Coales' Notes: Railing at the gates of Hell

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The Independent Culture
WEDNESDAY. Since the matter was bound to come up on next week's phone-in, I said that I was going to go down and have a look at the Queen Mother's notorious gates - get a first hand view, mingle with the public and generally take the temperature. Rory said he would come along with me.

We took a cab to Hyde Park Corner. Rory thought this was an opportunity to 'really mobilise critical opinion'. I said I felt it was a delicate situation. It was all very well for the art world to like something which everyone else hated, people more or less understood that. But when it was the other way round, it looked as though one was actually trying to take people's pleasures away from them - one ought to tread very carefully.

We arrived. They are a bit of a fright, I must admit. But there was a noticeable gathering of highly interested onlookers. I said I was going to move among them discreetly, and fall casually into conversation. But almost at once, at the top of his voice, Rory called out: 'Piers] Hi]' He introduced me to Piers Mallin of New Design Review. I asked him what he thought. He said: 'Unbelievable. The curse of the House of Windsor strikes again. First, the carbuncle Prince and his model village. Then St George's Hall. And now this, for God's sake. It is an ongoing assault on contemporary British design . . .'

Other people were gravitating towards us. There was a man from Groundplan, a man from Britischer Arkitekt, a woman from World of Parks, a young man from Structure Today. We were quite a little party, with everyone at full volume.

'One is confronted with a kind of visual Mills & Boon.'

'Hello] heraldry.'

'Rococo on Quality Street. Nobody else use that please.'

'Cinderella's Greenhouse. You're just waiting for midnight to strike, and it turns back into a packet of sponge-fingers.'

'Nice one.'

I thought I'd better try and find at least one member of the public. There was a man up by the gates. I said to him it was certainly striking. He replied: 'Striking, yes. I think the phrase that comes to mind is 'I could eat a box of Christmas decorations and vomit better design.' No?'

I returned to the group. It was being said that a stand should be taken. Rory suggested they might consider chaining themselves to the gates: 'I mean, imagine how that would raise the image of architectural and design critics in public perceptions.'

The man from Parnassus said 'Well, I would gladly pay someone to take a truck through it.' General assent. Then they began to disperse.

I made one more attempt. I noticed a small man, wearing dark glasses, standing a short way from us. I asked him his opinion. He said (without looking at me): 'How much, though?' I said, how much what? He said 'How much would you pay? It's a job that needs doing properly. I've done some work for the art world, you see.' I told him I had no idea what he was talking about.

Then Rory came over. He said: 'Hello Lenny, what are you up to now?' The man answered: 'I saw all those so-called critics getting excited over there. I thought there might be a bit of work going.' Rory said: 'I'll give you a tip, Lenny. There's a highly controversial Arts Council report coming out at the end of the week. Why don't you get on to the London orchestras, and offer to kidnap Lord Palumbo?' The man said: 'Right. OK, catch you later.'

Rory said it was rather tragic. Lenny had once been editor of New Civilisation. But then he started taking the job slightly too seriously and went completely off the rails.