The Post Office Tower is talking to me

I ask Razors if he still calls it the Post Office Tower. He looks almost hurt. "Of course I do."

Après nous le déluge, as I keep saying. I am not going to call it the BT Tower. We are the last generation who can remember the old money, what it was like when the Beatles were still together, when there was a left-wing party in power, and when that big phallic building was called the Post Office Tower and you could go up it - and even eat in its revolving restaurant.

I have a dim memory of having done so, with my grandmother, I think; but I fear I will have to wait for extreme old age and the clarity it is said
to bring to childhood memories, before I can remember the occasion in any detail.

But the POT loomed large - ho ho - in my childhood. Even now I find its sheer bulk at its base astonishing: how could something so pencil-thin in
the distance look so imposing when close up? Yes, I know it is a matter of perspective, but for some reason not even the Empire State Building, on the occasions I've been next to it, makes me feel quite so insignificant, or the victim of some weird scalar inversion, like a character in a Will Self story.

I had, for some time, a souvenir model of the tower, with a little plastic ring, representing the restaurant, that you could turn round. For a while,
I became radically unsatisfied with restaurants that did not turn round. The stationary restaurant seemed to me to be like black-and-white television: a maddening refusal to take advantage of the opportunities of technology.

But in the end that technology was turned to our exclusion. The restaurant closed down, ostensibly in response to the IRA menace (er, nine years after they exploded a bomb in the toilets), but I suspect because the spooks in the security services wanted to stuff it up to the eaves with surveillance equipment. (Its closure to the public in 1981 was an almost boringly obvious bit of mean-minded Thatcherism.)

I once went out with a girl from whose bedroom you could plainly see the tower; when I saw it from elsewhere I imagined it as a triangulation point, where our thoughts could meet if we both looked at it at the same time. Frustratingly, the relationship ended before I could present her with this whimsical conceit (there's a Donne-ish poem in there waiting to be prised out, I think).

Rotate modern

But now the POT is talking to me. Or, rather, to anyone looking at it. "856 days to go", it says. As I first noticed this when it was 926 days to go until whatever it is, this has been going on for some time. I imagine it refers to the reopening of the restaurant. Wouldn't it be nice, don't you think, if, when it finally throws open its doors once more, we are presented with the menu in the full splendour of its 1970s heyday - prawn cocktail, Black Forest gateau, the works - and diners are presented with frilly shirts and fat bow ties, should they fail for some reason to turn up looking like Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who or one of his assistants?

Of course, this is assuming that that is what the POT is telling me. It may be 856 days to go until something else. All those microwave satellite dishes on the outside invite the kind of speculation entertained by the clinically paranoid; and there is something unnervingly apocalyptic about the countdown.

It may even be more unsettling than that. I may discover, after the publication of this piece, that the scientists have managed to tailor-make a message for every single person who glances upwards. I am actually being told that I have 856 days to live; but the woman behind me is being told "You left your car keys in your other coat" and the man behind her is being reminded that it is his wedding anniversary in a couple of days' time, and he had better buy a card.

Oh, damn and blast. A quick Wikipedia check tells me the countdown is to the Olympics.

How incredibly tedious. Give us our restaurant back.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.