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Campus carry on

Ian Martin
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Ian Martin is shocked to discover transphobic vibes in his safe space

MONDAY The problem: a new outsourcing contract for the British economy means Londoners now inhabit what is essentially a Chinese canton, rendering that little ‘Chinatown’ off Shaftesbury Avenue culturally insensitive and patronising.  

The solution: rename the whole of Greater London ‘Chinatown’.

TUESDAY The academic year has barely started, yet already orchestrated moaning is underway about a modular pop-up ‘safe space’ I created at Cardiff University.

Apparently some of the mewling foetuses who’ve retreated to my ‘panic pod’ are unhappy. Although the safe space is constructed from tough, soundproof panels of brightly coloured laminated cardboard, students insist their feeings are still at risk from powerful transphobic vibes which can penetrate the walls.

How? Well, you can still get the internet inside it. Therefore the safe space ‘facilitates hate speech’. Of course everybody from the vice-chancellor down has sheepishly deferred to these trembling munchkins. Nobody wants any trouble, as this might impact negatively on the university’s corporate profile.

Things were so much easier in the last century. You’d be commissioned after a five-hour lunch by the university’s head of estates, who looked like Mr Pastry and dabbled in watercolours. The students meanwhile, who came from a range of social classes and backgrounds, were receiving free education. They were ‘users’, and irrelevant. They were the mice in the experimental concrete maze you and Mr Pastry had sketched out over the crappy 1970s coffee and the excellent 1970s armagnac.

Now the students are valued customers and – legitimately, let’s face it – demanding a university experience in line with the escalating debt of £70,000 they’ll be paying off in their 50s. I don’t know why they don’t just turn every campus into a massive Wetherspoons with adult ball pools and counselling alcoves.

Wait a minute…

WEDNESDAY. Knock out a prototype gated Cardiff Wetherspoons Campus. Students, vice-chancellor and a trans-positive student loans company are very excited.

THURSDAY ‘Now, remember,’ says my fixer Rock Steady Eddie, as the Skype dialler burbles. ‘Oscar-nominated three times. His latest one’s some rom-com bollocks. He plays both parts! Stand on me. Mate, Wikipedia never lies. Here, pass me that scotch, you need to focus. Come on son. You land it, I’ll club it to death. Oh, plus I told him you’re French. And whatever, “difficult” yeah? They love all that. Hold up, here we go, you’re ON…’

So it is that I enter a discussion with global movie legend Tom Potatio. He’s relaxed, smooth and plausible. I’m being poked off-screen by Eddie and affecting a stilted, cartoon French accent.

Potatio has in the last three decades gone from lithe cherubic teen to portly veteran, via box office hits such as The Corndog and Inside Mrs Dufendorf. Now he’s looking for an expensive French auteur – ‘only real kind, right? Clue’s in the name? Which is French, right?’ – to concretise his dream.

The unconcretised dream is to transform his island in Belize into a ‘kick-ass game-changing ethically-funded carbon-neutral responsibly-developed eco-tourism hot-spot, initial thoughts? Monsieur, uh…’ Here he consults his notes. ‘Monsieur Prêt à Manger?’ Wow, Eddie dug deep for that one. 

I pretend that my flailing about for inspiration is just me being a surly French auteur. I tell him, languidly, zat zis kick-ass game-changing ezzically-funded carbon-neutral responsibly-developed eco-tourism ‘ot-spot ‘as a lot of ‘ow you say ‘yphens non? Alors, I believe zat ze ‘yphen is not merely a joining mechanism, a bridge between zis and zat. I believe se ‘yphen goes to ze very ‘eart of ze concept…

Etc. Boom. Sold. Idiot.

FRIDAY. The conversion of a Belize island to a luxury eco-holiday destination isn’t as easy as it sounds. Invasive plant species, they’ll have to go for a start. Then there’s a shitload of botanically correct mangrove trees to go in, and a nursery to cultivate seagrass to support a manatee conservation area. Ugh, manatees. They look like floating breast implants.

I’m doing 70 exquisite pontooned villas, 60 beach houses, a Michelin-starred restaurant, a ‘pampering hub’ in the shape of a giant conch, a Niemeyerish Thunderbirdsy bar, the whole ‘1 per cent on holiday’ vibe. So how can I reconcile this sickening luxury with ecological concerns?

Zat, mes amis, is ze ‘yphen.

SATURDAY. Potatio thrilled about the ecology budget, stoical about the need to make a fortune from luxury tourism.

SUNDAY. Moral hyphenation in the recliner.



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