I walked hurriedly towards the Market Square at the Coventry City Centre preoccupied with the mental list I was making, a remnant of a habit when multi-tasking was a way of life. The weather was turning and driving back to Warwick in rain didn’t appeal to me. I looked ahead at the grey skies. There was an eerie atmosphere reminiscent of a sunset on a grim winter’s day. Yet it was midday and it was spring. The bright yellow daffodils and fuschia pink pansies seemed to be the only splashes of colour on an otherwise black and white image. I increased my pace and looked up to decide which would be the shortest route to my intended destination. As I did so, I felt my heart missing a beat at what was now directly in front of me. I stopped and stared. The towering statue of Lady Godiva not only took my breath away but transported me years, decades in fact, back to a day in 1979. The sight of the statue that I had seen endless times was now triggering a profound memory recall in my head. Maybe it was the grey clouds, the not so busy square, the half masked sunlight, the time of the day, the flowers that encircled the bottom of the plinth, the inscription on it… I really don’t know what the stimulus had been. Maybe it was each and every one of these blending together as they had done years ago that had actually evoked this experience in me. Maybe it was my mood. All I knew then was that I had been there at the exact spot looking at the statue from the same angle with the same settings. Deja-Vu it was not, for I knew instinctively that this feeling could have only come from the depths of my very own ‘well of memories’
I was only eighteen years old when I first saw the statue. I had just enrolled at the University of Warwick. It was exciting times. I now had the total independence that I had craved for. Like most of my peers I thought I knew everything about life. I had just embarked on my life adventure and the world was my oyster. I had goals, dreams, plans…I was young. I was naive. I was determined.
I look up at the beautiful form of Lady Godiva sitting side saddle upon her equally beautiful horse, her long locks of hair draping over one of her breasts in an attempt to minimize her nakedness. Whether it is a myth or not, her story has captured imaginations for more than 900 years. There are many versions but the most popular one is the one in which the compassionate Lady asks her husband The Earl of Mercer to relieve the people of Coventry of the heavy toll taxes imposed on them. He promises to grant her wish if she would ride the streets of the city naked thinking that she would refuse. Determined as always to make a change to the lives of the poorer class, she goes ahead and does it. The people are barred from watching the ride and abide ( maybe out of respect for their Lady or may be that they were scared of her powerful husband ) bar a curious Tom ( hence the phrase ‘ Peeping Tom’) who takes a peep as his Lady rides by. Anyway, as the legend goes her husband keeps his promise and abolishes the oppressive taxes leaving only those received from the horsemen, a better-off sector of the population.
The statue labelled the ‘Self-Sacrifice Statue’ is the work of the famous Scottish sculptor William Reid Dick. Unveiled in 1949, it is a cast bronze statue with a stone plinth. There are three inscriptions from the 1842 poem ‘Lady Godiva’ by Alfred Tennyson. The one shown in the picture in this blog is on the north face of the plinth and reads
” Then she rode back, clothed on with chastity, she took the tax away and built herself an everlasting name “
I forget about my hurry and stand still watching Lady Godiva in awe. In a way I feel that I understand her much more than I had done back than. By a single action she changed lives for the better in one way or another. She touched lives.
The clouds have started to disperse. My predictions of rain a few minutes ago are no more. I continue on my way. There is still so much inequality and social injustice. I reflect on the state of the world affairs.
I know that I don’t know it all….