Thursday, 2 March 2017

The writing on the wall

Long, long ago, in the heat of battle, a man picked up a brick and, just before throwing it at the enemy, realised that there was a good way of keeping the enemy away from his territory that didn’t involve throwing the brick at him, or at all. President Trump is only the most recent of a long line of generals, emperors and politicians to realise that if you stick large numbers of bricks together with mortar, you can assemble a wall, which with luck and good planning the enemy will find difficult to scale. By building a wall you might be able to keep the enemy off your home turf.

I imagine that when I mention a wall following a territorial boundary, most people think of some horror such as the Berlin Wall, which achieved considerable notoriety, or the Peace Walls that, still unknown to most, run along the religious dividing lines of Belfast.

Click on the thumbnail. The full size photograph opens in a new window.
The photographs are all somebody else’s copyright. I acknowledge the rights of the copyright owners.
Berlin Wall Peace Wall Hadrian’s Wall Byker Wall (wall) Byker Wall (balconies)

Walls do not have to be quite as ugly as those, and if you are going to build walls, you might as well make them attractive things to look at. Hadrian’s Wall, which runs roughly along the border between England and Scotland, is so attractive that tourists come from miles around to see it, and at certain places along its 73 mile length, several organisations of local teichologists have reconstructed the wall so you can see what it looked like during the second, third and fourth centuries AD when Emperor Hadrian, his heirs and successors built it, manned it and maintained it so well that large parts of Hadrian’s Wall are still standing. Secretly I hope that when Scotland gains its independence, the reconstruction of Hadrian’s Wall will be the first thing on President Connery’s agenda.

The Mexican Border is 1,954 miles long. It would be nice to think that any wall which may eventually be built all along that enormous distance will be reasonably attractive to look at. Hadrian’s Wall is a hard act to follow, and you can’t get centurions for love or money these days, but I draw the attention of any wall-building contractor who may be reading this diary to my favourite wall, the Byker Wall, which runs for a mile and a half through Byker in eastern Newcastle upon Tyne. Ralph Erskine was the architect, construction began in 1967, the wall was granted Grade 2 Listed Building status in 2007 and the whole thing has recently been refurbished.

What lay behind the design is that a motorway was planned to run adjacent to a housing estate. The housing estate was designed to withstand the noise of the motorway. 1800 flats were built in a continuous wall, with the kitchens and bathrooms on one side and bedrooms and living rooms on the other. The kitchens and bathrooms have small windows, with the result that the motorway noise in the bedrooms and living rooms would have been at a tolerable level. The fad for building motorways through the middle of housing estates died out before the Byker Wall was finished, fortunately, and the motorway against whose noise the Byker Wall was designed to protect its residents was never actually built. Students of transport engineering will not be surprised that there never seems to have been any question of abandoning the motorway just because the residents didn’t want it. They must’ve felt as though they were talking to a brick wall.

1,300 Byker Walls joined end to end, made up of about two and a quarter million flats, would neatly occupy the Mexican border from end to end. What of the cost? President Trump has mentioned that he would like the Mexicans to pay for the wall. If he really wanted to, he could sell the apartments that make up the Mexican Border Wall to the Mexicans and probably make a handsome profit.

And if that doesn’t keep the Mexicans at bay, the only other thing the President can do will be to hurl bricks at them.

14 March 2017. Today's edition of The Long View on Radio Four discussed The Great Hedge of India, also known as the Indian Salt Hedge and the Inland Customs Line. It was an impenetrable thorn hedge 2,400 miles long, built by the British to keep contraband out of British territory in India in the late nineteenth century, which the programme compared to Trump's wall along the Mexican border with the US. Today only two miles of the Great Hedge remain.

21 March 2017. Today I coined the word teichologist and put it into this post. Teichologist means a person interested in walls. I derived it from Greek, τείχος, a wall.

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