United by our divisions

Current political interest in design raises the issue of a unified voice for the industry. Janice Kirkpatrick dons her sneakers and takes a costly trip around the ‘one nation’.

It’s interesting that designers are meeting with other designers and politicians and doing the “one industry body to speak with one voice” thing, rather than the forked-tongue of ages past.

I only hope we’re speaking to neighbouring camps as well as among our own. We’ve now got a real opportunity to talk to the architects and involve the whole creative community in re-launching HMS Blighty. As issues of fee-structuring come to the forefront we should learn from the experience of the architects. So come on Design Council, keep up the great work and take a lead in knocking on the door of the Arts Council, the RIAS and RIBA and, oh, has anyone contacted Scottish Design?

If we’re talking in one voice it would be good to talk as one country and make sure we represent the (maybe soon-to-be devolved) bits. If Wales and Scotland achieve the right to limited self-government, especially over issues of cultural policy which include art, design and architecture, then surely we should influence them positively from the outset and make sure they are actively encouraged to participate in all discussions? If the Blair Government can make a difference in 100 days, how much greater a difference could we make through influencing brand new administrations from the outset?

While we are on the subject of forming national working parties to negotiate UK-wide creative issues, we should make sure that all activities aren’t centred in London or England. I know most of you are down there, but spare a thought for us up North or out West – Helen, our accountant, is a thrifty bugger and it’s difficult for me to justify 200 and half a day off work just for one evening meeting in London.

Maybe if we lobby Tony Blair hard enough he’ll do something positive about the disgraceful cost of travelling around the UK which is the biggest single obstacle to developing new business at home. Anyone would think that the privatisation of public transport had been deliberately designed to prevent people getting together and doing business – who needs Hadrian’s Wall when we have rail and air fares costing more than a week’s wages for a return flight to deepest Middlesex.

If you think that’s rather a lot of cash, then spare a thought for the poor designers who work in Aberdeen, the UK’s oil capital and one of Britain’s great economic success stories. It takes me nearly three hours to drive there from Glasgow and flying’s out of the question as it’s even more expensive than getting to London or New York.

I had an interesting evening tour of Aberdeen nightlife a couple of weeks ago, strictly for research purposes. We covered the length of Scotland in perfect sunshine to enter a veil of sea fog two murky miles outside of the Granite City. The temperature dropped 6 degrees in as many minutes. It was difficult to discern grey architecture from great banks of swirling grey fog. We checked in to our hotel, donned our club clothes and stepped out into the gathering darkness.

The changing from grey day to night was marked by a heaving deluge of under-thirties who really dress-up to go out. I’m sure they were vampires because they kept biting each other and there was a complete absence of older people who had doubtless been prayed upon by the insatiable youths.

Stepford slappers wearing long Lycra dresses laughed and writhed at the passing hoards of short-haired, muscular lads in self-coloured shirts. Bars and clubs with similar listings to Leeds and Manchester spewed thousands of teeming party-goers into the heaving streets. Some of the bars were typical of any city, any place. Others – with familiar names like Paramount and Ministry – were more special, in restored churches and listed buildings with spaces more reminiscent of Barcelona than Brighton.

Aberdeen at the weekend is Party City and we had the best curry. Ever. With the usual show of originality, our lads voted to go back to Aberdeen soon, before all the university students came back to claim their stake or whatever. I think I’ll stick to Glasgow. For the first time in years I got knocked back – and knocked back from almost every bar in Aberdeen. This was because I was wearing “trainers”, which were actually up-market skateboard sneakers, and the very same shoes that got me into 10 Downing Street the week before without the slightest raise of an eyebrow. However, on reflection they did smell a bit strong and could have been mistaken for garlic.

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