Those nice people at the Tate galleries have launched a boat service that ferries art lovers, in comfort and style, along the Thames from Tate Britain to Tate Modern. The journey starts from the new Millbank pier, whizzes you along to the London Eye, pausing long enough for you to marvel at the length of the queue, then zooms to the sister gallery beside the Millennium Bridge. The whole experience takes 18 minutes, and should be very pleasant except for one random factor.
The boat is designed by Damien Hirst.
It's a catamaran, the exterior paintwork and interior furnishings of which have been created by the shaven-headed art terrorist. So it doesn't resemble a giant shark suspended in embalming fluid - it looks like a boat and does actually move. There's a bar on board but it is, I'm told, a real bar featuring alcoholic drinks - not one of Hirst's spooky medicine cabinets, offering only amoxycillin tablets and haemorrhoid cream.
But does the Hirst boat have gigantic ashtrays full of cigarette butts? Are there blue, humming fly-zappers in the bathroom? Glass vitrines containing upside-down office furniture on the poop deck? Surely the great conceptualist has given us something that expresses the futility of human existence to gaze at, as we cruise along the Thames?
Hirst isn't, of course, the first artist to be asked to design a piece of public transport. Far from it. It's a tradition that goes back a long way...
The J M W Turner Blatant Symbolism Trip: Commissioned by Sailing Ship Appreciation Society. Frankly sentimental journey on board beautiful but elderly three-masted schooner, being towed at sunset to breaker's yard on Isle of Dogs by blackened tugs, symbolising death of belle époque elegance and rise of new age of stark, philistine utilitarianism. Every Friday from Tower Bridge. Tickets £8.50. Concessions for weepingly nostalgic over-sixties.
The Pablo Picasso Hi-Speed Inter-Rail: Commissioned by avant-garde manager at British Rail in 1930s. Striking train designed on Cubist principles. Carriages square-shaped instead of rectangular. Windows confined to one side. All available seating occupied by weeping women, harlequins, gypsies and neighing horses.
Little room for paying customers. Train didn't repay its investment and was quietly dropped.
The Van Gogh Tourist Omnibus: A charming day out for all the family in an open-top charabanc. Painted by the popular Vincent Van G, the exterior depicts a starry night sky. Inside, the seating is simple rustic chairs with authentic woven-rush seats, with a typical peasant pipe thoughtfully provided on each one. Free audiotape available, on which VVG rants eloquently, but increasingly wildly, about his lust for life, passion for art, disappointment in love, etc. Tickets £20, bus starts from Trafalgar Square. Special facilities for the hard of hearing.
The Edvard Munch Minicab: Role-playing experience, commissioned by Metropolitan Police, to warn people to travel only by black taxis. Unsuspecting punter hires minicab in Soho to go to Wimbledon, only to find self in reeking interior, being harangued by confused, halitotic racist with no sense of direction, as cab heads for Finsbury Park. Altercation with driver follows. Passenger ends up running through streets of north London, clutching face in hands and screaming.
The Edward Hopper Night Bus: Commissioned by mayor of Washington, DC in 1980s, after discovery that most American civil servants spend their evenings sitting in lonesome diners nursing shots of bourbon and staring into space, divorced from human contact, isolated from society, aware only of the aching void at the heart of all interpersonal transactions... so he sent a night bus to go round all the bars, throw everyone out and take them home to bed.
The Salvador Dali Pogo Stick: Commissioned in fit of Sixties craziness, by Central Art Committee, Barcelona, to encourage citizens to bounce around on jolly-seeming, healthy, pollution-free mode of transport. Scheme never worked because of intrinsic oddness of pogo sticks themselves - they tended to melt, or buckle, or turn into crucifixes, or try to eat or have sex with passenger in annoyingly surreal fashion.