Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Avoiding scaffolding (ah ah ah ah stayin' alive)

Coming back from the lunchtime concert the other day I decided to take the scenic route, that is, back through the Barbican rather than along the streets. It's quicker in some ways (for example no road crossings and no crowds) and slower in others (no straight line route - you zig, then zag, then zig again!); it's also nicer. To do the cop-out edition I descend back to reality at Barbican tube and walk round through the square, but the luxury version has me come down the steps and/or ramp which make a sort of triumphal way (map) between there and the Golden Lane estate corner, and then I re-enter our site from Clerkenwell Road.

The trouble is that the ramp spooks me a little - three years back I was walking there on a very windy day. There was scaffolding all over the building which spans the ramp, up to about eight stories high. Just after I walked through under it there was the most horrendous noise and things started falling off. It sounded major but in fact it was only three scaff poles, albeit full-length ones that must be, I don't know, maybe three or four times my height. These fell from around the eighth floor to the ramp: one smashed right through a wooden safety floor at the bottom of the scaffold bridge and the other two fell directly. All fell aligned straight up and down, presumably in the same orientation as that in which they had been being handled, so they were like spears. One actually penetrated the tiled floor of the ramp and ended up standing upright, having stuck itself deep enough into the surface to do so. I remember it was swaying a bit. Quite impressive really.

This all seemed quite dangerous and I felt quite lucky that I had not been five seconds slower: narrow escape and so on. When you think about it this isn't too logical really - lots of people that day were not hit by falling scaffolding, and neither was I or anyone else there. So maybe it's not so much that I had a lucky escape, but that to be hit by it I would have to have had a very, very unlucky non-escape by failing to walk under there during any of the millions of moments when no scaff poles were falling. Even so, despite the logic, I felt a bit shaken.

One thing that amused me in the aftermath was when there were a few people on the far side of the scaffolding thinking about coming through. I indicated to them very clearly that they should not, as I did not feel sure that nothing else would fall. One young man on a bike, looking like a courier, seemed particularly keen to come through and I rather firmly told him, in word and gesture, to stay put, which he did for a while. He then cautiously and sensibly picked his way along the extreme western edge of the ramp - where a concrete overhang (please see the photo) makes you a bit safer from projectiles - and came over to join me. At this point I realized that the cyclist I'd been bossing around was actually a City cop, of the particularly cool shades-and-lycra variety. Oops. But he was perfectly nice about it, presumably recognizing that I was trying to avoid him being skewered, rather than trying to cause a societal breakdown by challenging his authority. Ho hum.

Anyway, that's why that particular corner of the Barbican gives me a little frisson as I pass it; and why I now try to make sure whether or not someone is a rozzer before I start being bossy at them; and why I am a bit cautious about scaffolding in high winds; and why avoiding the same is a sort of vogelistic code-phrase for trying to stay alive (and ... cue the Bee Gees!)

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