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Victorian London becomes self-aware

Ian Martin
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Ian Martin takes the preprospective view

MONDAY Like all socially progressive auteurs with substantial overheads I deplore this reckless rush to convert local authority schools into academies, while accepting with reluctance that academy chains, as the only clients likely to be commissioning, could plausibly offer a great opportunity to put quality design at the heart of the procurement process in this very important sector, especially if they hire visionary artists such as yours truly to soften what is after all a demented version of statism, centrally controlling public assets by transferring them to private ownership, with of course the usual discounts for repeat work as ‘education, education, education’ has been the priority for our children’s future since 1997, initial consultation free.

TUESDAY Redesign Victorian London, giving it a stylish ‘reverse-retrospective’ look and imagining the built environment to be prescient. Old London becomes smug yet compliant, and perfectly aware of its own unfolding metamorphosis.

So that foul alley of packed, tottering buildings, reeking of horseshit and human stink, of putrid fish and rotting flesh, of pipe smoke and coal smoke and wet cloth and boiling onions and piss and chestnuts. That one, which today is merely an antiseptic canyon of flat glass and polished concrete, smelling vaguely of Subway and Costa and the smudged notes of two dozen colognes.

Well, my revised Victorian version of that is ‘preprospective’. Instead of being ‘retro’ it has psychogeographical foresight and is now ‘prepro’. Using this heavy thinking, visitors to my Prepro-Victorian London are welcome to ache for a lost world of clattery brick and dirty grandeur without feeling guilty about the horrific slums and the infant mortality and the child prostitution and so on.

If anyone would like to hear more about Appreciating Prepro-Victorian England and how to talk about this to their friends, I’m running a Guardian Masterclass next month with nuts and a glass of wine included.

WEDNESDAY Bugger. I’d proposed a scheme to reintroduce ancient rockpools along a stretch of Suffolk coastline, but all the environmental agencies and local authorities are simply ignoring my emails. I suppose they’re just not reponding.

THURSDAY Lunch with the Hon. Aeneas Upmother-Brown, minister for architecture and luxury housing, and his swarm of pet bees.

They are exquisitely polite, even when ‘off duty’. Pattering around a long miniature nectar trough in the middle of the table, quietly conversing, at ease. Now and then you catch a hummed snatch of popular bee music, or the buzz of harmless banter. Bee laughter is the most uplifting tiny noise you could possibly imagine.

We’re here, in the swish new bee-friendly restaurant Metabolis, because poor old Upmother-Brown is hiding. The snapping crocodiles of the press are demanding a statement – ideally an apologetic one – about the latest ‘scandal’. Apparently £666bn worth of UK property is now held overseas, so as you can imagine we’re taking our time with the pudding.

Two bottles of pretty decent claret has clearly not taken the edge off U-B’s indignation. ‘I mean, to whom would the buggers rather these luxury London apartments were sold, mm? Who has a better credit rating – a single mother on benefits or President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan? Hmm?’

‘Hmm?’ go the bees, in drowsy unison. ‘The world of commerce is as we find it. Foreign buyers inject value into the economy, mm…’ ‘Mmm’ say the bees, one of whom I notice has fallen asleep and is gently snoring. ‘All this old isolationist rhubarb about restricting sales to domestic buyers, well. That road leads directly to Pyongyang, oh I say!’

He’d forgotten that ‘Pyongyang’ is a cue for one of the swarm’s celebrated aerial displays. The bees instantly snap out of their nectar reverie and in grim single file ‘march past’ Upmother-Brown, giving tiny little heartbreaking salutes and humming the North Korean anthem.

I think they’re supposed to be undermining the notion of collective action but their flypast is oddly moving. Do swarms ever turn on their masters? It’s almost unthinkable.

FRIDAY In the morning, design an ‘elemental golf clubhouse’. In the afternoon, design a ‘pathetically fallacious gift shop’ nearby.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Offshore wind farm v offshore cash farm. Match abandoned when it turned out to be just a crude Green Party Facebook meme after all.

SUNDAY Preprospective brainwork in the recliner.

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