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An encounter with a high streetist, and a bespoke mansion in the style of Dave

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Ian Martin pitches Tamworth’s Plan for Retail Revival

MONDAY. In the morning, design a cultural pavilion. In the afternoon, design a social delivery hub.

I have absoutely no idea what either of them is for, but they both have a ‘low carbon aesthetic’, which is brilliant.

TUESDAY. I’m doing one of those new generation country houses for a new generation country client. He’s something in the City, known to me only as ‘Hedge Hog’. The brief is vague yet brutal: ‘a fuck-off mansion, no Downton shit’. That narrows it down, although it’s not much of an aesthetic steer, if I’m honest.

I scroll down the email forwarded by Rock Steady Eddie the fixer with the subject line ‘TOTAL BANKER LOL’. Ah, the client’s design concept is beginning to crystallise: ‘An enormous pimp bunker big enough to need two guys and a dog on contract, aight. That is what I am talking about. Like Eton blard but with totty, rah …’

At this stage I’m thinking:

  • Nine per cent for a quick in and out
  • Single storeySeries of jagged contemporary shapes to accommodate an urban-rural, cheese-making, waistcoat-wearing lifestyle
  • Pretend it’s all inspired by vernacular farm buildings
  • Call all rooms ‘spaces’
  • Lay out the main building as two connected wings in a kinked upper case ‘I’
  • Check Google for the phrase ‘Bunga Bungalow’.

The planners of course will want something ‘contextual’ but there’s really not much else at all in that part of the New Forest. Eddie reckons the ‘context’ here is an imaginary, fortified compendium of billionaires’ gaffs, all just squashed together. ‘Think Dubai,’ he says.

WEDNESDAY. Lunch with Mary Pontius, the retail visionary who’s about to revitalise our moribund high streets with her expert sarcasm and hard staring.

It’s a working lunch. I’m pitching to get Tamworth, the ancient capital city of England, into the second round of Pontius Pilots. I’ve got some terrific ideas about how to spend a hundred grand turning the high street round and … wait, where are our DRINKS? Oh, Self-Conscious Pontius has taken over.

The trouble with Mary is that everything’s a pitch for her and everyone’s a brand. It’s taking ages for any food and, more importantly, DRINKS to arrive, because the film crew keep getting in the way.

A bossy producer’s hauling people out of the kitchen for competitive summaries of the starters.

In the end I order six identical starters (pop-up scallops on a plinth of nuanced vegetable protein) just so I can have lunch. The other diners do the same. Suddenly scallops are fashionable; they run out of scallops. Mary tells the manager they should just do scallops from now on and gives me an ‘I told you so’ look.

I’ve ordered six identical bottles of wine too, and about halfway through the scallops I pitch Tamworth’s Plan for Retail Revival: a contemporary town crier who’ll stand in the middle of town, shout ‘oyez, oyez!’ then proclaim community small ads in a warm tenor.

Her face stares back, frozen with indifference.

OK, I say, what about hanging gardens on roundabouts, accessed via aerial walkways? Nothing. Er, ‘singing toilets’. No. Knitted graffiti. Still nothing. An ethical bicycle rickshaw taxi service powered entirely by atheists. A flicker of interest.

I decide to go for broke. What about allowing the local authority to seize all unoccupied buildings, set up regulated squats, impose an emergency tax on the rich and have the proceeds delivered by Royal Mail in cash to the poor … Mary holds up a queenly hand.

‘I know where this is going. You were about to say hanging baskets. That’s a no-no in any retail language. Goodbye’. And off she sweeps, filmicly, her entourage in train.

THURSDAY. First draft of the Hedge Hog mansion. It’s a digital collage of every house featured in every car ad. I attach a note saying ‘Imagine a catered barbeque HERE with generic totty and friends (min 15 per cent BME). Sweet!’

FRIDAY. Eddie rings. ‘The Hogster’ is very keen on my concept. He thinks it looks like a classic mix of every car ad he’s ever watched on Dave with his posh ironic mates. Bullseye.

SATURDAY. Bad news: I’ve got the gig. Good news: I’m at the top of my sliding fee scale because, says Eddie, ‘it just looks classier’.

SUNDAY. Adjust my horizons in the recliner.

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