I’d been looking forward to that Friday all week.
I relish a fine end to the week, one when you know you’ve got something really special lined up. Something that gets you out of the studio and right into someone else’s weird world. Something that makes you feel excited. The weekend is almost here and I’m glad to be a designer. What other occupation guarantees a free passage into every boardroom and cupboard – a legitimate spot of “private dancing”? Who has more fun than we do? It’s the perfect occupation for the optimist predisposed to nosiness.
This weekend I’m to hunt down pieces suitable for an exhibition on the 20th century. I get out of bed the moment I wake up, get knickers from the pile of clean washing in the living room and treat myself to a view down Ingram Street, exposing Glasgow’s sublime sandstone at its golden best. I get dressed.
I trot around the corner and into the office, drink coffee, check the road map and get the bike. I’m heading into the sunshine and the old airfield at East Fortune – sounds like a crossword clue (lucky to be Oriental (4,7)).
This morning I don’t even mind the boring M8. It’s so early I’m not even hungry, just pleasantly at one with the world. I smile at the hills and wave at cows in the fields at Harthill.
Edinburgh looks magnificent in its voluptuous, volcanic volubility. I take the South Bypass, then the brown tourist-trail signs to East Fortune and the evocatively named The Museum of Flight.
The last brown sign points to a gap in the hedge. For a moment I think there must be a mistake – the farmyard opposite looks more promising. I go through the gap and down a long and winding driveway. Big Tellytubby rabbits sun themselves. Clouds of midges boil in the air like nature’s demonstration of Brownian Motion. It’s going to be hot.
The last bend widens to show a deserted airfield with purposefully sculpted buildings. Weathered concrete hangars with chalky black corrugated steel doors bake in the heat – containers for old products. I make for the Nissen hut with the old red telephone box and the entrance sign. I park the bike – it looks a bit silly teetering on the edge of such a vast expanse of concrete.
The hut opens into a corridor which takes me into a big white hangar which is flooded with sunlight. I meet Adam, who leads me outside and across the grass towards the biggest hangar, an ugly composition of blunt-angled concrete and efflorescence. The huge door screams in its tracks as he pulls it aside. The interior is dull. The floor is immaculately coated in glossy grey linoleum paint.
Vast nuclear missiles are constrained in little wooden pens only 15cm high. They have neat little captions. I’m introduced to Blue Steel and Polaris, which have retired from duty after bullying the world since the last war.
Somehow I expected more. Blue Steel is gloss white with tiny red decals, aircraft-style rivets and blunt fins. It’s everyone’s image of the perfect missile – long and sleek, like a finely-toned muscle. Mathematically perfect entasis swells and tapers along its length, making it feel intelligent and purposeful. The great white shark ends in the pointiest of noses. A tiny aerial, like the mast at the top of the Empire State Building, is tagged in yellow and black tape, warning us against a poke in the eye. Only the lumbering blue bogeys which support its massive weight come close to disclosing the gravity of this single-minded product.
I wonder at the size of the plane that must have carried Blue Steel, suspended from its undercarriage like a beautiful and deadly accessory. I wonder who designed it.
By comparison, Polaris, the North Star, the lodestar, is no beauty. It’s a fat barrel of uniform length with a rounded nose cone that would look more at home on a train than a plane. Polaris was designed to be used as a practical weapon, not viewed as a beautiful deterrent. The missile is shown in sections, revealing the lumpy human engineering, more Wallace and Gromit than Space Programme. Polaris is more crudely functional than Blue Steel. It betrays human fallibility, fashioned by flesh and blood and not alien technology. Its huge undercarriage, supported on steel rails, has gouged deep scars in the concrete floor. Polaris is the heavyweight, its fuel tank filled with concrete prior to decommissioning and display.
I am glad to walk back out into the sunshine and the world of beer, pals and Friday night. Both missiles are too heavy to use in my project. I’ll have to find something else with which to cast a shadow over the exhibition.