A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
This old house is full of stuff collected over the centuries. I can no longer recall when I got some of it – but it’s quite nice to open a box and re-discover something you had forgotten about. The other day I came across a ‘Thunderer’ a 1920s policeman’s whistle. There must have been a reason why it seemed important to have one at the time. It is still very loud. I blew it and an old lady on Saffron Hill jumped a foot in the air.
The curious object in the photographs is a Telescopic View made in 1951. Tricky to photograph but it’s lovely to peep through the viewing hole into the little paper world beyond. It shows the famous view from Trafalgar Square through Admirality Arch looking down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Millions have passed through the arch (often without noticing one of its secrets The London Nose). I love it. Just as with the Telescopic view, you squeeze through from the hurly burly grey noise and spin of the square and pop out into the calm green otherworld of St James.
It is a curious building – more a curved monument, a grave classical smile at the London sky.
I was annoyed recently to read that it has been sold. It is a public building – well a publicly owned building at any rate – presently a suite of drab government offices and the place that lardy John Prescott was supposed to be doing the other with his secretary. The reason given for the sale is that there is too much of such space, it is inefficient and very expensive to run and so on. All very laudable I’m sure.
But it has been bought by Spanish property developers to convert into a high-end hotel. Given the location I thought it would make a rather good Museum of Politics or perhaps a Tourist dis-information centre. I’d probably even settle for a Museum of the British Empire (I mean you could have a whole floor of horror!). But, as with the BBC’s Bush House, that other flogged-off bit of Beaux-Arts-Paris-in-London, most Londoners (of whatever origin) will probably now never enter it.
The surprising thing in this case was that there seemed to be absolutely no fuss made about it. Many people didn’t and still don’t know. Most are surprised if not a little disbelieving to find out but then the announcement was slipped out as a matter of fact, in an after-the-event sort of way: a bit like announcing that pizzas will have less salt in them from now on.
I suppose we have got used to the family jewels being sold off quietly. It is a time of austerity after all and, like in times of war, politicians love citing that whilst smuggling through some ideologically motivated sneaky deals and making the dissenters seem naive and out of touch.
In the 1970s, they wanted to knock down Inigo Jones’ Covent Garden and build an elevated freeway. Nice.
(Do let me know if you have any interesting ideas for how it could be used yourself – you never know..)