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How the transformative power of art can turn a northern wilderness into a dessert

Ian Martin browses the pudding menu

MONDAY. Design an urban nebulus. Key transport nodes linked by synaptic pathways of space. Socio-neural clusters organically formed into sustainable hubs of excellence.

All a bit vague at the moment. I’m allowing it to develop naturally in my mind as an elasticated mystery.

TUESDAY. To the Royal Institute for the Protection of British Architects, which is marking the Queen’s diamond jubilee with a pop-up exhibition of thrones.

It’s an eclectic display. There’s the Jacobean extravagance of the Throne of the Apocrypha, a hyper-gothic masterpiece on loan from Sir Elton John. And there’s the grim humour of Throne Up, an installation by the republican collective Gertcha. This is merely an aircraft ejector seat, with a frozen turkey sitting in it to make it art.

My favourite is the reclining Throne of Games, built perhaps with younger princes in mind, with its integral PSP screen and snack pouches.

WEDNESDAY. I’m on the shortlist to rethink Gateshead. Intellectually this is a massive gig, even if none of my proposals will ever be realised.

The client, Gateshead Legacy Delivery Corporation, wants to ‘imagineer a contemporary live/work/visit destination with world class vision and a pronounced cultural overbite’.

Funds will not be immediately available to implement any masterplan, but as my fixer Rock Steady Eddie says, ‘Money’s bollocksed now anyway, who even knows what money IS any more? This is cultural re-bloody-generation. It just has to look tasty in one of them investment catalogues they leave lying about in the first class lounge at Abu Dhabi International. You finishing those chips?’

Eddie and I are trying to brainstorm in the pub. Not the ideal environment for focusing on creative solutions for a major northern conurbation. On the other hand, pub lunch.

‘Look, imagine this table is Gateshead, yeah?’ A young man in an unnecessary charcoal apron is clearing the table. ‘See how all these whatever, remnants of the past, are being swept away…’ ‘Everything all right for you gents?’ murmurs Apron Lad as our plates disappear. Eddie pauses and squints at him.

‘You tell me, son. This…’ He indicates the crumb-covered table. ‘…is Gateshead, right? A clean slate, once you’ve wiped the bloody table obviously. It was always in the shadow of Newcastle, where all the good shops were. Then they phased out the mining and the industry. They created Europe’s largest council estate in the hope that it would form some sort of whatever, critical mass, and suck in new economic opportunities but these turned out to be mostly landscaping, art forgery, tobacco smuggling, eck cetera…’

The table has been wiped. All that remains are our two pints and the condiments tray. ‘And here, coincidentally are Gateshead’s primary cultural, whatever, indicators: Angel of the North, that flour mill they turned into an art gallery, plus I think there’s some concert hall, probably looks like a cruet set, designed by the lad Foster. Forget your concrete towers and gritty car parks. All that gangster film stuff’s in the skip. Name of the game these days is cultural capital…’

‘Would you gents like to see the pudding menu?’

Now Eddie definitely doesn’t like to be interrupted. There’s a silence you could put a hat on. Eddie makes gunfingers at Apron Lad and for a moment I think he’s going to lamp him. Instead, he turns the gun into a gesture of approbation and smiles. ‘Puddings. That’s it. Brilliant. Yeah, bring us the menu son…’

THURSDAY. Work up New Gateshead using Eddie’s Cultural Pudding Theory. Summary: forget starters, the days of cultural regeneration appetisers have gone. Forget the main course, heavy industry’s never coming back. If you just have the pudding, you can have several.

He’s definitely onto something. I rethink the area as a gigantic dessert trolley, filled with cultural assets… wait. Why not make them LOOK like puddings? An arts centre conceived as a trifle. A big vanilla slice of local heritage experience. An assortment of accessible artworks scattered like petit-fours across the town?

FRIDAY. Submit my proposals for Pudding Gateshead. Particularly pleased with ‘Tateshead’, a notional complex of Tates jumbled along the south bank of the Tyne like cheese and biscuits.

SATURDAY. The Gateshead people hate my cultural puddings. Apparently I have ‘besmorched’ their dignity with my analysis. Fine. I want nothing more to do with shitting Gateshead. Let them eat cake.

SUNDAY. Form cultural pudding in the recliner.

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