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My Epic Space Tsar Shame

Ian Martin
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Ian Martin recalls his time as Blair’s realm-spinner

MONDAY My old friend Loaf, the mayor of London, has legacy hysteria.

He’s going prime ministerial now. No more wobbling around looking like a children’s entertainer in a five-year-old’s haircut. ‘The Garden Bridge is cursed!’ he barks down the phone, in Latin. ‘I need better celebrity-endorsed follies, and fast! Think artisanal bread! And cruelty-free circuses!’

I’m on it.

TUESDAY How can you ‘ruin’ listed halls of residence by adding an extra 40 rooms? A: You can’t. The notion’s preposterous. You’ve enhanced it by 40 rooms. Numbers do not lie.

Yet the insufferable Sloane Bagshawe, architecture correspondent for Builty Pleasures magazine has ‘called me out’ over my proposed remodelling of the late Sir Trevor Redbarrel’s 1969 Titfield Building at Sanguine College, Oxford. Under a joint byline with her ‘writing partner’, a miniature assistance pony called Dennis, she clumsily hoofs her way through a ‘case’ for preserving Titfield.

‘This architectural gem, designed by “Big Trev” Redbarrel in the Magic Corbulist style, is one of the most internationally hee-hawed buildings of the 20th century. The very idea of slamming into it a vulgar onk-hee-honky four-storey block of “granny flats” for mature students would be hee-haw laughable were it not so neigh tragic. This proposal lets the college down, it lets academia down, it lets the animal kingdom and mature students down and most importantly it lets whee-hee-hee Sir Trevor and the Magic Corbulist corpus down, with a clip clippety-clop…’

Look, love (and bonsai horse). Time moves on. The original occupants probably had to use an outside toilet and were breathing a toxic cocktail of coaldust, asbestos and pipe smoke. Should we reinstate these period poisons for ‘authenticity’? Perhaps we could have some Led Zeppelin installed, you PILLOCK.

People. I swear. AND their miniature ponies.

WEDNESDAY Idea for Loaf. Young people can’t afford to live in London, yet aspiration must be encouraged. Solution: introduce the Right To Try.

THURSDAY Who will be the government’s ‘epic space tsar’? Well it won’t be me, I can tell you. Not after last time.

It was 1997, and the lying shit Blair had swept into power like a camp version of Jesus, riding the new pettable Labour Party donkey through palm-paved streets, under a bright spring sky made entirely of money.

God, those endless, tieless freestyle seminars they held at Number 10. Tony loved getting the guys in, thinking out loud over a few bottles of Peroni and some posh nuts. Those were the days when he could still make eye contact. Would you, he said, his hand on my shoulder, be our Champion of the Built Realm and Associated Deliverables? We need to bring ordinary people and ordinary private finance together, and we could use some clever labelling…

I agreed, of course. Consultants’ fees then were even more ridiculous than they are now. On my way out, I remember, director of communications and strategy Alastair Campbell gave me some invaluable advice. ‘Don’t fuck this up, dickhead, or I will punch you into a fucking coma and have you turned into a living wormery…’

Mostly, my job as built realm champion consisted of calling for things. There’d be a list every Monday morning of things they wanted you to call for, and you spent the week calling for them in the media. It wasn’t lying exactly, more counterintuitive misdirection. So I’d call for an ‘inclusive approach’ to housing, but what that really meant was people with a bit of money having a crack at a poor area in a prime commuter spot.

‘Accessibility’, that was a good one. And ‘transparency’. They both meant ‘arse-covering’. If you were committed to accessibility or transparency you could pretty much ride shitshod over anyone. I got out, just after my call for us to build a dependable future for our children through education. Which we sort of did, as they’ll be paying back those PFI school contracts for the rest of their lives.

FRIDAY Celebrity-endorsed London Follies latest. ‘Benedict Cumberbatch presents the Foggy East London Steampunk Crossing’; ‘Ant and Dec’s Underground Psychogeographical Ghost Train’; ‘Stephen Fry’s Gorgeous Sylvanian Strolly Path’.

SATURDAY Photoshoot for Loaf’s ‘Leave Europe’ campaign. He’s on a bike, dresssed as a Crusader, sword aloft, shouting ‘Brexit Referendum!’ Which is more Harry Potter than proper Latin, I must say.

SUNDAY Pro-sceptically reclined.

An anthology of Ian Martin’s AJ columns will be published this year

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