Saturday, 1 November 2014

Be Sure to Have a Plan 'B'


The other evening I attended a talk on 'masterplanning' organised by the Manchester Modernist Society (that's Modernist as in architecture). It provoked in me feelings of both admiration and disappointment; admiration at the vision of the master-planners and disappointment at the mangled outcome of their ideas. The grand designs they proposed for post-war development of the university campus and its integration into the surrounding community, presented in colourful drawings and meticulous cardboard models, had been retrieved from the archives and were presented on a giant screen. I marvelled at their ambition.
Hopeful vision was not in short supply during the post-war rebuilding of Britain but those were difficult times: the economy and the built environment both had been severely damaged. Furthermore, the inner-city site earmarked for this particular development was already populated by a mix of buildings - academic, industrial and residential - some new, some old and some derelict. I can see why piecemeal progress was inevitable under such circumstances. In the event, one masterplan succeeded another until individual vision became diluted. And all the while building designs were compromised by budget cuts and planning restrictions. Today, with masterplanning in mind, a walk through the campus becomes an archaeological exploration in search of those elements of the plan(s) which were realised. I lament the unfulfilled utopian visions of the planners and am disappointed by the compromised outcome.
But disappointment is a hazard we face daily - and here's one I should have seen coming: a film called Fury. I had been seduced by the trailer into believing this might be an exciting tale of WWII derring-do but the reality was just an updated version of the same old Hollywood clich├ęs. The next day I fared better with the British film Pride, based on the true story of a group of lesbians and gays who, despite having their own struggles with the establishment, formed themselves into a group to raise money to support the miners during the epic strike of 1984-5. Pride is as British in its conceit as Fury is American - and the cost of its production must have been about the same as the budget for refreshments on the set of Fury. But the one thing the two films do have in common is their single-word titles, neither of which I find either intriguing or sufficiently descriptive of the respective stories. And whilst Fury might be a more appealing title than Brad Pitt Wins the War Single-Handed and Helmetless, it is less honest than, say, Tanks Ahoy!  As for Pride, I would have preferred the esoteric LGSM (Lesbian & Gays Support the Miners).
But the week has not been all about cinemas and lecture theatres: there have been pressing concerns, one of which was the need to do something about my over-grown sansevieria (a houseplant better known by the more descriptive vernacular, 'mother-in-law's tongue', because of its sharp-edged leaves). This, and the fact that the broadband dongle which I managed to get working - despite Vodafone's best efforts to deflect my phone calls - has now ceased to work, may be reasons why I didn't sleep well on Tuesday night.  It's well known that anxieties - however minor - become magnified during the troubled hours of sleeplessness. But which came first: anxiety or sleeplessness? And why is it that sleep, a function so essential to our well-being, can be so elusive at times?
The following morning everything fell back into perspective: a trip to a garden centre (is there no better word to describe a place than 'centre'?) resolved the sansevieria issue; and as for Vodafone, I resolved to approach the task of calling in a calm but doggedly determined manner (after I had taken a nap). So far this has produced no result but I remain philosophical: life is apparently oblivious to masterplans.

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