Tackling Obesogenic Environments
Tuesday. Finish my 21st-century sustainable nuclear power station prototype. It’s built entirely from recycled materials, including an innovative depleted-uranium cladding. And a giant feng shui air freshener on the roof.
Wednesday. To LIVERPOOL, the compulsory cultural city of capital letters 08. I’m having lunch with the new Secretary of State for Entertainment, Azzy Bifter. He’s got a lot on his plate at the moment, and none of it’s salad.
This is a dream job for Azzy. Here he is, a proper Scouser, in charge not just of Merseyside’s glorious pageant of the arts, but the whole of Britain’s entertainment. ‘And dhat…’ he says, ‘covers all dhe arts, yeah. Everything from bewks to Russell Watson to wharrever’s on yer telly, eh, I’ve said bewks haven’a…?’
Azzy’s suddenly in the spotlight. The government wants schoolchildren to consume five hours of compulsory ‘top-quality culture’ a week, along with their 35 pieces of fruit. It’s a logistical nightmare. Culture must be identified, sourced, delivered, experienced, benchmarked and audited. There are only so many regional productions of Cats. And a finite number of rap workshops.
That’s why the Department of Entertainment has convened a ‘policy wonkforce’ of young civil servants for whom school is a fresh and vivid memory. They’ve compiled a list of The Top 100 Culturetainments… Ever. ‘It’s just a birra fun, like’ says Azzy. Which we both know is public-sector code for prioritised cultural targeting.
He passes me the printout. Curry sauce on it already. Architecture is 97th in the Culturetainment countdown, between ‘Morris dancing’ and ‘flower arranging’. I tell him this is an error. Architecture may be static, dull even. But it is ‘free to air’. You could make children stare at a church for an hour, have an informal discussion about churches and what they mean, then get them to express their feelings through creative writing and harvesting pictures from the internet. Spin that out over several weeks and you’re halfway to an A-Level.
Azzy brightens at this positive, optimistic rethinking of architecture as cheap coursework material. By the fourth Armagnac we’re on a roll and have brainstormed a solution for two big entertainment problems. One: The BBC is now really boring, and must become more ‘interactive and digital’ if it is to retain the current licence fee arrangement. Two: Architecture is much more interesting on TV than when you actually see it. I convince Azzy that reality architecture could be the solution. Scrap the planning system and get the BBC to regulate design via phone-ins and an online vote. Use the website and local radio stations for run-of-the-mill applications, BBC2 for the big knobbly stuff. Maybe have a shouty elimination show hosted by Graham Norton. With the word People’s in it. Watch this epic space.
Thursday. Debate at the RIPBA: is architecture being feminised? Verdict: sort of. Many contemporary landmarks appear to have a ‘female pulse’. Indeed, many of them look like they could be ovulating. On the other hand, still not enough ladies’ toilets.
Friday. Meet my friend Darcy the architecture critic for a drink. He looks terrible. Gaunt, pale, trembling. And he’s wearing a ridiculous ‘ironic’ Alpine hat with a souvenir model of the Gherkin where the feather should be. ‘I’ve been through the mill, darling’ he says. ‘Get me a large one…’
God. Just what I need, an hour of melodrama with Darcy. I surreptitiously play online Boggle under the table, occasionally glancing up and making sympathetic noises. He’s been depressed lately… his latest boyfriend is as shallow as all the others… going to the AA a lot, no surprise there, the place is stuffed with kindred souls… Yes! 220 points, including the word ‘Byzantine’!
He gets up to leave and is oddly diffident. ‘Look, I don’t know if you’d be interested. But the longest journey starts with a single step.’ A few minutes later I look at the pamphlet he’s left on the table. AA. It stands for Archiholics Anonymous. What a hoot. Hmm, there’s a meeting next week…
Saturday. Binge-view architecture all day until I throw up.
Sunday. Self-fenestrate in the recliner by ‘glazing over’.