No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Recently I made reference to the criticism Simon Leys made of a book by Maria-Antonietta Macchiocchi. He said that the most charitable interpretation that could be put on it was that it was the product of stupidity; any other interpretation must involve outright fraud on the part of the authoress.

I once made use of a rather similar argument myself, in another context and before I knew of Leys’ criticism of Macchiocchi. I had written an article just after NATO had finished bombing Serbia suggesting that its cruise missiles should be turned on the thousands of hideous modern buildings in Great Britain. I was sure that British readers would have their own suggestions as to those that stood most urgently in need of demolition, but I suggested (for a start) certain modern buildings in the otherwise beautiful town of Shrewsbury, constructed no doubt at the behest and with the connivance of corrupt town councillors.

The latter, or some of them, were outraged, and I was asked to appear on the local radio with one of them.

“Are you saying that Shrewsbury town councillors are corrupt?” he asked.

“Don’t you understand,” I said (though I may at this distance in time be paraphrasing), “that that is the charitable interpretation? We all like money, so we can all understand if the council allowed these buildings for money. But if it were for some other reason… No, no, I can’t think as badly of you as that.”

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Another suitable target for demolition that I suggested in my little article, the Giffard Hotel in Worcester, should really have been called the Elena Ceausescu Hotel. This single building managed to ruin an entire city once and for all; an 18th-century terrace of houses in the vicinity of the ancient cathedral was pulled down to make way for a large, gray, concrete rectangular slab that would not have been out of place in the suburbs of Moscow. (Someone I knew rescued the wainscoting of the demolished houses, which otherwise would have been merely thrown away.)

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