Sunday, 24 June 2012
Don't Mention The Carbuncles
A propos of my last post, I have been tactfully informed by my architect brother that I am in imminent danger of beginning to Rant about Carbuncles. To which I say, Forsooth! Not so! It is my contention that Sir Norman Foster's Crime lacks sufficient Character for proper Carbunclehood. It is, indeed, its unremitting Blandness which offends me most. That, and its utter lack of functionality. Believe me when I say that the steadily rising piles of pigeon Guano which now top his Pseudo-Neo-Classical cornices form by far the most amusing and aesthetically pleasing notes in the whole design. Now, I am neither a Primitivist of the Carolingian sort - in fact, I love a good Carbuncle, me, and am looking forward with hand-rubbing glee to the new developments at the Royal Academy (have they plenty of smelling salts at the ready? Phalanxes of upper-class Aesthetes will be keeling over like Dominoes...) - nor am I delusional as to the general attractiveness of Victorian monuments. The British Museum is not, to put it plainly, a pretty girl. If they were making a film of her life, Meryl Streep would be a dead cert for the title role, probably in a frightening wig and a Mancunian accent. But why, Mr Foster, why so dull? I rather feel that, as we have paid for this glorified Conservatory, it might as well be made into somewhere that's slightly more pleasant to spend time in. If Sir Norman had built that article on the side of my house, he'd find himself in the Small Claims Court, sharpish. A homely lady like the BM has two choices in the manner of Dress, as it were. She can try to be self effacing and dissimulate her worst and most prominent features - which, when you are the architectural equivalent of a twenty stone redhead is perhaps a bit too much of a challenge. Or she can get theatrical. This is at least a more interesting option. It makes me think - laterally? strangely? - of some other public Monuments whose wardrobes and other refits we all have to shell out for. By which I mean Europe's Royals. As an Anthropological study, they hold some little interest. Some fulfil the role of living public sculpture better than others. To take one example, the Spanish Royal Family have not, historically speaking, ever been renowned for their great Beauty. And the Infanta Elena, the eldest daughter of the current Kings (the Spanish King and Queen are collectively referred to as "Los Reyes", "the Kings") is nothing if not a traditionalist in this respect. In fact she has very much the air of one whose Grandmother may have known Goya rather well. But in that lies her secret - she has style. Class. Panache. Not the dingy, dirgy sort of style that wears beige shoes and inoffensive headgear. No, the Infanta Elena went to her niece's christening dressed from head to foot in a bright green Matador's outfit, complete with bicorne hat. She carried it well. It made the deluge of obligatory tabloid shots in the Spanish media a touch more bearable. I would go further here - I would even say a word in defence of our own Princess Beatrice. Of the young woman's finer personal qualities, or if she has them, I know nothing. It interests me less. I only know - although someone who as a matter of course takes very scant interest in the doings of celebs of whatever breed, and finds the prurient scrutiny of their "Toilets" a source of irritation rather than style tips - that, despite my own strong prejudices, I must confess to having really enjoyed her Hats. Youth apart, HRH Beatrice has not precisely lucked out in the matter of looks. Her rocking-horse overbite, Fanta-coloured hair, and eyes that, as Hans Christian Anderson would have said, go round and round in her head like cartwheels, (or the Round Tower at Copenhagen), make the poor kid a veritable Japanese Nightmare. It's a caricature of a face, that begs to be crowned with imaginative eccentricity. To which challenge, she has so far risen. I adored the Enchanted Looking-Glass Hat. I kept expecting it to start singing. En fin - as long as I, and my fellow-citizens, are footing the bill for the Hats, the Frocks, the Golden Coach, and the fancy Extensions and Rebuilds, I for one do not want my money spent on boring suits and Restrained Chic. From Ghosties, and Ghoulies, and Long-Legged Beasties, and Things that go Bland in the Night, good Lord deliver us. If we absolutely have to have Princesses - I don't really see why, but I fully recognise that there are other people out there who can't see why we have to have the British Library or the World Service, either - then I would rather Pass on the Duchess of Cambridge and the Princess of Asturias, with their drab clothes that send the gutter press into pointless raptures over their "style icon" status. In my view, a Princess, as she can do little else, should make the effort to dazzle and sparkle in a parodic Suit of Lights, or drift into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot with her ginger head buzzing inside a cloud of butterflies. I think this is a lesson that applies as much to the renovation of public buildings as it does to the styling of public figures. If you can't be either useful, or beautiful, be bold. At any rate, be Something. Try to be a Spotlight, and not a Dimmer Switch, even if nature didn't make you a Star.