Blasts from the past

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It is always an odd moment when you see someone you know on television, but it’s odder still when it happens twice in one evening.

I had the strange experience last night of seeing someone from my past on television not once, but twice.

The second time was more pleasurable. An old acquaintance from college was on the Beeb, being quoted as a wildlife expert. This should come as no surprise, because when I knew him, he was studying veterinary science at the Royal Veterinary College. 

‘Sainsbury," I thought. "I used to know someone called Sainsbury…" 

Well, how dumb can you get? Tony, as was (now Dr Anthony, evidently) was indeed of the Sainsbury clan, though apparently at some distance, and he was the best friend of the boy I lost my virginity to at college (also a vet). 

Boy, was that whole episode a disaster?  After not being allowed a boyfriend while I was at school, and striking out completely in my first year at college, partly due to a room-mate who was a total man-magnet (I might as well have been invisible in comparison), at the end of year 1, I fell heavily for C, who was even more screwed up than I was. He was so bombed out on drugs that it took him weeks to actually take my virginity and as soon as he did, he dumped me (while I was sick with glandular fever).

Oh la. Just one of the little lessons life throws at you. At 19, I thought he had broken my heart, but, as Cunegonde says, ‘one does not die of these things’. 

It was nice to see Tony again, who has clearly prospered in his life and career, and this morning I dropped him an email to say Hi. But the earlier appearance of an old acquaintance had left me simply wincing.

This was C (a different C), with whom I was at school, featured as an architect on Grand Designs (a very old programme, but I am in a complete time warp where television is concerned, having only just got British telly back).

Still based in the hideous town of Doncaster, which I did my best to escape from nearly 30 years ago, C came across as the kind of northerner I left the north to avoid. You’d think that having chips on both shoulders might at least result in a personality that’s well balanced, but not in Yorkshire. ‘Who’s this tosser?’ asked the DH, coming into the programme slightly late. There he was, wasting his client’s money, falling out with builders and structural engineers and generally pissing everyone around.

The building was quite nice once it was finished, though, for all that it did look more like an art gallery than a house. 

One thing you notice about modernist buildings, however, is that context is very important. As the presenter pointed out, perched on a cliff edge by the sea, this house might look spectacular with its acres of triple-glazed windows and brilliant white render. But squashed end-on into a tiny plot of land between red-brick 1930s buildings and a petrol station, it looked more as if a spaceship had made a forced landing (let’s face it, no alien would deliberately land in a dump like Doncaster). 

Modernist buildings can be masterpieces of design, but you have to be careful about how they age. The reverse of wabi-sabi, they require a lot of upkeep to remain looking good, as in their pristine-ness lies much of their appeal. Clear glass, white render – these things need to be kept very clean or they simply look shabby.

Better in general, I feel, in buildings as in life, to prepare for the ageing process and make allowances for it so that when it comes, it doesn’t come as an unwelcome surprise. 

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