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working at canary wharf

From:     blp
Category: Life
Date:     26 November 2007
Time:     04:55 PM


Someone told me the artist Pablo Bronstein actually likes all this eighties neo-classicism, and
references it in his work because of this, not to be critical or ironic. I guess it could be a
generational thing, like a sentimental attachment to wedge mullets or Howard Jones. I'm probably
being unfair, but it's the only way I can explain it to myself. Canary Wharf is a great dead lump of
a case study on the British hatred of modernity. I know this isn't news to anyone, but still,
nothing quite prepares you for the bland coloured marble everywhere. It's like the whole place has
been done out in various shades of sick. There are also a lot of those strange portholes to nothing
that turned up so much in the eighties, usually punched through some glibly geometricised triumphal
arch, generally with a funny pitched roof hat sitting on it. Elsewhere, plastic and paste but
otherwise faithful versions of older forms cover steel-framed buildings like wedding cake icing.
Elevators and lavatory cubicles are done out in wood panelling like club rooms. None of it is
attractive, the basic linear qualities of old are there, somehow utterly drained, perhaps by mass
production techniques, of whatever made old so comforting. It's weird. Occasionally you get a bit of
straight up steel and glass and it just seems so obvious it's better, but what do I know. 

At lunchtime I went into the shopping arcade under Canary Wharf DLR Station. It's genuinely like an
anthill, almost everyone in grey or black or both, great swarms of them moving at a terrific speed,
going into Gap and taking seven minutely different pairs of grey trousers into the changing rooms at
once. There were two Prets, both necessary and, in fact, inadequate to meet demand. I heard an
employee from the other one asking an employee from the one I was in whether she had various things
that they'd run out of: 'Any no bread humous sandwiches?' 'No?' 'Any egg mayo sandwiches?' 'No.'
There were no affirmatives. TS Eliot's Wasteland crib from Dante, 'I had not thought death had
undone so many', used to describe commuters on London Bridge, looks even truer here, though the
snobbery of it suddenly sat wrong with me. Because I was one of them? Well, sort of. At least my
outfit had some colour in it. But what are their lives like, these people in their grey and black
clothes, poor lambs? 

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