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Charade or facade, it doesn’t matter as long as you have the front

Ian Martin experiments with Affordable Poverty and an illusory bourgeois hinterland

Monday. A breakthrough with my research project for the Bow Window Group, a conservative think tank, provisionally titled Affordable Homes For Affordable People.

Working late into the night in my alchemic laboratory of ideas, I accidentally spilled some notes from the control group into the experimental flux capacitor. After the dry ice cleared and my nausea had subsided a bit I discovered that I had somehow merged the cultural notions of homeless chic and moral bankruptcy to create a new sociological construct: Affordable Poverty.

I think the tank’s going to like the sound of this. It faces squarely the twin challenges of inadequate housing for the poor AND the aspirationally underperforming constituency living in it. If we as a nation decide we can afford to sustain this delicate ecosystem, possibly at a lower cost in the future, then the minority of people enjoying the fruits of poverty had better shut up if they know what’s good for them.

Tuesday. Add psychogeographical layers to my Birmingham Hippocampus scheme. Then erase them, leaving an imagined ghostly imprint of enigmatic drivel for insurance purposes.

Wednesday.To Shitley, a relentlessly average town in the North East, where the local authority is conducting an interesting experiment in economic denial.

They’ve started fixing fake shop facades to empty high-street properties so that ‘retail areas remain as theoretically vibrant as possible’. The initiative is part of Shitley District Council’s inward investment programme and is clearly aimed at the opportunistic businessman glancing from the back seat of a car and thinking ‘Oh, that’s impressive. They’ve got a continental delicatessen here. AND several vaguely-defined lifestyle-related boutiquey shops. This place must have a sizeable bourgeois hinterland. Hello, Sharon, get me the chief executive of Shitley District Council, stat. I’m in the mood to invest and I’m feeling SAUCY…’

It’s obviously not aimed at pedestrians, who are taunted with a phantom bagel kiosk here, duped by the hollow mockery of a counterfeit halal butcher’s there. I’m taken on a promenade along the high street by what local paper The Shitley Chronicle solemnly calls ‘council bosses’. In fact they are what non-journalists would call: three grey-faced planners; two metres of sulking iPod-dependent teenage work experience from Economic Development apparently called Jack; the fat, short Mayor of Shitley wearing a heavy chain of office and looking like an airbag’s gone off inside his head; a hungover, barely functioning hack who might be from the council press office, or The Shitley Chronicle, or both; a Smoke Freedom Enforcement Officer in high-vis tabard; a random hanger-on complaining about the government who is a) on a Shopmobility scooter and b) off her meds.

One of the sepulchral planners explains, without moving his mouth, the purpose of this tour. It is to give me a frontline view of how the fake shopfront can be a valuable tool in the forward masterplanning toolbox. I’ve halfway screwed up my face into the obligatory Sneer Of Ultimate Disdain when he adds that they’d like me to advise them on how this civic optimism might be expanded, on a very attractive fee scale. I amend my face to a Look Of Serious Thought.

Thursday. Dash off an edgy, urban scheme that both celebrates and modifies the concept of free will in a pluralistic society, then gaze pretentiously out of the window savouring my maverick genius.

Friday. Put the finishing touches to my Shitley pitch. Obviously, I’ve loaded it with all the usual signifiers and called it ‘an outline proposal to develop economic denial into the 21st century’. I’m suggesting the following:

• Plant seeds of hope in the indigenous population by getting out-of-work actors to be ‘professional people’ travelling on buses.

• Environmental improvement stickers fixed everywhere, erroneously confirming that improvements have been made.

• Tackle social development with extra, wholly fictitious, members of the social development team.

Fragrance pumps flooding the shopping centre with ‘smells of success’ e.g. sushi, cologne, imported beer, exotic spices, new second car, private paddock.

• Build a fake extension to Shitley so it looks twice the size on Google Earth.

Memo To Self: check when the phrase ‘into the 21st century’ is due to expire in local-authority circles as a futuristic indicator.

Saturday.Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Baggy Urban Zoomorphic Upgrade 0, Unpastoralised Rural Dreamworld 0.

Sunday.Pretend to be in the recliner, then later actually in it.

twitter.com/IanMartin

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