Having lived away from London for four years it’s been fascinating to come back and see my home city with fresh eyes. New stuff has appeared: the Shard, for example, already looks like it’s been part of the skyline for as long as I remember. The cable car across the Thames also appeared while my back was turned and, in contrast, will never in a million years look like it belongs to the skyline.
I’ve also noticed a few things missing. Today, for example, I was on a train between London Bridge and Waterloo East. It’s a journey I’ve made thousands of times so I’ve barely registered anything out of the window since, well, since the Millennium Wheel went up I should think.
This time, however, as I gazed sightlessly at the rooftops from Southwark Street railway bridge thinking of nothing in particular three words popped into my head as if from nowhere. It was a phrase I hadn’t thought of in a long time and at first I couldn’t place it; a succinct, pithy, some might say vulgar word trio of four no-nonsense syllables:
Big Dave’s Gusset.
I sat upright with a start. It was a phrase at once utterly familiar yet completely disconnected from anything. Where had I heard that before? I looked around me. Something in my subsconscious reminded me that I hadn’t heard it anywhere, but I’d seen it hundreds of times as had countless thousands of other people.
‘Big Dave’s Gusset’ was a piece of graffiti; enormous letters sprayed onto the wall of a building visible from the trains clattering between London Bridge and Waterloo East on your left as you headed into the city. It had been there since, I think, the mid-nineties. It was only today that I realised that it’s gone; the gable that provided the canvas for this tremendous piece of public art having been demolished during my time in Ireland. Some kind of deep-set place memory had activated in my subconscious to alert me to the absence of Big Dave’s Gusset.
For the rest of the day I have been able to think of little else except, erm, Big Dave’s Gusset. Fortunately, someone saw fit to record it for posterity. I was delighted to find that it wasn’t just me who had been captivated by the gusset of Big Dave, either. There’s this musical tribute, for one thing:
There’s a Facebook page, too. And you can even still buy the t-shirt.
But who was Big Dave? And what was the significance of his, forgive me, gusset?
I found the answer. It’s here. I was delighted to find that the, as it were, unmasking of the gusset came about through poetry. Which is a magnificent thing, if you ask me.
London has its obvious landmarks; the permanent ones that you find on postcards. The Tower Of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament. And then it has its more recondite, transient ones that seep into the city’s consciousness and remain there long after they’ve gone: Stanley Green the Protein Man, the Skylon and the old Wembley Stadium, for example.
It’s been gone a while now but it was only today that I could add to my personal roster of lost London glory the triumph, the epoch-defining magnificence that was Big Dave’s Gusset.