Susie Rushton: This isn't art, it's a focus group

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The Independent Online

More Passion, it reads. Or, rather, "More PAssion", because Tracey Emin's neon artworks are based on her own handwriting – ungrammatical tics and all.

As of this weekend, those two words have been illuminating a dark corner of a Downing Street stairwell, just outside the door to the Terracotta Room (I don't dare imagine its decor; have they never heard of Farrow and Ball?). According to one unimpressed "insider", the effect of the cherry-coloured neon haze emanating from Emin's artwork is rather louche, "like the entrance to a nightclub".

Her generous gift to the Government Art Collection – and to her friend David Cameron – is intriguing for several reasons. It confirms the Prime Minister as a man with his finger on the pulse – if the pulse in question were beating in 1997. A purist might argue that art should exist independently of fashion, but Emin's much-imitated neon signs became such a popular signifier of Britart that it's hard not to see them and instantly be transported back to the age of Liam and Patsy, Tony Blair and Sensation at the Royal Academy.

Cameron could have asked her for one of her wall-hangings or monoprints. But neon was very much the PM's choice. On a visit that Emin paid to No 10 earlier this year, Cameron apparently "dragged" her to the corner of the notoriously poky building that needed to become "edgy" (her word).

Then there's the choice of phrase. We know that Emin tried to avoid using "rude" words that are featured in many of her other neons. So choice statements such as "Is anal sex legal", a phrase used in a previous work, were out of the question. But most of her other illuminated works express a heartfelt phrase, such as "Keep me safe" or "I promise to love you" or "You forgot to kiss my soul". Working on the Downing Street commission, Emin searched for a slogan that would be also be fitting for "all the dignitaries and world leaders and religious groups" herded through the corridor.

If the final choice of words sounds a bit flat, perhaps even focus-grouped, it passed the taste test for Cameron. You can see why. "More passion" has the ring of the motivational management expert. "Passion" – no longer in this age used to mean the opposite of "reason" – has become a business buzzword.

"Passion" is a Sugarism, a synonym for ambition, and application. It's not hard to think of blue-sky genius Steve Hilton cycling to Whitehall in a T-shirt that reads "More passion", is it? One imagines that when the Prime Minister took delivery of the artwork, he must have looked at the thing, and thought to himself: yes, that sums me up. So what is it that Cameron and George Osborne and their drones are supposed to be more passionate about? Reforming the NHS? Removing the 50p tax rate for top earners? Looking and sounding really late-Nineties? Could be ...

The sting in summer's tail

Stop worrying about being eaten alive by a shark: it's wasps you should be afraid of. Late in the summer they are more aggressive than a rampaging gang of feral rioters. At least two Britons die each year after being speared by the wasp's venomous sting, and although it's usually people with pre-existing allergies that suffer the worst outcomes, a bad encounter with a pack of wasps (and they definitely work together) could hospitalise any of us.

Last week, in an incident that wasn't splashed across the front pages of all the tabloids, 70-year-old Jeanette Duncan and her husband George were set upon by a swarm as they walked along the road near Chelmsford, Essex; Mrs Duncan was so badly stung that it caused a fatal cardiac arrest. Mostly, though, wasps are very, very annoying; we spent a balmy lunchtime in a pub garden on Sunday being dive-bombed, apparently thanks to a combination of beer, brightly coloured T-shirts and fragrance around our table (the current trend for fruity-smelling scents is particularly alluring to them, apparently). It's enough to make me hope summer should just call it a day already.

How the gap year turned into a luxury purchase

I learnt to scuba-dive, pick industrial amounts of tomatoes, and probably ruined my skin through too much sunbathing, but can I say my "gap year" was a life-changing experience? Not exactly. It taught me how to save up for something, as I worked for six months to pay for the following half a year travelling around the world, but I don't think I'd kid myself it was educational, not unless there's a qualification for lying on a beach.

I did my trip in between a university degree and a post-grad course, and in retrospect it seems preposterously self-indulgent. But as more A-level students put off a year of travel in order to go straight to university and avoid higher fees, it's beginning to look like the gap year, once a rite of passage for middle-class youth, could go the way of first-time buyer mortgages.