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KATHERINE SHONFIELD

A lumbering uneasiness characterises our own mal de millennium, which makes the angst of the 1980s feel like light-hearted fun. One aspect of this is our apparent inability to look beyond the first couple of decades of the next century for fear that they might bite. Another is the way we characterise the experience of the past half century exclusively in terms of devastating rapid change. This means we never confront the apparently contradictory truth: that some things, usually ones we don't want to think about, have remained obstinately constant.

This passage from 1933 describes a suburban pub: 'Within its pretentious exterior the taproom was fictitiously squalid: imitation old oak turned out by machine, with a polished bar and one oak table, with hard-arsed bench . . . the beer was, or course, mass production, chemically matured, artificially gasified; the pork pies and potato chips . . . were factory cooking flabby from exposure, tasting so mechanical that one ate them mechanically.'

You only need to glance at the output of any of the major housebuilders to know that the Ersatz Olde Englande has the virulence of a tough old weed. It emerged in tandem with modernisation, and its promise of a timeless vacuum of cosy comfort and home-madeness are as fundamental to the modern experience as air travel or information technology. A version of it clothes Bill Gates' country retreat, as it did at Norman Shaw's Cragside, built for the most successful industrialist of his day.

Like it or not, in the next century it is this imprecise, inauthentic style that will continue to be the authentic expression of the modern experience, and our stripped, smoothed-off efforts at purity that will remain the marginal anachronisms they have been for over 80 years.

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