Maybe I'm wrong, but I suspect that my generation of women is uniquely bad at delegating. We came on the scene far too late to have servants – oh, how we need them! – and just too late to be satisfied with staying at home as wives and mothers. A combination of self-reliance and, often justified, concern that no one else would meet our exacting standards left us with the idea that if we didn't do something, no one else would.
We thought not only that we could have it all, but that we should do it all as well. Perhaps it's advancing age and the occasional creaking joint, but there comes a time when another reality sets in – and it has its benefits.
This spring, for complicated reasons, we had less than a week to pack up and vacate our house in France. There was not the slightest chance we could do it ourselves. I asked the woman who had kept an eye on it over the years if she could help. Through contacts and the internet, I found a remover who took loads between the two countries and could just fit in the date required. We weren't going to get back in time to receive our belongings, so we could only trust that the removers would divide them up, as asked, between our flat and the block's basement store.
Everything went like clockwork. The packing was half-done when we arrived at the French house after a two-day drive. The (British) removers (one man and his wife with a van) arrived exactly when they said they would, worked with one cup of coffee and no break until everything was in the van, and, when we arrived back in the UK a week later, everything was where we had asked it to be. Who says the British can't or won't work? They can, they really can.
It may be pure coincidence, but friends have been finding something similar – often in dealings with small family companies. From caterers to flower-arrangers to – alas, this reflects our age, too – funeral directors, there are people doing a terrific job, being efficient, pleasant to deal with and reliable.
These aren't the metropolitan plumbers who charge as much as lawyers per hour and still have to be called back to solve the problem. Nor are they utilities companies that ensure a single repair costs as much as an annual insurance contract, so you're stung for £200 plus, whatever. They are small businesses doing a more-than-fair day's work for what in my book is a fair day's pay. That's what they're there for, and if you have a full-time job, it's delusory to believe you can do everything else as well.
Then again, the delivery company has just delivered the wrong Sunday paper for the umpteenth time this year. Time to cancel the order and go to get it myself!
Here's the sort of public art we need
I haven't been very complimentary about public art in Britain over the years. From the Animals in War memorial on London's Park Lane to The Meeting Place statue at St Pancras station to the Angel of the North, there is a pervasive banality. If not that, then a disparity in scale. Barry Flanagan's boxing hares outside the British Council – replaced last year by a statue of Yuri Gagarin – was too small for the space, and hard to see against the busy backdrop.
But one building has been consistent in its original and striking use of space. The Channel 4 headquarters in Westminster has a vast figure four in front of its entrance. Last year, it was covered in a diverting collection of coloured umbrellas that brought smiles to the faces of passers-by.
For the Olympics and Paralympics, the "Big 4" has been transformed into an amalgam of a discus-thrower and a wheel that doubles as a wheelchair. This Monument to the Unintended Performer was designed by Tony Heaton, who himself uses a wheelchair, but the image encapsulates the spirit of both Olympics and Paralympics. It is huge, elegant and at once comprehensible on several levels. It deserves to have a life after this summer's sports fest is over. An honourable place, perhaps, in the made-over Olympic Park?
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