I was chosen to comment on geriatric lovemaking. I am still pondering on the meaning of this
I miss the Dome. It might have been a waste of shame, but in some respects it was good value. Offering a compelling spectacle of disaster lightened by farce, and buffoonery tempered by pomposity, it happily - if unedifyingly - diverted the nation for three or four years. Of course, anybody running such an ambitious and visible project would have made a lot of mistakes, but the Dome's management made every possible mistake. In this, there was a sort of genius for error. In my brief and inglorious tenure as creative director of the Dome, Peter Mandelson was responsible for every ruinous decision made about the contents. These resulted in shopfitters generating the content of the site. Where we could have had Susan Sontag and Frank Gehry masterminding the Dome, we got people who worked on trade shows. Mandelson was quite incapable of distinguishing quantity of activity (a lot) from quality of activity (very low) - a lack of judgement that has taken different forms over the years. For a while, I thought the Dome should stay and be relaunched as a Museum of Mediocrity, but even holders of a GCSE in property development know that the site is worth much more without the Millennium Tent, whatever is in it. That assumption, I imagine, lies somewhere behind every proposal for its reuse.
One of my many problems is that, as I disdain films and television, I would not recognise a celebrity if he or she came up and hit me with a quarter-bottle of Moet, but I think there were lots there at the launch party for In Style, AOL-Time Warner's new magazine about celebrities, which is selling millions in the US already. The room was full of goateed, shaven-headed, slicked and gelled strivers, all in regulation soot-deposit black, a sort of uniform communisme de luxe. I was wearing a sand-coloured corduroy suit and the sense of liberation and singularity was exhilarating. I make no forecasts, but let me tell you: beige gives you stand-out credentials in a carbon-party world.
This quantity-quality thing is a feature of contemporary debate, a symptom of a culture embarrassed about standards. Take the question of speed limits. Since any impact above, say, 15mph is potentially life-threatening, there is a lot of sophistry around. Goodness only knows, we need more decorum and civility on the roads, not less, but speed is an imperfect measure. I have been driven (in Germany) at over 150mph for hours on end in security and comfort. On the other hand, the most dangerous car journey I have ever experienced was teaching a nanny to drive a Fiat Panda along the Albert Embankment. At speeds that never exceeded 20mph, I was forced to scream involuntarily on more than one occasion and, clammy and hyperventilating, to abandon the exercise. Dangerous driving occurs at all speeds, as any visitor to Eastbourne knows.
The great thing about Terence Conran is that, only lightly touched by formal education, he has always been able to make business decisions based on passionate conviction and a good eye, unencumbered by any excess of learning or weaselly academic scruples. So it was surprising to find him entering the quantity-quality debate with his Stakhanovite letter to the Times about university teaching. OK, things could be tightened up a bit (I have an economist friend who seems to teach four hours a year and spends the rest of his time trading commodities and looking at a deer park). Equally, students, as I recall, do tend to hang about rather a lot. But there is something infinitely precious about the freedom to explore ideas and people in a three-year suspension from the dire reality of ISAs. And the liberality that goes with an old-fashioned education and unworldly work practices has its advantages, too. Conran and I were, funnily enough, each beneficiaries of this: 20 years ago, I exploited the unworldly work practices of the university that employed me so I could cheerfully moonlight on Conran's behalf, setting up the V&A's successful Boilerhouse Project (and the Design Museum that arose from it). This would have been tricky had I been teaching 60-hour weeks, four terms a year.
It is half-term, so more time with the family. My son is at a London day school and uses the opportunity to catch up with prep-school friends who are now boarders. His own school is fee-paying, but has an admirably tough, urban grammar feel to it. None the less, he has turned out a model of refinement, sort of. Yesterday, after a rollerblading session in the City of London, whose steps and expressive architectural features are a favourite venue for deadly manoeuvres where yoof threatens the bankers it will one day become, he cheerfully returned home with "fuck" felt-tipped in garish green majuscules on his forearm. This miracle of calligraphic wit was the work of a boy from Marlborough - the public school in Wiltshire. I mention this with no comment, except to say it has never happened in south London.
I have written for lots of papers, but rarely for the Times, so I was pleased to find a message asking me to call about an article. It turned out that I had been identified as an appropriate commentator on geriatric lovemaking to do a follow-up after a reported erotic incident in a sunset home. Anyway, I was too late and was told: "We've asked Peregrine Worsthorne instead." Writing as a beige-clad, ex-whizz-kid, ex-design guru, I am still pondering the meaning of this.