I remember my moment of disillusion. It was in Berkeley Square. An enormous shiny car came round the corner of Bruton Street pretending to be a Rolls Royce, but instead of the familiar silver Parthenon and its floating goddess its radiator was like the front of an American truck: a bloated travesty of a classic design.
The whole vehicle was gross; engineering grace had given way to gigantism. (I heard to my delight that the makers had to reduce the length of the thing for Hong Kong to avoid it being classed as a lorry).
The same feeling of revulsion hit me again in my favourite London space, the Green Park, the other day when the wraps started to come off the new memorial to Bomber Command. It looks as though someone was using someone else’s credit card in the
Haddonstone catalogue: a hundred yards or so of pseudo-classical columns supporting a useless architrave. In the centre will be a bronze group of the heroes it celebrates. Apart from the question of waiting 60 years to mark a tragic victory over a country now an ally, why do we need the exceptional emphasis of this giant colonnade?
The western gateway to London, Hyde Park Corner (Apsley House was once known as no. 1, London) has become a showroom for ever-bigger memorials. Where once a single statue represented a hero and sufficed for a regiment, we now seem to need a quarter of an acre of masonry. The New Zealand memorial just across the road has sixteen black exclamation marks where one would have been eloquent and dignified. The Commonwealth Memorial Gate awkwardly straddles Constitution Hill with undistinguished masonry, like a pedestrian crossing with an inflated ego. Anywhere in Monument Alley, which now encompasses Park Lane as well, seems fair game for this new branch of the building trade.
You can cite the Albert Memorial, of course, as pretty extravagant. But where are we heading, with the idea that bigger is better? Think of the Mini, and shudder.