I love the Shard.
Yes, the opening ceremony last night was more than a bit underwhelming – resembling nothing more than an 8-year-old Sauron playing with a laser pen – but the building itself is magnificent.
Just look at it. This is arguably the most ambitious and radical building London has put up since Parliament was rebuilt in the 19th century. It is bold, sleek and a remarkable technical achievement all in one building.
As well as its external appearance, there is the mind-boggling scale of the experience it offers those inside. It is so tall that it will provide London’s first ever sea view. That’s remarkable, an achievement which reconnects us with the unlimited engineering dreams of the Victorians.
The Shard is also a confirmation of our welcome return to sane modernity. The 1960s and 1970s saw architecture kidnapped, locked in an abandoned warehouse and ritually tortured by a clique who were convinced that being modern meant knocking down beautiful historic buildings and replacing them with ugly, brooding concrete boxes. The Shard is a stake through the heart of architectural nosferatu like Euston station.
There will always be criticism – happily, we live in a populous and opinionated society, where all have access to digital loudhailers, so that is inevitable. Tastes differ, but there is genuine absurdity in the cult which seems to have developed around the design of St Paul’s cathedral.
For some, it seems, no large building is acceptable in London unless it is St Paul’s, or a carbon copy thereof.
The Guardian glowered that it can be seen “towering over St Paul’s” in a picture that implied they are next door to each other, rather on different sides of the Thames.
The Telegraph’s normally excellent Ed West similarly objected that from Parliament Hill, the Shard can be seen “dwarfing St Paul’s”.
It is as though some imagine St Paul’s as a great, stone censor, Mary Whitehouse carved in Portland stone, tut-tutting about anything that might offend her stately sensibilities.
This is wrong-headed: St Paul’s itself was, in its day, a radical departure from the norm. Nothing of its sort had ever been built in England before, and it shocked and repulsed many contemporary observers. In that sense, the Shard is a descendant of St Paul’s, not its usurper.
Wren himself had to battle for years to be able to go ahead with his revolutionary new building, fighting against those who said the new cathedral should be exactly the same as the buildings that had gone before. Thank goodness that he stuck with it and prevailed – and thank goodness those building the Shard did the same 300 years later.
For those of you in London – or in striking distance of London – who have a taste for political cartoons and an enthusiasm for free speech, there’s an event to look out for taking place next week.
Index on Censorship – one of the UK’s most established pressure groups, which campaigns for free expression – is having an auction of original cartoons by Martin Rowson. As well as being a good event, it’s in support of the most fundamental cause: free speech. I’m planning to attend to support Index’s work, and I’d urge others to do so, too.
Freedom of expression – along with property rights – underpins our other freedoms. Without it, freedom struggles to exist even in private.
The hatred between the Guardian and the Murdochs is a thing of legend, but I hadn’t realised until today quite how far back it goes. Via the ever-excellent Willard Foxton, I came across an intriguing article which incidentally sheds a bit of light on the history of the titanic struggle between the two.
The piece recounts the story of how Rupert Murdoch’s father Keith Murdoch, sent as a war correspondent to cover the disastrous Gallipoli campaign against Turkey in 1915, attempted to expose the military failings which were feeding thousands of British, Australian and Kiwi soldiers into a meatgrinder in the Dardanelles. His and other journalists’ reports were heavily censored by the military authorities on the ground, and eventually Murdoch decided to smuggle a letter to Prime Minister Asquith to bring the mess to light.
(It’s worth noting at this point that the normally excellent Willard Foxton referenced this story on the Huffington Post as an instance of the Murdochs “doing damage to the allied cause in WW1″, whereas I’d personally view it as an example of a journalist doing what they should – investigate and expose serious issues in the public interest, but we’ll have to agree to disagree on that.)
The bit that caught my eye was what happened to Murdoch while he was trying to smuggle the letter back to Britain:
He got as far as Marseilles, but there was detained by a British officer with an escort and warned that he would be kept in custody until he handed over the letter. He had been betrayed…by H. W. Nevinson, the correspondent for the Guardian.
And 96 years later, here we are again, watching the Guardian and a Murdoch kick lumps out of each other. I can’t imagine after this week’s events that there’s any chance that peace will be declared in the next 96 years, either.
Chris Jefferies may have committed the murder of Joanna Yeates – but as one of the fundamental principles of our legal system reminds us, he is innocent until proven guilty. It’s become a tradition in these cases for the media to indulge in heavy handed, nudge-nudge wink-wink implication when reporting the arrest of someone even before any charges have been brought.
Recall the case of the Ipswich Ripper, who murdered five women in 2006. The case is still notorious, but most of us have forgotten about Tom Stephens, the innocent but extremely odd man arrested wrongly for the crime spree. As soon as his name was revealed, numerous outlets started heaping increasingly peculiar implications on him – normally using anonymous comments from neighbours an acquaintances.
The most bizarre of these, which I remember made me laugh out loud at the time, was that he had been “digging in his garden with a small trowel“.
The smear was that if he was digging, he must have been burying something (or someone). In reality, of course, if digging ones garden with a small trowel was a crime then millions would be detained every Sunday afternoon and the panellists of Gardeners’ Question Time are veritable Moriartys.
The same is happening to Chris Jefferies. I am not attempting to go on some crusade to clear his name – for all I know, he may well be guilty. The police may know more that persuades them of this. What is certain is that the media do not, but are engaging in trial-by-tittle-tattle all the same.
Here are a choice selection of some of the reports about Jefferies so far, including some recognisable classics of the genre and some really weird ones:
“Oddball” – Almost all newspapers
“The way he pronounced words and said his sentences was also weird”…”The things he taught us were really odd, he loved old English poetry.” – Small World News Service [NB it’s not that odd to like old poetry…when you’re an English teacher]
“Campaigned for gun range and prayer books” – Daily Mail
“A loner” – Almost all newspapers
“very posh, a solitary figure and very cultured” – The Sun
“An only child who has never married” – Daily Mail
If you spot any other corkers, put them in the comments and we can build up a full innuendo collection.