This plaque on Hanover Street marks the death of Amanda Telfer six years ago. I snapped the photo in passing because I intended to look her up when I wasn’t standing in the freezing cold. I was surprised to learn who she was because Amanda’s death was one of those tragic London stories that often haunted me.
Amanda was a successful lawyer on her way to work, walking with a banana in one hand and her entire happy life ahead of her when a gust of wind knocked three huge storefront window frames from a construction site onto her, crushing her to death in front of bystanders who desperately tried to save her.
The randomness of her death was tragic enough, but the reporting of her death was criminal. Why did the articles mention the banana she was eating as though it was pertinent to the story? Not only did this very accomplished lawyer die in an avoidable accident (the site manager was convicted of manslaughter), her death was reported without sensitivity. Who cares that she was eating a banana? The image of the yellow fruit is often paired with jokes and humour, like slipping on a banana peel, primates with bananas, condom application practiced on bananas.
This same insensitivity was seen in the reporting of the death of a woman on Oxford Street who was run over by a red London bus. The unidentified woman was old, so the papers called her a pensioner, which like the banana conjures images of frailty, scarf covered heads, and walking sticks, instead of just a woman out shopping and sadly unaware of oncoming traffic. When her identity became known the next day as a Dame and wife of a recently deceased billionaire, pensioner was dropped from the articles and accolades took its place.
How we are represented in the media can make or break us, especially when it comes to our deaths. Everyone deserves to be remembered with sensitivity and respect, whether we’re pensioners, Dames, or lawyers too busy to stop for lunch because the job is calling and we’re eager to get there and save the world.
Thankfully I happened upon this plaque yesterday and now feel as though I have a proper conclusion to Amanda’s story. Quoted on the plaque are the words from the second stanza of Yates’ poem, Sailing To Byzantium.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
I will never think of that banana again when I remember Amanda Telfer’s tragic death. Instead I will see her beautiful face as her soul sails away, and in my mind she is at peace.