How heavy is your urban landscape? Also, what gender is it?
Ian Martin becomes envious of Isis de Cambray
MONDAY. Having a real counterfactual moment. What if I’d stuck with my former business partner Isis de Cambray, the magic arborealist? Yeah, if only.
Our psychedelic landscaping business was going nowhere when I drifted away. But now look at her. Isis is the go-to garden designer for the rich and fatuous. And suddenly, a celebrated urban theorist.
Her latest book Regenderation is a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and in several astral planes. She argues that the Age of Aquarius will see old, hard, brittle ‘male’ urban landscapes making way for softer, more engaging ‘female’ versions. This environmental gender re-assignment is the key to future prosperity.
‘Regeneration is meaningless without regenderation’. That’s her mantra. ‘I’m not bloody well paying for a copy, I’ll shoplift it instead.’ That’s mine.
TUESDAY. Emergency meeting of the Olympic Rebadging Task Force. There’s an accommodation crisis.
We accordingly retro-fit an extra £2 billion to the Games budget, to accommodate increased spending. There will be further accommodations of course, but these can be retrospectively envisaged when the time comes.
We all agree that legacy is as much about the past as the future and nod, gravely.
WEDNESDAY. Lunch with Rock Steady Eddie the fixer. He heaves a heavy folder out of his holdall. It hits the pub table with a dull thud.
‘Feast your eyes, my son’ he says, indicating a bundle of foxed and dusty papers. ‘We’ve struck gold. These are the copyright documents for Skylon. We’re gonna make a fortune’.
I consider for a moment the wisdom of telling Eddie that nicking copyright papers from the National Archive Office isn’t the same as legally acquiring that copyright, but don’t want to spoil the mood. I agree there’s a surge of affection for this built assertion of post-war identity.
Skylon represented a collective defiance of domestic austerity, international obscurity and Newtonian gravity I say, gazing urbanely out of the window. ‘Yeah, so I thought we’d start by banging out half-size Skylons for business parks, shopping centres eck cetera. Then maybe do a deal with B&Q for cheapo garden Skylon follies? Yeah, motoring now. What about trinkets, knick-knacks, bric-a-brac? Could do, like, Skylon lava lamps, Skylon toilet brush holders, Skylon… I don’t know, salad spinners. You not taking notes?’
Oh God, I’m supposed to be working this up. ‘No lemon squeezers, that’s been done. Beefy French geezer with the grizzly beard and the twinkle in his eye…’
THURSDAY. Exciting commission. One of the major public sector unions wants me to design a working prototype for cheap communal family housing.
The idea is to circumvent the breadheads: the industrial dairy farmers of property development and the pettifogging slo-mo arseaches of social provision. My client has bullied her union’s pension fund into disinvesting the small fortune it had tied up in ‘aerospace’ and the works of Damien Hirst. The money will instead be ploughed into modest, spacious homes for people of all ages using the latest technological, wait.
In my defence I’ve got the wrong glasses on and the print’s very small. The union has actually invited me to participate in a fun run for cancer research. Stupid mistake, excitement over.
FRIDAY. Ugh, the bitter taste of envy rises like mental acid reflux. Isis de Cambray has just bagged a scheme to ‘regenderate’ the Highland city of Blagadoon.
Out goes the old landscaped patri-architecture – solemn historic gardens, male topography, the stifling oppression of public ownership. In comes a new porous, plasmic approach to urbanism in which the middle of the town is handed to a billionaire and sympathetically transitioned into acceptable female urban form.
I can’t for the life of me see it, but they can’t all be wrong, can they? The consensus is that the scheme is ingenious and therefore transgenderating. But what makes a new cultural and arts centre plus unspecified commercial opportunities ‘female’ exactly? I’m not sure it’s entirely fair for Isis to dismiss her critics as sexist landscape dinosaurs.
Now wondering if there might be more mileage in starting an urban gender theory counter-revolution. I’d have some pretty unsavoury fellow-travellers, but there might – just might – be sympathetic potential clients who LIKE the musky aggression of old-fashioned city planning, with the ladies in the next room preparing sandwiches.
SATURDAY. Wow, it turns out there are LOADS.
SUNDAY. Decommission self in the recliner.