What to say about the Shard that isn’t said by the fact it is 1,020 feet high and looks like a slightly elongated cheese triangle, and that it is designed as a home and office for those who want nothing more than to live and work in a building that looks like a slightly elongated cheese triangle? I cannot help but think that its architect, who is called Renzo Piano, is a fan of — or possibly secret PR for — Dairylea and was also a very unhappy small boy. (Freud may be over-quoted on the soothing possibilities of size, but he is still right. Small becomes big, and so on, and this baby is so big it is the BIGGEST — I mean tallest — building in the EU. In the EU! Suck on that, Nigel.) It was OK’d by John Prescott when he was Deputy PM, not a man for mirrors, although English Heritage cried tears of baroque dust, and begged him not to do it. Ha! Too late. Poor Southwark sweats under the glinting cheese-wrapper, an immense symbol of how the Germans can’t get us any more because we have the BIGGEST — I mean tallest — building in the EU. In the EU! (Except we don’t. It belongs, inevitably, to Qatar.) I refuse to wheel out Sigmund’s ghost again. We all know what is going on here. The architect knows, the architect’s mother knows, and the six girls from Greenpeace who are climbing the Shard to protest against Shell drilling in the Arctic even as I inspect its Chinese restaurant know. (At least that is their story.) So do the police, waiting, drooling, on the ground.
Because the capacity for human idiocy is infinite, the Shard has become a tourist attraction. People go and look out the window on the 72nd floor, which is called The View From The Shard, a title which makes no sense, being the opposite of what it says it is. ‘The world looks so small,’ they say, ‘and I am so BIG.’ (They say it has 72 ‘habitable’ floors, which makes me wonder if the excess is for the dead.) We are in Hutong, a Chinese restaurant on the 33rd floor; there are two other restaurants here, one called Oblix, which does International Yawn, Fart and Divorce, and one called Aqua Shard, which is that most unlikely thing, ‘Innovative British’. Hutong is very ugly in appearance — at least they have a theme. It is a barn of windows and metal and air; the floors are grey, the walls are brown; it is corporate anywhere, a world of self-hatred and sundered PowerPoint presentations. I don’t want to break a developer’s mind; but it isn’t as charming as the Golden Dragon in Gerrard Street. We sit by the window, teetering on what you are only allowed to call ‘the breathtaking views’.
And here is London. I cannot describe landscape because landscape doesn’t do anything; landscape is, as the girls from Greenpeace know, the ultimate victim. (At least that is their story.) I do not say, ‘The world looks so small.’ The world is small. I say, ‘Disinter anyone with any responsibility for London planning from 1945 onwards and hang their remains from Tower Bridge.’ Who knew there was so much brown in all the world? Even the Thames is brown; under the sun it looks exhausted, a river played out.
Food! It is, I am afraid, revolting. The chicken salad is frozen, the noodles are thick, greasy, a dead man’s beard; huge lumps of lobster swimming in sauce are terrifying to look at, let alone taste; beef is charred; rice sings with grease. The service is what I call wracked competent, but this is Event Dining at its most empty, and after piling the table with crockery, they lose interest. We rise to ask for the bill; we sink, in a cold, fast lift, to the earth.