There is a place in my Big Contacts Book for everyone, whatever the invoicing procedure, says Ian Martin
Monday. The great thing about Coalition Britain is that I can work with anyone, as long as I’m doing the right thing. It’s no time for Moral Qualms. What ARE Moral Qualms anyway? Fairtrade travel sickness pills, I think.
Tuesday. Lunch with Scottish Henry, the Big Society Tsar. A tired-looking waiter listens while Henry runs through starters and main courses, questioning the need for such profligacy when we’re all supposed to be tightening our belts, and crossing half of them off. He’s also looking for a 25 per cent reduction of servings – the vegetables – and a much lower cost forecast. Wine’s exempt. We’re not savages.
Henry’s concerned about the disturbing spate of pop-ups cluttering our ‘towns and cities’ i.e. Whitechapel, where a large number of social commentators now live. ‘A redundant petrol station says something about 13 years of Labour balls-up. Turn that derelict site into a vegetarian disco or an art gallery for insects or a Muslim gay bar or anything else so utterly ridiculous you couldn’t make it up and it sends out entirely the wrong signal. Frivolous optimism at a time when we’re all in it together!’
The waiter’s still there with his glassy smile. ‘I’ll have the surf and turf mash and hash. And…’ Henry indicates his digestive system. ‘…I’m expecting a trouble-free legacy’.
Wednesday. I’ve been engaged by Aspirate, the architects’ trade union. They want me to raise their profile, although I’m not sure why. The whole world fears and respects Aspirate, and those horny-handed sons and daughters of epic space they represent.
The militancy of the architectural profession has been a thistle up the arse of The Establishment since 1979, when the advent of Thatcherism prompted the merger of the Amalgamated Architectural Workers Union and the Worshipful Company of Cognate Arts. People talk about the Miners’ Strike; they forget that in the thick of battle, uncouth men with donkey jackets and sideboards were joined in solidarity by reedy thinkers sketching revolution in their travel pads.
The NUM has now withered to a sort of living heritage museum of collective bargaining, but Aspirate remains right at the sharp end of the struggle. Last year’s prolonged dispute with offshore development companies over unsocial hours caused havoc in the industry, with supplies of luxury apartments falling to dangerously low levels. This year however, according to the rather crude brief I’ve been emailed, they want ‘to escalate, you know, really fuck things up bigtime’.
I retire to my study, put on some Billy Bragg, change into my thinking cap and dressing gown and wait for my architectural problem-solving Muse to appear in due course.
Thursday. Meanwhile, I send Scottish Henry my new urban austerity idea: pop-downs. People are moaning about losing local libraries, post offices, Sure Start centres, youth clubs, whatever.
So just remove them ‘temporarily’. They’re pop-downs. Back SOON. Meanwhile, here’s a Big Society discount bookshop. Before long the library will be utterly forgotten, like the petrol station.
Friday. I tell Aspirate to call a general architectural strike on the day of the Royal Wedding. Let’s see how the bosses like THAT. Not practice principals or executive directors of design firms, I mean the other bosses.
By lunchtime, Aspirate have issued a rallying press release. By afternoon tea, Ed Miliband – the Barton Fink of Socialism – is saying a strike would be ‘absolutely the wrong thing to do, a sign of failure’. Downing Street’s then panicked into issuing vague legal threats, extremists holding the rus in urbe to ransom, vital design services at risk, inconveniencing hard-working users of the built environment, ba-ding ba-dong. It’s a brilliant success.
By the time Newsnight’s on, Architecture Strike’s the lead. Everyone’s starting to realise how it could completely ruin the wedding of Baby Doc Windsor and whoever she is. An airbag in a bowtie tells Paxman that architects would only harm themselves by withdrawing their labour. ‘We must not go back to the heroic failures of the 1980s – public sector architects, community planning, technical aid centres, proper lunches. The list is ended…’
Saturday. Sky are looking for someone to scab on Royal Wedding Day – describe the processional route in architectural terms, speculate on the newlyweds’ interior design preferences, and more. I agree. It feels right.
Sunday. Ugh. Restless in the recliner. Not with any moral qualms. It’s just digestive legacy, I think.