Until some point soon after lunchtime on Friday, 10 July 2009, No. 76 Dean Street probably looked, to the thousands of people who rushed or ambled past it daily, much like any other Soho building. A few, perhaps, would have glanced up and seen it for what it was — a townhouse of some quality, built c. 1740, and thereafter subject to the usual vicissitudes, serving variously as residence for the seventh Earl of Abercorn, a workhouse, premises for a firm of leather-cutters and, most recently, offices for a financial services company. A brief look into one of those tall ground-floor windows might, if correctly timed, have revealed an elegant deal-and-oak staircase curving up towards the right of the front door. Sometimes, indeed, passing by after dark, it was possible to gaze upwards, usually more by accident than design, and to be astonished once again at what the chance illumination revealed inside that front first-floor room — elaborate cornices, surfaces painted with scenes of various sorts — a fleeting impression of gilt, brightness and even grandeur reclaimed from the slushing tides of ambient, could-be-anywhere ordinariness lapping about our city.
Soon after lunchtime last Friday, however, a fire seems to have started somewhere within the air-conditioning system of No. 76 Dean Street. By the time dusk fell, the roof had collapsed. Continue reading
When I find myself actually lingering amidst the garish neon colours and pumping Japanese techno-pop in the Oxford Street Uniqlo, whence I’d repaired to buy yet more summer-type T-shirts, just to enjoy another minute or two of air-conditioning, there can be only one explanation: Soho, like much of the rest of Britain, is in the grip of a heatwave. London’s peerless parks come into their own at moments like this, together with — as we have seen — the reliable air-conditioning systems of downmarket clothes emporia, cold showers, iced coffee, torpor and idleness.Since, however, weather on the wrong side of 30 degrees celsius is not exactly conducive to labouring over a hot MacBook Pro for any longer than entirely necessary, by way of intellectual exertions, the following observation will, I’m afraid, have to do. For anything else, it really is just too darned hot.
First, bless Marc Sidwell, whose excellent The Arts Council: Managed to Death, summarised in this Standpoint piece, appeared yesterday. Sidwell wishes to abolish the national Arts Council. While he may not have been the first to try to bring the curtain down on an organisation which, in the course of its 63-year history, has only become more vexatiously managerial, more socially instrumental in its motivation and more profligate in its deployment of taxpayers’ money, rarely can the case have been made so calmly, clearly and near-unarguably. If Sidwell seems to retain, for instance, a little more faith in the efficacy of the DCMS than I do, the sheer reasonableness of his message makes it all the harder to dismiss. Present at the launch of this well-produced and information-packed report was Nick Starr from the National Theatre, an earnest and likeable soul who struggled to explain why the Arts Council somehow needs to know the sexuality of its grant recipients whilst at the same time obviously not using the information to make funding decisions — just collecting data as an end in itself, presumably, as if that were somehow better. Also present was Ed Vaizey MP, Shadow Minister for Culture — typically urbane, jovial and who said absolutely nothing that couldn’t have been said just as plausibly by his Labour counterpart. All of which was, incidentally, just a little bit rather disappointing, as at a time when public expenditure is surely due to come under increasingly rigorous scrutiny, the sort of well-thought-out reforms advocated by Sidwell read less as tinkering for the sake of it, let alone as free market fundamentalism, than as a graceful response to fiscal necessity. In any event, consider Sidwell’s report very highly recommended. Continue reading