may be playing Cary Grant. This flicker of attention is the signal for our costumed ones to move into their practiced routine. Charismatic Cary leads, happily acknowledging the recognition.
He tells them of his realisation of the American dream, from his unpromising beginnings in Bristol. He introduces William, whose life story arouses pity and respect, while a thumbnail outline of Tom’s short life captures the imagination of an otherwise bored Goth girl among the tourist party. She pushes Tom for details of his death, but beyond acknowledging that it may have been caused by suicide, or drug overdose, or a broken heart, he coyly refuses to elucidate the mystery further. She declares that he reminds her of the cool singer Pete Doherty, due in her view to die some day soon through excess, though commenting that despite his disreputable behaviour, he has attracted one of the worlds most beautiful supermodels. Tom’s imagination runs riot, thinking that if only he could break out of this daytime statue routine, then his talent for tragic romanticism could lead him into the arms of a vision of loveliness such as the model sat on his paralysed lap today.
This girl feels emboldened to share her newfound insight that the threesome are in fact ‘celebs’ of yesteryear. William demurs at this sobriquet, raising a crusty eyebrow to explain that while they may correctly be described as celebrated Bristolians, their fame is based upon substantial achievement in life, rather than the pursuit of fame as an end in itself. Cary kicks him under the table, anxious lest their source of another drink evaporate under this withering rant. In the event, they are about to lose their audience anyway, as the tourists explain with regret that they need to split, if they are to catch ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the Hippodrome. Cary dreams wistfully of the time when he was centre stage there, performing in gripping murder mysteries, not in the phoney regurgitation of Disney cartoons. He feels immeasurably saddened that Bristolians taste in popular culture might have come to this.
As the tourists take their final snapshot – obediently put change into William’s insistently upheld mortarboard – then depart, our Trinity’s conversation turns to their favorite subject. Escape. As they warm to the prospect, reciting how weary they are of this routine of endlessly relating their narratives in response to the tourists’ predictable questioning, our Caped Crusader returns at last with his tray of beers, proffering an alcopop to young Tom. They are defensive at first that should Superman – or Clark as he says he prefers to be called – know the full story he might blow their cover and consign them permanently to brass. However, the loosening powers of the drink, and Clark’s obvious relishing of conversational conspiracy in any form, encourages them to take him into their secret, and into the dilemmas they face.
His fascination grows as he hears of their painful conflict between the attractions of escape from the ignominy of permanent fossilization in place and time, abandoned in that forsaken Square, measured against the dangers attendant on their breaking out. Their principal fear and superstition of escape is that they if they do not pass through the wall of mirrored water before midnight, their self designated witching hour, then they will never again be able to enjoy all of the nightly pleasures of miraculous resurrection. A secondary but significant worry is that while they nightly grump about how comparatively easy life is for everyone in this twenty first century – and how soft its ungrateful inhabitants have become – the reality is that they do not have the resources or the wherewithal between them to survive for the first few weeks of their release.
Clark, all his life preferring reckless action to reflective caution, impulsively offers our vacillating captives the use of his house in Montpelier while they sort themselves out. He explains that his wife left him with the house and the huge mortgage months ago to run off to Spain with the kids to join her new ‘partner.’ With this unimagined opportunity of shelter and support, a new mood is suddenly upon them. In a heartbeat, our trio breaks out of their habitual defeatist conversation and begin to talk excitedly about new possibilities. Mobilising themselves before they can change their minds, they pick up Wills takings and scurry out behind Clark, fleeing over the Piro Bridge towards Christmas Steps, up and over towards their fate in Montpelier.
Clark’s surprisingly capacious terraced house is all they could have asked for, situated in an anonymous street up a hill where none would think to find them. The hour before midnight passes painfully slowly. Clarke whiles away the time by telling tales, showing photos of his deeds of derring do during his Fathers4Justice days. They are impressed by a press cutting of his defiant stand atop the Clifton Suspension Bridge, feeling inwardly somewhat ashamed of their own cowardly fears of mortality. After all, they had each faced painful death before, and knew through this strange reincarnation that there was the possibility of life beyond.
As the mantelpiece clock strikes twelve, they regard each other in wonder, realising that they still here, on this twenty-first century earth, vibrantly and palpably alive. Clarke beams as they ecstatically clap his back, delighted that he has eventually effected liberation for someone after the entire frustrating impasse of Fathers4Justice. As the excitement subsides, he adopts a practical stance, proposing that tomorrow he will make a plan to ensure that they become happily assimilated townspeople, their statuesque identities eradicated.
The next morning, Cary throws open his curtains, seeing a building that looks somehow familiar. Of course, it is his old school, Fairfield, a place of painful memory. He can only hope that the new building he sees by the highway might be a replacement for this monument to childhood oppression. The smell of bacon lures him downstairs, where Clarke is showcasing the clothes he bought during his early morning foray to the St Peter’s Hospice shop on Cotham Hill. They giggle as they try on this miscellaneous garb. Clark then lines them up for the mandatory hair dye procedure in the shower. Tom chooses black with a crimson streak, offset by a hoody top to complete his fashionable disguise. William looks forward to his new pair of spectacles.
Over breakfast, they discuss their plans for the day. Tom is directed towards Cotham Porter Stores cider house, where Clarke has a Fathers4Justice contact that will provide them with fresh identities. Mulling over new names, Tom goes for Tom Rowley, after the medieval poet he so imaginatively created long ago; Will chooses the name Martin Luther, a modernizing reformer whom he met and much admired; Grant plumps for Cary Leach, to his ear a pleasing amalgam of his old and new identities.
They alight the pavement with a happy tread, delighting in the freshness of their first morning of freedom. Armed with a Bristol map, they roll down the hill, seeking their way across Stokes Croft towards the Porter Stores. Walking the streets they are astonished by the diversity of people they encounter. Tentatively inquiring in the pub where they might find their contact, named simply Len, Tom is directed towards a table down the far end of the bar. He explains his purpose to Len, to be told that business can indeed be done, but only if he removes his hood. Cary and William snigger a little at this, leaving him to his nefarious transactions, while they head for Whiteladies Road, a thoroughfare holding fond memories for them both.
William points to the rash of Charity Shops at the bottom of Cotham Hill, surprised yet pleased that modern commerce seems geared mainly around giving. Cary enviously eyes a dinner suit in the window of one, anticipating the joys of sartorial freedom. Meandering past the BBC building, Cary reads a sign inviting citizens to audition for a reality show called ‘Escape Bristol.’ He gently explains to William that the temptation is irresistible, he simply must go inside. William is in fact pleased to have some time alone, to meditate on what purpose he might bring to his new life.
He pauses outside the University Tower on Queens Road, standing out among the throng of smoking students, while he reflects on whether the academic pursuit of ancient languages and history might make a welcome respite from Christian followership. And yet, and yet, despite all the pain that was inflicted upon him by fellow Christians, the tug of the Church remains compelling. With a sigh for the scholarly fascinations that might have been, he shuffles down Park Street, squinting at its incongruous mix of Indie music, high fashion and straight laced religious stores, past the windowless Masonic Hall towards the Cathedral, which is set back off the refreshing greensward of College Green.
A board outside proclaims ‘The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.’ He is dismayed at this continuing promulgation of impenetrable liturgical nonsense when what the Church has always needed is to reach out, as he once put it, to ‘every ploughman in the land.’ Hesitating before entering, fearful lest he discover more of this alienating, superior language within, a young black woman with a beatific smile approaches. Confidently, eagerly she invites him to join him in the Elim Church celebrations, whose joyous mission is to ‘make the Bible relevant.’ She quotes Mandela’s Inaugural Speech from the Church’s colourful values statement:
‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God.’
She directs him towards a marquee on the Green that spontaneously erupts to the sound of glorious Gospel song, filling the air with foot tapping invitation. William knows he has met his Damascene moment. He struggles with his resistance, then surrenders to her beckoning, as they walk side by side towards the marquee.
Two months later, all three keep their Sunday lunchtime appointment at the Coronation Tap in Clifton to celebrate their benefactor, Clark’s, birthday. Keith Warmington of Radio Bristol is playing some redemptive live Blues, amid a warm and friendly atmosphere. Over a glass of Exhibition Cider, cautiously supped, they share their recent adventures. Cary preens himself, telling of how he sailed through his audition, despite the yellow hair and fake glasses, and will be on a TV near you soon, his ultimate ambition to become a film critic.
He has made the Pineapple pub his local, he says because of the quality of the pasties there. Tom is eager to relay how his trip to the Porter Stores yielded not only passports, but also a lead to Christchurch Studios, situated next door to the Tap, where Massive Attack record. Len introduced him to a Goth band, formerly known as ‘Lupine Howl’, which is now enjoying reformation – as all good bands and faiths do – under the name ‘Marvelous Boy,’ with Tom as lyricist. And no, he hadn’t met any supermodels yet, but he is dating a comely hairdresser from Guy Henri whom he is sure will become one.
William rhapsodises on his discovering of evangelism, his happy smile reflecting an inner radiance that takes years off his previously burdened features. Clark, happily acknowledging their birthday felicitations, sheepishly confides that when passing through Stokes Croft, he bumped into William outside his Elim Chapel. Reluctant at first to accept the inward invitation, he was now a regular visitor, considering – to his own amazement – involvement in the children’s Sunday School. He had talked to both his children this morning, hearing them giggle their way through ‘Happy Birthday’, and his heart is glad. He muses that he feels a different person from the embittered protestor of two months ago.
Keith plays a poignant song with the chorus ‘I feel like a worn out engine, I have lost my driving wheel.’ Cary sings along, then declares that far from losing their driving wheels, he feels that this merry band has found theirs anew, after a long directionless period in the wilderness. They look back on their previous existence, fondly remembering those antiquated celebrities arrested in time, a bizarre juxtaposition of characters separated by centuries while tantalisingly trapped in a new one, yet quite unable to fully engage with all it had to offer. Clark pulls out a copy of the Evening Post, pointing to the headline.
‘MILLENNIUM STATUE THEFT RIDDLE REMAINS UNSOLVED. NEW CASTINGS COMMISSIONED BY COUNCIL.’
The byline tells of the police abandoning hope of finding them, believing that a private collector commissioned this audacious theft. The outcry over their disappearance means that the statues will be replaced, only this time around increased security would include the placement of cameras. Cary chortles that his second reincarnation would not know whether to laugh or cry at being permanently on camera; or know what to think when the bronze was poured once more into the central casting. None of them could predict whether the fountain’s magic would continue to work, or if their successors would come alive every evening, as had happened to then so miraculously since their first day of installation. William sits bolt upright, dumbstruck by a flashback from those earliest times. Finding the words to speak, he whispers that at that moment of installation, he heard the sound of gospel singing from the nearby Anchor Square. It floated through the gap in the fountain, as it eased their transit into this new era.