Friday, July 06, 2007

The Great McGonagall

Despite today's atrocious weather, I have managed to produce yet another Artistic gem, albeit one soggier than usual. It would perhaps be immodest to say 'masterpiece' at this stage, but as you have pressed me, readers, I admit I can find no other suitable word to describe it.

As local readers will note from my masterpiece below, I have been to Dundee's Magdalen Green today to add the statue of William McGonagall to my folio of masterpieces. Local readers, I know the following will be painfully familiar to you already, but I would ask you to be patient while I describe to ignorant non-local readers the tradition associated with this statue.

Statue of William Topaz McGonagall, Magdalen Green. Ignore the smudges - it was raining heavily when I drew it.

Non-locals are often curious as to why the statue, erected in 1912, has two right hands and outlandish headgear. Well my foolish non-local readers, I will explain why this is. During World War: Part 2, people all over Britain tore out metal railings and sacrificed milk pans to help the war effort. This metal was made into tanks to destroy Germans or something. Many Dundonians felt that McGonagall's statue, being made of valuable metal, should be melted down and turned into bayonets to help the brave tommies doing their bit for King (and country). The council forbade this course of action but this did not prevent one Lochee man from sawing off McGonagall's left hand and donating it to a scrap metal collector. For its own safety, the statue was removed from public display and kept in Barrack Street museum for the remainder of the war.

When McGonagall came to be displayed again, the statue's missing left hand proved problematic: metal shortages thanks to the war made sculpting a new one unfeasible. As it happened, at the foot of the Wellgate steps there used to stand a statue of Janet Keillor, the Dundonian who invented marmalade, almost all of which had been commandeered by gung ho citizens and eventually melted down to make several Goshawk engines. The council had only been able to salvage a knee cap, a portion of inner thigh, and a right hand. As a temporary measure, McGonagall's statue was fitted with Keillor's right hand. Over time, Dundonians grew to love this eccentricity and have resisted any attempts to give McGonagall a new left hand.

The outlandish headgear is easier to explain: from the 1970s onwards, Dundee's student population began decking McGonagall out in various hats as part of a drunken prank. This sort of thing passes for humour among students. Initially, traffic cones and bobble hats would find their way onto McGonagall's pate, but over time the hats became more elaborate. On Hallowe'en for example, he would be seen sporting a witch's hat, whilst on Christmas Day, a Father Christmas hat would be his headgear of choice. And so on.

Today, students still take responsiblity for his hats, and the position of Group Organiser for the Dundee University McGonagall's Hat Society is now highly sought after. McGonagall now has enough hats to enable him to wear a new one every day of the year, and some of the more extravagant hats designed by Art students can take several hours to set up. As you can see from my drawing, he was still to be found wearing a faux-crown in honour of the Queen's visit to Dundee on Monday. Her Majesty was said to be "slightly amused" at the spectacle.


mariacristina said...

Hi! I hope you don't mind, but I've tagged you for eight facts about your life. You can read mine here:, and then write 8 of your own. The idea is to then tag others, to keep the ideas flowing.


Dear lacrimachristi,

I do not know what being 'tagged' entails but it sounds unpleasant.

What I think I might do instead is write down eight facts about my life in my electronic diary. I might then invite other people to do likewise in their own electronic diaries.

I hope you will agree that this will be more interesting than 'tagging'.

Horton Carew