You know how it is sometimes. Something happens to you and, in some strange and usually unexpected way, the years fall away and you’re transported back to a time in your past – childhood, often – and a memory, untroubled for decades, comes bubbling up to the surface.
And these Proustian moments, calling up as they do memories of temps perdu (no sniggering at the back please, this is the Department for Culture after all) come in all shapes and sizes. It might be a photograph, or a long-forgotten piece of music or even a smell – but whatever it is, it takes you back in a way that can only be described as magical.
And I had just such a moment on Tuesday as I ascended the rattling escalator at St John’s Wood on the Jubilee line for a photo-call to mark my decision to ‘list’ the station, along with 15 others on the London Underground system. Because that 30 second escalator ride hauled up a whole net full of memories of going to watch England in Test Matches at Lords. Emerging from the gloom of the platforms and gliding up past the bronze lamps on either side of the staircase, into the dazzling light of NW8 was – and remains – part of the ritual woven around a day’s joy (and sometimes misery) watching England play cricket. Indeed, the photo-call in question took place just hours after England had won the Test against India on that very ground and, all things being equal, most of the thousands who turned up for ‘People’s Monday’ to see it all happen clutched the same escalator handrail as they arrived, as so many millions have done in the past.
Evidence and expert opinion
And that – in one way, at least – is heritage for you. Shared experience tied to a particular place. But that’s not a good enough reason for listing something and, in effect, placing a responsibility on the owner to behave in a particular way. No, listing requires evidence and expert opinion rather than sentiment and the Proustian stuff I was on about 300 words ago. In the case of St John’s Wood, it’s the intactness of so many of the original features and the rarity of some of the others, but I’m pleased to see the memories getting a bit of extra protection into the bargain.
Oh, and while I think of it, here’s the answer to the puzzle I set you all in the last blog. The only London Underground station that has a name, none of the letters of which appear in the word MACKEREL is . . . St John’s Wood. It’s reassuring that when said blog appeared, it was swiftly reported in the online editions of Building Design and Architects Journal and, within minutes, a reader had solved it. Other readers offered other comments, not all of which were insulting. So to those who liked what I had to say about architecture and design – and why it mattered that standards remained high, even when budgets were tight – many thanks. And to those who took a less, shall we say, supportive stance, thanks as well. And to everyone who enjoys commenting on what we at DCMS get up to, and seeing those comments immortalised in the granite-like permanence of the internet, why not do so on our new departmental Facebook page?
And finally, you may have read a story in The Sun a few days ago about extravagant spending and eccentric procurement practices by Government departments. The headline ‘Wasters of Whitehall – we expose spending madness’ captures the general flavour of it. The paper reported that ‘Culture, Media and Sport officials fork out the most (in Whitehall) on A4 paper, buying it for £13.45 a box (while) the MoD get their paper for just £7.70.’ Now since ‘Accountability and Transparency’ is one of the things that I’m responsible for here at the department, and since government efficiency and value-for-money are things we should all be keeping an eye on, I thought I’d try to find out whether we really were home to these ‘Wasters of etc’.
It turns out that the truth is rather less exciting. Yes, the DCMS did pay silly money for its photo-copying paper at one point but that came to an end last year. So it was renegotiated with effect from July 2010 and from that point on the department started buying unbleached paper, with a saving-per-box of more than 30 per cent. And it was not at all by coincidence, that the Secretary of State at the time introduced a policy of sending all correspondence, internal and external, by email rather than on paper, thus tearing a further lump out of the paper budget.
Now let me see. I’m pretty sure something else happened during the first half of last year. What was it . . ? And who was the Secretary of State when all this happened, and who introduced the move to paper-free working . . ? Answers (by email, please) to…..
Images by Fotoos on Flickr. Some rights reserved.