Editor-At-Large: Lord preserve us from Griff Rhys Jones

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The Independent Online

I write this feeling a touch knackered, a bit saggy round the edges, and definitely in need of top-to-bottom refurbishment. I could really do with a revamp before I embark on a tiring round of PR to promote my new book this week. Fat chance - in the BBC's ruthless efforts to curry favour with the Government, another series of Restoration starts this week. Expect hours of concern over piles of stones, rotting timbers and deathwatch beetles. If I was a godforsaken former game-keeper's toilet in North Yorkshire or a Georgian bee-keeper's cottage in Derry I would be the subject of an in-depth series on BBC2 fronted by smiley Griff Rhys Jones and all you viewers would be voting for me. I would be eligible for millions in lottery grants, I would be prime fodder for support from the Prince of Wales, I would have the cover of Country Life, and I would be described as a "treasure". As it is, I'm just another truculent middle-aged woman who's finding the ageing process a bit of a struggle.

I write this feeling a touch knackered, a bit saggy round the edges, and definitely in need of top-to-bottom refurbishment. I could really do with a revamp before I embark on a tiring round of PR to promote my new book this week. Fat chance - in the BBC's ruthless efforts to curry favour with the Government, another series of Restoration starts this week. Expect hours of concern over piles of stones, rotting timbers and deathwatch beetles. If I was a godforsaken former game-keeper's toilet in North Yorkshire or a Georgian bee-keeper's cottage in Derry I would be the subject of an in-depth series on BBC2 fronted by smiley Griff Rhys Jones and all you viewers would be voting for me. I would be eligible for millions in lottery grants, I would be prime fodder for support from the Prince of Wales, I would have the cover of Country Life, and I would be described as a "treasure". As it is, I'm just another truculent middle-aged woman who's finding the ageing process a bit of a struggle.

If there's one subject that makes me reach for the sickbag, it is the British obsession with saving crappy second-rate buildings from yesteryear. Along with pets, the British have a singularly depressing need to slap a preservation order on anything older than their granny. Drive through Britain and you find town after town full of truly third-rate Georgian buildings, so effortlessly bland and banal, saved by the efforts of the local "conservation" groups. They are the bricks-and-mortar version of muzak or Joni Mitchell as far as I'm concerned. About half of what we currently spend millions of pounds in grants propping up has no architectural merit whatsoever, and the huge industry that has grown up around recreating the past has expanded to include television programme-makers, builders, technical experts, the tourist industry, English Heritage and so on. Haven't we saved enough of Britain - can't we just call it a day and get on with building for the future, or will Griff only sleep in his bed when every bloody wool merchant's mansion and every monk's plumbing system is back in full working order and ready to accept visitors?

The past is so much more cosy and unthreatening than the present or the future. We tune in to costume dramas in our millions - even the current tedious Trollope extravaganza - and we like to surround ourselves with it as much as possible. Prince Charles was out and about again last week, trumpeting plans to expand Poundbury, his ludicrous theme park village that could have been designed hundreds of years ago. Great British architects like Zaha Hadid have hardly built anything of any size in this country, even though they regularly win competitions and put up everything from museums to whole towns abroad - we're too busy saving stuff to create any room for them. Try and get planning permission to build a brand new house in the English countryside - forget it! What most of our planners want is a fake vernacular incorporating stone, bricks and pitched roofs. Restoration is not a concept I warm to - and the idea of voting to save an old grammar school in Birmingham, a prison in Armagh or an abbey in Nottinghamshire is an opportunity I can easily resist.

In the future, half of Britain will be full of little brick boxes densely packed on acres of greenfield sites in the South to accommodate John Prescott's predicted homeless millions, while the rest of the countryside will be a recreation of a bucolic rural world where all the stone cottages have timber window frames, every grand house has a new roof, and gothic monasteries are reconstructed ready to be filmed by Mariella Frostrup, the BBC's new arts goddess, who will combine history and personal problem solving in a brand new hit format. If I had my way, there's be a series called Demolition, in which I nominate 10 buildings that I think should be torn down - and you, the viewers, have to vote to save nine of them. My shortlist for dynamiting would be the Tower of London, most of Whitehall, all of Bath and the Royal Albert Hall. Every century gets the architecture it deserves, and in the future historians will look back on the 21st century and conclude we were creatively constipated, backward-looking, xenophobic bores.

This sporting life

Another week, another drunken sportsman in the news. The London Evening Standard runs a distressing two-page interview with former Chelsea footballer Alan Hudson, now facing eviction from a council flat. The writer delights in revealing how many bottles of vodka he drinks from a pint beer mug ... I couldn't face reading any further. Coincidentally, that night I went to see the brilliant Richard Dormer in Hurricane at the Arts Theatre. Finishing in a few days, this is one of those evenings in the theatre that is electrifying, so go now if you can. Dormer take us on a rollercoaster ride through the life of the wild man of snooker, the drinking, bingeing, compulsive behaviour and mindless violence. At the end of it, you don't like Alex Higgins, but you do have an real understanding of the charisma and the very human failings of a man who made snooker truly exciting and who was, albeit briefly, a genius. But why do we give so much time and space to people like George Best, Hudson and Higgins? We forgive them behaviour we would never tolerate within our own families, just because sport is in involved and they once brought pleasure to so many of us. But I don't feel sorry for any of them, and the sight of Hudson pleading for special treatment is repulsive.

Adam Crozier, the chief executive of the Post Office, is full of reasons why last week's Channel 4 Dispatches programme showing an appallingly inefficient and demoralised service was unfair. Next month it is predicted that he will not be able to achieve the targets set for delivery of first class mail. Implementation of a single delivery has meant letters arriving around lunchtime, and several days late. I have found that twice in the past week, people have been interfering with my post and using my address to make fraudulent applications for credit cards. I walked to the local post office to talk it over and passed an empty mailbag stashed in a doorway. The next day I received the post for two other houses in my street. I tried to call up my mate Ray in the sorting office, but after five attempts in three days I gave up. It has taken two years' planning to switch to single deliveries - why so many teething problems? I've got a lot of time for postmen, because the ones I encounter work hard and do a good job. But is Mr Crozier, formerly chief executive of the Football Association, really the man to implement fundamental change and drag our postal service into the 21st century? Seems to me that nothing is more Dickensian than the world of professional football, and it's certainly not a place where you learn man-management skills.

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