When I was a boy in the early 1980s the most thrilling place on earth was the local shopping centre car park.
Picture me, all agog in the back seat as my father fearlessly pilots our Ford Cortina into a mind-bending maze of grey concrete, up through weird spiralling tunnels and geometric caves which become darker and danker the higher we go, giving the curious sensation of ascending into a pit. This place is from the future, yet it is decaying. Litter rustles in cold corners. Stalactites drip from ledges. Damp oozes from the concrete’s very pores. And then suddenly we emerge into a sunlit Dan Dare roofscape of giant corkscrew-shaped ramps, cubist columns and obscurely hostile watchtowers.
This was the Tricorn Centre, Portsmouth. I was much puzzled by it. Why was it so disorienting, so ungraspable in its geography? Why was it so jarringly different from all the other places I was taken to? It frightened and fascinated me. But it never occurred to me to despise it. Only much later did I learn that that was what you were supposed to do, that the Tricorn was the ultimate 1960s Concrete Monstrosity, abhorred by all decent folk and derided by Prince Charles as ‘a mildewed lump of elephant droppings’.
When the city council ordered it to be torn down in 2004 crowds gathered to cheer. But I didn’t, and neither did Jonathan Meades. He said: ‘You don’t go knocking down Stonehenge or Lincoln Cathedral. Buildings like the Tricorn were as good as that. They were great monuments of an age.’ And that is just one among many reasons why I think Meades is the most outrageously interesting writer about British places alive today and possibly ever.
Jonathan Turner Meades (born 1947) is perhaps best known for his television programmes in which he ambles around sheds, dockyards and concrete monstrosities making gnomic, swallowed-a-thesaurus pronouncements while dressed like one of the Blues Brothers. He has somehow managed to make over fift
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