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One over the eight: reflections on the ghosts of Christmas past

As veteran readers are well aware, and new recruits may be outraged to learn, this column has been running for nearly eight years. With this slim excuse, and for a wide range of other reasons, the writer would like to reveal the inside story of his seven previous Christmas columns.

My first Christmas message (1994), was the upbeat 'How to save London and make the millennium zing'. An ambitious title that the sub-editors wisely cut back to 'Saving London and the millennium'. The same thing happened at the end of the following year when my awesomely majestic title '1995: year of suspended judgment' was transformed into an erudite but loquacious 'Looking back at a year when dogs failed to bark'.

In 1996 I tried menace, with a threatening 'Last year for the cake shop', but this was deftly converted into a more cautious 'Might be the last year of the cake shop'.

Twelve months later, in 1997, when for the first and only time I ventured into the realm of fiction with 'A night to remember', the sub-editors, with masterly restraint, left the title untouched, along with the account of my daring challenge to the notorious Robert Maxwell.

The title of my last-but-one Christmas column before the millennium, 'No previous experience necessary', was also untouched, but then, like the Maxwell piece, it had a distinguished cast of characters; Lord Rogers, David Rock, Will Alsop, Clare Short, Cilla Black, Anne Diamond, George Michael and Jerry Springer (the last some three years before his recent appearance in Astragal).

All of these, I had claimed, were under consideration for appointment to a new culture ministry post of 'Strong independent voice to speak for architecture'. It is no longer necessary to conceal the fact that none of them got the job.

December 1999 was, of course, every columnist's chance to send a message ringing down through the centuries, but for reasons that must lie buried somewhere in the story of the decline and fall of Wembley Stadium, I chose instead to go into abstruse detail with 'A stadium too far', which title the subs expanded into a finger-wagging 'Wembley must keep its eye on the game - football, not athletics').

This was a fair summary of my drift, which was that multi-purpose stadiums had been abandoned as uneconomic in America so how could they work here? But why did I need to worry about this at Christmas in 1999? It was hardly a millennial topic. Years later, it is still a talking shop.

And so I come to last year, the big 00, whose looming proximity began fascinating students and architects as far back as the early 1960s.

Alas, against every expectation, the real thing ended up being Britain's biggest anticlimax. The year 2000 started with a doomed shindig at the Dome on Millennium night; then made its way through the heartstopping erection of the London Eye; then went on to endure the embarrassment of the wobbly bridge; and wound up with the Concorde tragedy, death and disorder on the railways and the biggest racing catamaran in the world abandoned in the North Atlantic.The topicality of the latter led to me calling my Christmas 2000 piece 'Being a yacht designer means you can say you are sorry' - as opposed to being one of the designers of a misbehaving footbridge, who can't - but luckily these words were raised to a higher plane by the subs again, who turned the title into 'The freedom of the high seas - being able to say you are sorry'.

Oh yes, and my Christmas message for 2001? Our task is disaccumulation: 'Phone box free by 2003!'

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