Here’s a quick quiz for you. Which Manx news story of the last few weeks hasn’t made you want to run away screaming, with your hands over your ears?
You win again, the correct answer is indeed the unveiling of the statues of The Bee Gees. The Brothers Gibb, cast in bronze on Douglas Prom, was a brief pause in a time where sitting through a news bulletin feels like completing an assault course.
Some people love the Bee Gees statues, others are less keen. Just to be able to spend a little while discussing something as non-terrifying as art has been as refreshing as a spa break.
So, always keen to keep the mood chirpy, and distract from the gloom, I thought I’d have a look at some of the other statues to be found around Douglas.
Statues don’t come much chirpier than George Formby and Norman Wisdom, two old-school funny guys with very strong Manx ties. George is, quite brilliantly, leaning on a lamp-post on the corner of Ridgeway Street and Lord Street, ukulele at the ready.
Sir Norman sits on a bench outside a bar named after him. One of his knees gleams brightly, rubbed smooth by the hands of hundreds of people as they’ve posed for a picture with him. Now obviously, lots of hands touching the same thing is a little off-message at the moment. But hopefully, it won’t be too long until you can safely touch Norman WIsdom’s knee again. (A sentence I have never used before.)
Hopping across town to the finance sector, we have the Manx National Poet, TE Brown, striking a cheerful pose on a plinth. For some reason, tipsy party people of Douglas have a fondness for scrambling up Brown and popping a traffic cone on his head. But there’s really no need – he already presents a charming figure on his own, without any self-consciously wacky acts of vandalism.
In the garden at the bottom of Summerhill is another Manx literary great, Hall Caine. He wrote superbly lurid human dramas, like The Manxman. If you enjoy 19th-century page-turners, then please check it out. It’s a lot more fun than his quite stern-looking bust suggests.
On the other end of the Prom, way up on Douglas Head, RNLI founder Sir WIlliam Hillary gazes out across the bay, looking quite magnificent in a full-length cape.
If you like your statues a little (OK, a lot) more abstract, then pop yourself over to the Manx Museum. Standing in the grounds is Yn Arreyder -‘ The Watcher’ in English – by the amazing Manx sculptor Bryan Kneale. This vaguely human-shaped construction looks out over Douglas and provides a thought-provoking alternative to the more conventional statuary around town.
So that’s Barry, Maurice, Robin, George, Norman, Thomas, Hall and WIlliam for the boys. Yn Arreyder is there waving the flag for disassembled forms or would be if it had arms to wave.
So sculptors of Douglas – what’s happened to all the women?
I have found a couple, but they’re quite easy to miss. There’s Queen Victoria tucked away in an alcove above the street named after her. Despite the lurid colour scheme she’s acquired, she’s a bit lost in the bustle and traffic below her.
And then there’s The Woman WIth The Wolf. In Derby Square Gardens, you’ll find Rescued by Frank Mowbray Taubman, first exhibited in Brussels in 1896. The nameless woman in this piece has just been rescued by her husband from the attentions of a wolf. Hubby has slain the big bad wolf and is now having a bit of a smooch with his lady.
It’s maybe not how most people would like to be immortalised in bronze – getting snogged while straddling a dead wolf. But everybody’s taste in art is different, I guess.
So, who should we add to the collection of Douglas statues after The Bee Gees? Lonan has already bagged Sophia Goulden. Steve Hislop is in Onchan, Joey Dunlop on the Mountain, and Captain Quilliam in Castletown. What about Beryl Swain on her bike? Or the first female MHK Marion Shimmin?
Are there any takers for Kush the Mischievous Red Panda? His statue could keep disappearing and then turning up somewhere unexpected, a fluffy-tailed embodiment of the great Manx traits of fierce independence and sometimes just wandering off.