When Ellie & I were going for a little stroll along the Thames yesterday afternoon, we spotted the London Covid Memorial Wall for the first time.
It stretches over 500 metres just opposite the Houses of Parliament, next to the riverbank and St Thomas’s Hospital. This clinic is where Boris Johnson and a significant percentage of central London Covid patients have received care. The Memorial is still a work in progress, with roughly 120,000 of the planned 150,000 hearts completed since the first heart was painted on the Wall a bit over a week ago on Monday, 29th March.
150,000 hearts representing 150,000 dead. That’s the same number of people as live in Oxford or roughly 16 times the population of the City of London’s 9,400 residents. (For our friends from further afield: The City of London is only a tiny part of the UK’s capital, and this so-called Square Mile is nearly exclusively office space and not residential.)
Completion expected this week
Completion of the painting of the hearts is expected by the middle of this week. It is my understanding that those who lost someone due to Covid can still add the deceased person’s name, birth date, date of death, and a personal note to the existing hearts after that. I presume the intention is to encourage them to do so.
The number of 150,000 is higher than the official government figure of 126,862, because the government does not include everyone who has had Covid mentioned on their death certificate. Of course, even the government does not deny that tens of thousands died of Covid without having Covid mentioned on their death certificates, so the real number is much higher than 150,000. We are world leader in Covid deaths per capita, by a far margin, unless you include tiny states like San Marino.
Report from the battle front
A friend of mine and fellow amateur stand-up comedian (we met on this comedy course) spent some time in intensive care at St Thomas’s with Covid last year. He saw fellow patients die left, right, and centre. It’s with shame that I admit that it only hit home when I read his recollections. Until then, Covid deaths to me had largely been an impersonal figure on newspaper front pages, nothing more. I did sign up with a Covid-initiative and did deliver food and medication to a few vulnerable people over the past year. I did try hard to follow the rules. But those front-page headlines didn’t mean anything to me.
Have you lost someone close to you? Then my condolences. Too many have been taken from us too early. Or perhaps you’ve been extremely blessed not to have seen any of your loved ones go into Intensive Care, or, worse, go into Intensive Care and not return home? You’ve stopped reading the news since the Brexit Referendum results came out? Then I’d imagine there is a chance that you, like me, might have found it difficult to grasp the pain that has been suffered by millions of people in Britain. Most of the dead are being dearly missed by a dozen people or more. Many who have survived did so with severe lasting damage and only after weeks or months of life-and-death struggles.
We kept our distance from mourners today as much as possible. We will keep our distance from mourners in the future. And we will treat the Memorial with the respect it deserves. Some of the people painting hearts in the pictures in this post are not mourners or close relatives or friends of victims, but part of the volunteer team that is still working on completing the decoration of the Wall. Some of them were very cheerful.
How it started
As per a Guardian article I found, a gentleman called Matt Fowler is one of the people who came up with the idea for this Memorial. He has lost his father, Ian, aged 56, on 13 April last year. Mr Fowler was also the first person to paint a heart on the wall last Monday. According to the article he says that he found his own idea quite frightening at times: looking at 500 metres of hearts on a wall that represent people that were loved by someone and who did not make it.
Started without permission but plan to make Memorial permanent
The article goes on to mention that the Memorial had been started without council permission. Apparently the initiators, ‘Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK’, nonetheless announced that they made good progress with Lambeth council in their attempt to make this Memorial permanent. The Families did offer to remove the painted hearts on request. Ms B & I wish the Bereaved Families good luck. The group has previously made headlines by projecting videos of bereaved family members criticising the government onto the walls of Westminster Palace at night-time from this exact same stretch of the riverbank.
I have about three or four morning run routes that I alternate, and my favourite one runs past by the Memorial Wall. This means that I’ll be able to quietly enjoy this new sight two or three times a week most weeks (when there’s no long weekends with lots of hiking). It might not be the most sophisticated memorial or the most aesthetically pleasing, but it’s got some good, sincere, civic grassroots vibes about it.
Looking for more sights to visit and things to do in and around London? Check out our reviews of open water swimming at the West Reservoir Centre in Stoke Newington, the Thames Rockets, the London Helicopter, Lock’d Escape Rooms, North London Skydiving (near Cambridge), and the baking courses at Bread Ahead.