A slippery slope
Ian Martin designs a straight bobsleigh track for the Winter Olympics in Russia
MONDAY Boom. Just turned a block of flats into an urban statement by pretending there’s a Banksy mural hidden somewhere inside.
TUESDAY Sometimes I wonder if the advantages of working in Russia are worth all the arseache. On the plus side, there’s a buccaneering dynamism reminiscent of our own glory days. Public servants and entrepreneurs cutting through the red tape, hammering out deals in an accelerated way during secret lunches. Also you get paid in heavily-used cash, which is great if you’re self-employed. Tax seems much easier to calculate somehow if it’s ‘real money’.
But, my God, the clients. Humourless, narcissistic, sexually-conflicted macho babies or what? Terrified this door or that cladding material might be ‘gay’. Always cross, always changing their minds. Today I’m meeting Ivan, project manager for the Winter Olympics bobsleigh park I’ve designed. Quite pleased with the final drawings. They wanted a narrative bobsleigh run, something that glorified Russia without being ‘too camp’. I’ve got the track winding through a miniature Classic Russian landscape, all Orthodox cathedrals and rugged peasant cottages and Doctor Zhivago railway stations and Shostakovichy Modernism. On one bend the bobsleighs actually go through a scaled-down Great Gate of Kiev.
Ivan’s office is dark. Mahogany and teak. Deep burgundy carpet, the colour of drying blood. A gun case. The one light touch is a row of mounted animal heads; they seem to be smiling together at some appalling joke. As usual, Ivan has his cowboy boots up on the butch desk and smokes a cigar, shirtless.
The good news is a suitcase full of fee. The bad news is they want a complete redesign. No curves on the bobsleigh track. Apparently it has to be absolutely straight now. When I ask why, Ivan fixes me with a stare that also seems to take in the massive paperweight on the desk, the deep burgundy carpet, the row of hunting trophies.
No bends. The riders would fall off, he says. It has been agreed that the depraved skintight suits and helmets of recent bobsleigh events must now be replaced with traditional fur coats and hats. The sleighs themselves will be modelled on Tsarist troikas. Without the horses, naturally: ‘We are not idiots’. Just then Ivan’s assistant comes in – he too is shirtless – and says something in heterosexual Russian. ‘Ah yes, I am to remind you not to forget the Luge…’ They both snigger. I leave with a heavy heart, and suitcase. It’s unfair and unkind of people to pass judgement on anyone in the world of epic space who works for homophobic gangsters, especially me. Can anyone earn a living without homophobic gangster clients?
Abroad, it’s all trillionaire misogynists, pampered fascists, corruptible party luminaries and drug overlords. At home, it’s all of the above except they’re living in fortified luxury in central London. Let’s have a bit of perspective, please.
WEDNESDAY Redesign Gibraltar, giving it a ‘Falklands Fiesta’ feel.
THURSDAY To a delightfully informal kitchen supper in #CrouchEnd, which famously doesn’t feel like part of London at all, it’s more of a ‘village’.
I’ve been asked to join a group of concerned, well-dressed opinion formers in an exploratory discussion about how best to ‘refresh the #CrouchEnd brand’. The viognier is cool. The vinyl is warm. The conversation is subtle and layered, infused with oaky hints of received wisdom and undernotes of organic whimsy.
It’s great to meet real people, to get away from the relentless umbrage mill of social networks. Apart from anything else, a media consultant pronouncing ‘umami’ in the style of Al Jolson doesn’t really work on Twitter.
I’m committed to civic advancement, of course. But it’s not clear where any brand-refreshing fee might come from. Somebody suggests an alternative, ironised ‘Summer Fayre’ to raise money. A Mini Boden tombola, for instance. Political shy with Gove’s face on the coconuts. A whole new episode of The Great British Bake-Off with all the regular presenters, just not filmed. A non-violent Punch and Judy show with Rupert Murdoch instead of the crocodile, and ‘linked blogposts’ instead of sausages.
FRIDAY Struggling. My #CrouchEnd Reboot Checklist so far just reads ‘Enhance village status with a pop-up duckpond that appears without warning every few days at a busy traffic junction’.
SATURDAY Day off. Money laundering and ethical stain removal.
SUNDAY In the recliner, deducting self for tax purposes.