CRIES & WHISPERS

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The Independent Culture
5 THE best minds of our generation (ie a few journalists) seem much exercised by what to put on a plinth that has been standing empty in Trafalgar Square at the foot of Nelson's Column. Auberon Waugh in his customarily sensible column in the Telegraph came to the conclusion that a nude statue of Michael Portillo was the only fitting adornment. There is much to be said for this, if only because it might turn Trafalgar Square into a coconut shy for passing spectators, and the flying missiles could help do for the pigeons. Even Captain Moonlight, my rival columnist on this paper, is asking readers to submit their ideas. But, after mature consideration, I have concluded that the plinth should be left in the pristine emptiness that it has inoffensively enjoyed for 155 years. We have no public figures of any heroic dimension worth celebrating, with the possible exception of Colonel "H" Jones who won a posthumous VC for service in the Falklands. But he was a modest man, and that campaign was best summed up by the Argentine writer Borges as "two bald men fighting for a comb". Moreover we have no living sculptor who can aesthetically enhance any public place. Not even Eduardo Paolozzi, who turned Tottenham Court Road Underground station into a riot of kiddy's fridge magnets. Besides, the British public has no taste for sculpture anyway. Hyde Park Corner has been rendered a joke by those Queen Mother gates. Meanwhile one of our few seriously great pieces, Rodin's Burghers of Calais, lurks unloved in a little patch of ground on the wrong side of Parliament. Leave the stump be; and let passers-by mutter something along the lines of "someday my plinth will come".

5 THERE has been one of those urban myths knocking around for 30 years that some wily 16-year-old entrepreneur has booked the Albert Hall for his own purposes, to celebrate the first night of the coming millennium. Since this booking was made in the Sixties, no doubt he has something in mind involving naked young women, the survivors of Motley Crue, and a 16-wheeler truck-load of herbs and spices. Alas for human desires, the myth is baseless. The Albert Hall owns its own space, and the only way of booking it is to plonk wads of money on the counter and roundly state your intentions. Apparently, Patrick Deuchar, the chief executive, is already planning something of his own, which will reflect the venue as the "Nation's Village Hall". This sounds ominous. A massive jam competition from the ranks of the Women's Institute? A bicycle race for vicars around the outside of the dome? A nude mud-wrestling match between Michael Portillo and Michael Heseltine? I can think of only one thing I would like to see done at that place. And that is the removal of the Albert Memorial to what is surely its rightful place: on top of the Albert Hall.

5 WHEN is the Night of the Millennium anyway? On 31 December, presumably, but of which year? 1999, or 2000? Please do not write in to tell me. The prospect is infinitely depressing, what with architects coming up with mad schemes to give London a Big Wheel. If I am alive, I shall be asleep.

5 A MEXICAN called Guillermo Gomez-Pena, a soi-disant "performance artist", was over here recently to do his show at Whiteleys shopping centre. The "happening" involved Snr Pena gilding himself in body paint, which took eight hours to apply, then sitting in a cage. It was all meant to be a devastating critique of the way we shop. Alas for human aspirations, the cage was stolen in transit from its makers in Glasgow. The cultural foundations of western art remained unshaken. And Snr Pena was left with little to do. Nice to know we can still teach Mexicans a thing or two about the art of "shopping".

Jack Hughes

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