It isn't often that you see the potter Grayson Perry in a crowded public square, looking fabulous in a big flouncy skirt and a little bolero jacket, and nobody is looking at him. It isn't common to watch a rainbow unfurl above Nelson's Column, with the London Eye behind it, and see a hundred people facing the other way. It is highly unlikely to find any Londoners in Trafalgar Square among the backpackers, the pigeons and the smell of diesel. But for the next 98 days, you will. Antony Gormley's One and Other is a very British work of art, putting average British Joes on the empty fourth plinth and letting them do their funny British thing. It deserves, and is receiving, a very British welcome.
One of the things that must most strike the tourist on arriving at Trafalgar Square is how utterly hopeless we are as a nation at making the most of our public spaces. In any other city in any civilised part of the world, a square as big and glorious as this one would contain al fresco cafés, icy beers and tanned people relaxing in the open air. What do we have? Pigeons.
When I dashed through the summer showers on Monday to see the living sculptures, it was the first time I had seen local people properly enjoying their square. The foreign tourists were more impressed by a nearby piper, scrambling up the backs of the lions and surreptitiously feeding those filthy birds. But the accents around the plinth were almost entirely ours.
When I arrived at 6pm, 31-year-old Chigwell optometrist Ishvinder Singh Matharu had his brolly up atop the plinth and was bravely throwing paper planes against the wind. "I wasn't very successful with my aeroplanes," he said dejectedly as he was lifted off later by the little yellow crane. But every Brit loves a plucky loser. I caught one of his planes and waved it after him: "Is it art?" He didn't answer me; he was too busy looking sheepishly proud.
Gormley summed it up in his speech at the launch party for One and Other at The Trafalgar Hotel. "After 10 and a half hours it's already just one of those things," he said. "It's part of the summer season: there's the Chelsea Flower Show, Henley and the Fourth Plinth." Ekow Eshun, artistic director of the ICA and chairman of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, chipped in: "I'm just waiting for somebody to get naked."
Nobody got naked within the first day, but on the 7pm shift Ms Monique Speksnyder showed that British people can be exhibitionists too, given a little encouragement. As she danced – and danced, and kept on dancing – casual observers began to sashay along in support. Sir Nicholas Serota appeared out of nowhere, looked perplexed and clipped straight back in the direction of the National Gallery.
Putting ordinary people on such public display is bound to make us question our national identity and our image of ourselves. But when you analyse those brave and chilly "plinthsters", you start to look at the rest of the crowd differently, too. The man all in denim with the gold hoop earring and cigar – was he art? The portly security guard, an Edward Hopper-esque study in urban boredom... He must have been.
"I've been asked about 44 times," sighed Gormley, "'But is it art?'" Possibly, time will tell. But art or otherwise, the sight of dozens of Londoners in their sunglasses and macs watching as a Clare Balding lookalike all in pink dances herself silly for an hour – it's as good a portrait as any of Britain in the summer of 2009.
Men can't do summer fashion – it's official
Thanks to Boris Johnson's fourth-plinth launch outfit for demonstrating again a universal truth: that heterosexual British men cannot dress for warmer weather. In a black shiny suit with black shoes and socks, he wasn't prepared for heatwave or hail, or any combination of the two. It was almost as bad as his Bermuda shorts.
Last week I fell into a trap that faces all modern women, and talked intimately to a man all evening on the assumption that he was gay. This was based largely on the fact that he looked well in linen shorts and leather sandals. He wasn't gay; he was secretly an educated East Coast American, which explains his sartorial accomplishment.
As last week's Hyde Park concerts coincided with blistering heat, girls in cotton maxi-dresses were trailed around by steaming boyfriends in black polyester. The static electricity and latent heat trapped in all those football shirts could have powered the entire Blur gig.
Nobody expects us to be like the Italians, who at least have the benefit of knowing what the weather will be like before they leave the house. But there are ways to dress for the British heatwave – with-rain – and none of them is nylon.
Who'd shell out for a hard-boiled egg?
It is common when denigrating a person's cooking skills to allege that they could not boil an egg. As it happens, boiling an egg is deceptively tricky: do you add extra seconds if it is straight from the fridge; how do you judge the exact moment when the water starts boiling? Unlike a steak or a perfect Yorkshire pudding, an egg cannot be put back again if it turns out to be less than spot-on.
That said, I don't know why anyone would buy a pre-boiled egg, at 89p for a pack of two. Soon to be available at Waitrose and Asda, The Happy Egg Company's hard-boiled eggs come cooked and peeled and ready to go. They don't come with pre-toasted soldiers, though it would be hard to see how even that could make them sound any more off-putting. So it's back to Delia, egg-timers and the agonised wait for the controversial first bubble.Reuse content