On the beach
In autumn 1993, when I was a restaurateur able to take a four-month winter break, I went to London to buy currency for an imminent trip to the south Pacific. I’d planned also to see Rachel Whiteread’s House, a former Victorian terrace house in London’s East End that she had stripped away from the concrete core she had cast within it. It was nominated for the Tate Gallery’s (as it then was) Turner prize, but I needed only to have heard of the idea to want to see it: it sounded wonderful. There were problems on the underground, and the streets were thick with traffic. A taxi-driver told me he’d never be able to get out to Bow and back in time for me to catch my train, and I went home without seeing the textured grey monolith. When I got back to England the next spring, House was gone: demolished by the council as the only way it could engage in what had become a great public debate. And House had won the Turner prize. In autumn 2006, I was reminded of House when I heard that a second large public art work, Antony Gormley’s Another Place on the beach at Crosby, north of Liverpool, was about to be removed – by its council. Brought in, it seemed, more for reasons of politics than art – words like regeneration, jobs, training and international profile were being banded about – the politicians had decided it had to go. The hundred life-size iron figures were a “blot on the landscape and a permanent drain on Sefton’s purse”, said one councillor. They were of course saved, and the beach has become a popular attraction. But on October 24, they were going to be uprooted. I wanted to see them. It turned out that Nicky had been thinking exactly the same thing, so that morning we got in the car and drove to Crosby, three hours each way. We had a wonderful, escape of a day, walking around the rusty figures in the sun and wind as the tide went right out and started to return. The next day we learned that, even as we looked up into the blank, seaward-staring faces of Gormley’s body casts, the council had allowed an appeal for Another Place to stay. And at the end of that week, our daughter was born.