Magazine article The Spectator

Defending a Carefee Extravagance

Magazine article The Spectator

Defending a Carefee Extravagance

Article excerpt

Why do we hate the Dome? What went wrong? If ever there was a project that deserved our praise and admiration it was Tiddlywink-upon-Thames. On paper it looked so promising: the young would applaud its vitality, the old its respect for history and tradition; educators would pipe hymns to its lofty idealism, eco-warriors would dance around the fires of its environmental zeal. Its mock-Stalinist grandeur would enthuse the Left, and the Right would rejoice at a project that siphoned off a sea of money from the grasping Lottery losers into the deserving hands of bankers and technocrats. From every angle the Big Bad Bulge looked good - so why on the X-ray of public opinion does it always show up as a malignant growth?

The government staged the whole shebang because it felt it ought to. People complain for exactly the same reason. Any fool could think of a better way to spend 758 million. (My priority would be to help eradicate disease by demolishing a few hospitals.) If the Heritage Department is puzzled by all the ill feeling it might bear in mind something voters never forget: that governments are extortion rackets and extortionists shouldn't throw parties for their prey and expect them to be grateful.

No one foresaw the intensity of Domophobia. It transcends all boundaries of class, politics and region. Those, like me, who admire the carefree extravagance of the Billion Quid Pimple find ourselves members of a persecuted sect banished to the fringes of society. We cower and skulk. We breathe our praises in whispers. At dinner parties, sensing a sympathiser across the table, we tap covert messages of encouragement in Morse Code with a spoon and a muffled hock glass. To blurt out 'I think the Dome will be a big success' is social suicide. I've tried. I always get the same reaction. As the baffled guffaws subside my charming hostess shimmies into the guest-room to plump the pillows and mix me a treble vodka and Mogadon. It's like saying, `Isn't Tony doing a good job!' or `Goodness, how the tabloids hound poor Myra!'

The Tiddlywink has had it tough. Was the masterful bad-publicity campaign designed to lower our expectations so that when the Dome finally opens its doors (lifts its lid? cracks its shell? bursts?) we would be all the more deeply gobsmacked? The building itself is a puzzle. The elegance and symmetry of the blueprint somehow fail to translate into three dimensions. It rather squats on the riverbank. From elevated positions it's superb but less so at ground level - a cat's cradle atop a tumescent peppermint. On overcast days the sink-white awning already looks grubby, as if in need of a wipe-down with Jif Lemon or even, dare I say it, a squirt of Domestos. The spindly insect legs supporting the roof make it look outlandish from certain angles - a congregation of praying mantises stuck in a gob of discarded chewing-gum. After dark it's a different matter. Like an airport or an olympic stadium the Dome is built for the night. Get a view of it when the ultramarine lights are throwing their beams into the gloom and it commands the eye like a restless volcano glimmering across an inland sea.

Happily the Millennium Commission is fighting back. I popped down to Time's Birthing Blanket in south-east London where they've laid on a pre-llennium display full of websites and data-tainment, video-musements and fact-u-mentaries. In the space of a few short attention spans I curve-learned everything I needed to know about the Dome. Guess what? It's jolly big. There's enough room inside for two Notre Dames, a handful of hockey pitches, a Great Pyramid, Surbiton Lido, the Tardis, Didcot Power Station and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. …

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