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Into Darkest London

Ian Martin
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Ian Martin finds a novel solution to the empty homes scandal

MONDAY Chilled start to the week. Stay in pyjamas, Philip Glass on Spotify, granola. Sketch an eco-responsive International Centre for Justice in the shape of a hardening human heart.

TUESDAY What a relief. Those Paolozzi mosaic arches that ‘disappeared’ from Tottenham Court Road tube station are to be rehomed in Edinburgh. Ha ha, farewell then ‘site-specific public art’.

Brilliant, about bloody time. Let’s be frank, site-specific public art has always been a massive bump in the road of enlightened redevelopment. Now at last we have overthrown the tyranny of artist-in-residence-for-perpetuity. As my fixer Rock Steady Eddie puts it, ‘most of the artists whose so-called legacy is clogging up the future are bloody DEAD ANYWAY. They don’t give a toss if you’re late for work or your Oyster card’s not working, do they? Neither does a wall full of their shitty mosaics.’

Accordingly, he’s drawing up a list of other targets. Correction: ‘similar opportunities to do enlightened redevelopment, where site-whatever public art might be removed prior to the fuckover of the site itself and its consequential rebirth’.

We both know that by ‘consequential rebirth’ he means ‘gigantic clustered air bank’. He indicates a Google map of central London. ‘What this is, is…’ he says, dropping ash everywhere, ‘a poshcode lottery, is what this is.’ He’s neither right nor wrong, just a bit drunk.

WEDNESDAY Eddie sends me his ideas so far:

‘1. Chase all that paedo stuff* off the front of the old BBC building in Portland Place, all the way up to Stratford-upon-Avon. Blitz site. Create John Peel Magicpartments, W1A 1AA BOSH.’

(*Editor’s note: Prospero and Ariel, by Eric Gill)

‘2. Acquire and relocate Parliament including Big Ben. Get someone to do a detailed 3D model of it. Blitz site, whack up Harry Potter-themed hotel? Monetise rights to 3D-print the Houses of Parliament anywhere. Everything from individual mansions in California to stylish detention centres in Russia – literally a licence to 3D-print money BOSH.

‘3. Sort out Trafalgar Square while we’re at it. Send three plinths to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as gesture of goodwill. Retain fourth plinth for commercial use. Turn Nelson’s Column into a helter skelter for yuppies, like that bollocks in the Olympic Park. Big food court? Do something with holograms, maybe historic public execution reenactments? BOSH. Still thinking.’

THURSDAY  The Problem: Dark London. That huge black wash of built emptiness. All those pre-sold apartments, those shiny blank investment blisterpacks, inhabited by nobody. Sequestered silent space, accruing at an annual rate of 9.4 per cent.

Mr Cameron is right. Something must be done. At a time of demonstrable housing crisis, when costs and rents and anger and anxiety are all steepling, it is simply unacceptable. These smug equity lock-ups must not be seen to be taunting the outside world. It makes capitalism look bad.

A new government task force has been set up to tackle this urgent problem. It’s all pretty discreet at the moment, as people might disapprove of public money being spent on expensive consultants telling politicians how best to pretend that these places are actually lived in. As an expensive consultant myself, I understand the need for discretion. Which, I suspect, is one of the reasons I’ve been asked to help.

FRIDAY I’m subcontracting my consultancy by spending the day with my old mate Beansy, the billionaire nanofuturologist. 

Over a few craft beers and some craft nitrous oxide we consider the options. Perhaps the best solution is to encourage squatting, as that way the properties definitely look lived in. Helpless with laughter. Man, that nitrous oxide’s good.

Smart technology won’t do it. Lights, curtains etc will all be on the same cycle, so a whole empty street will just blink on at dusk and off again at midnight. Luckily Beansy’s developed an artificial ribosome which could inhabit an empty apartment in a more natural and convincing way. Smart proteins would make random decisions about what to switch on and off when, and the ribosome could grow big enough to wear a hat at the window every now and then.

Perfect. Let’s rehumanise Dark London with ribosomes in hats. Beansy’s a genius.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Hyper-Rural Timbermetric 3, Metrotextual Cowlglaze 2.

SUNDAY Deep thinking in the recliner. Haunted by disturbing dreams of a dark luxury apartment interior. In a corner, the imperceptible stirring of protein…

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