Yesterday I complained that London’s new whopping great skyscraper, the Shard, is insufficiently pointy. I stand by those words. It is not as pointy as it ought to be, nor, I understand, as it was originally intended to be. I think it was meant to taper up to a single pointy tip. Instead, it fizzles out in a pair of premature pointy bits which, as Marina Organ noted in the Comments, look “like a slightly worn, frayed paintbrush that needs a lick”. How pointy it could have been! The entire design cries out for it to continue up and up, way past that pair of disappointing tips, to a single pointy termination. So pointy indeed that its top ought to be invisible, like the pointy thing in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. It is many years since I read that magnificent novel, so I cannot recall the details, but I remember that there is a pointy thing so pointy that its actual tip is far, far beyond its visible tip, as seen by the unaided eye. The Shard should have been as pointy as that. I do not wish to harp on about this – well, I do, and I will – but the building could be a hell of a lot pointier than it has turned out. An opportunity was missed.
To see properly pointy buildings, of course, one need go no further than Pointy Town. Now there is a place where the architects and builders do not fight shy of true pointiness. There is not an edifice in Pointy Town that is not pointy, certainly pointier than the Shard. Not just buildings, but statues, street appurtenances, people’s hats, even the very landscape itself – all as pointy as can be. For those keen on pointiness, it is very heaven. I am not sure if Pevsner ever went to Pointy Town, but had he done so, he would have been in raptures at the sheer profusion of pointy bits, if, that is, he was pointy-minded, which I am equally unsure whether he was or not. Let us say merely that he damn well ought to have been. “Pevsner”, after all, is a curiously pointy name, at least one suggestive of pointiness, in comparison to a name like, oh I don’t know, Stalin, for example. In spite of its meaning of “steel” or “steely”, which might evoke pointiness, “Stalin” has a softer, more rounded quality than “Pevsner”, to my ear. And Stalin himself was of course pocky, of which more later.
There are buildings in Pointy Town taller – and, needless to say, pointier – than the Shard, and this led to the good burghers of the town banning hot air balloons from floating through the blue, blue skies above. It was feared, not without good reason, that there was an unacceptable risk of a hot air balloon colliding with the exceedingly pointy tip of a Pointy Town building and suffering a puncture. Imagine the loss of life and the subsequent cries of distress from the hot air ballooning community! It hardly bears thinking about. It was much wiser of the burghers merely to outlaw the practice of hot air ballooning. In this they followed the Muggletonians, though for different reasons. You may recall that the Muggletonians, a religious sect formed in the ferment of seventeenth-century London which survived until the death of the last Muggletonian, Philip Noakes, in 1979, banned hot air ballooning on theological grounds. Believing, as they did, that God lived in a heaven that was located precisely six miles above the earth, the Muggletonians feared that an airborne hot air balloon would crash into the sky, a solid band separating earth from heaven. Cynics and nitpickers might argue that their ban was based rather on the suspicion that a hot air balloon rising happily into the air would actually disprove their contention about the nature of the cosmos and bring, not the balloon, but their entire theology crashing down around their ears. That may be a valid point, but one we ought perhaps to decline from making this week. This coming Thursday, the nineteenth of July, is the Muggletonian Little Holiday, so if we wish to pooh-pooh them, we should wait until after that celebration.
Those of us who are not Muggletonians can celebrate too, by singing the praises of Pointy Town and its unrivalled pointiness. And one way we might celebrate is by doing our utmost to eradicate those parts of Pointy Town which are pocked. Yes, awful as it may be, it must be admitted that there are patches of Pointy Town that are pocky. Not as pitted with pocks as the cheeks of Uncle Joe Stalin, which were deeply and ineradicably pocked, I think following a bout of smallpox during his Georgian childhood, but I may be wrong. I am not wrong about the pocks, just as I am not wrong about the supreme pointiness of (most of) Pointy Town, just as I am not wrong about the insufficient pointiness of the Shard. I inserted that parenthesis just then to cleave as close to the truth as I could. For let me repeat, there are pocky parts of Pointy Town. How they got there is a mystery. Some say the whole place used to be pocked, in ancient times, or pre-ancient times, when the planet was young. Over the centuries those who lived there and thereabouts made it their business to obliterate the pockiness, which is why they struggled so heroically to create the pointiest place imaginable. They almost succeeded, for there is nowhere pointier, at least nowhere that has yet been discovered. If you have seen a pointier place than Pointy Town you were almost certainly hallucinating.
Yet here and there, pocks do remain, grim reminders of a time when Pointy Town was less pointy than it is now. Civic pride is strong enough to ensure that, one by one, the pocks are spotted and destroyed. This is usually done by putting something pointy in place of the pocks. Easily done, you might say, so why make a song and dance about it? To which the response is that, eerily and uncannily, new bits of pockiness appear, dotted here and there about Pointy Town, where before there was only pointiness. It is as if the pocks are at war with the points, and can never be utterly defeated. That is why every Pointy Towner, and those of us who support them, fight daily to create ever more pointy bits, and to eradicate the pocks.
Of one thing you can be sure. If a copy of the Shard is built in Pointy Town, it will taper at its top to a properly pointy tip.
I think the pointy thing in Flann O’Brien’s absolutely wonderful book was a pair of tweezers, that were so exceptionally pointy the tips extended into several inches of invisibility. They were used to work on a series of boxes that fitted inside each other, the boxes diminishing in size until they also became invisible.
That book also coincidentally mentions ballooning, including the account of the man who was let up into the sky in a balloon on a rope, but who was missing when it was reeled back in again. After a couple of weeks of discussions, it was decided to let the empty balloon up again, which upon retrieval contained the man once more. The people were angry that the man refused to say where he had been.
Thinking again about the Third Policeman, there are actually some interesting parallels to be drawn between legendary pamphleteer Dobson and de Selby, who is mentioned in various footnotes throughout the novel. Both have various interests that consume their attention for certain amounts of time, both keen experimenters etc…
Dave : There are parallels indeed. Dobson was consciously inspired by de Selby – a point I am happy to make clear.