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A couple of years ago my wife and I went on a holiday to the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia and stumbled upon a house that so unashamedly proclaimed its whimsical good humour to the world at large that it was impossible not to stop and stare… and point… and smile… and take pictures… and generally fulfill every annoying tourist cliché in the book. Decked out from top to toe in a resplendent raspberry and vivid lime green, the place really did emanate its very own wave lengths of positive energy. Seriously, if you’d fiddled around with the dial of a transistor radio in the near vicinity, you’d have been able to have listened to the place humming happy little tunes to itself as it watched the world go by without a care in the world.

And whenever springtime rolls around again… and nature starts throwing a bit of colour about… and the miasmic drabness of a suburban winter finally starts to recede from view – I always find myself thinking back to that raspberry and lime green house with an overwhelming sense of nostalgic benevolence, and a seemingly instinctive desire for a radical injection of humour and vivacity into this woefully utilitarian world we seem to have built for ourselves.

If only the genius behind that resplendent Greek masterpiece were given free reign over the entirety of a modern city! How many dull grey office blocks would be transformed into 3 dimensional cubist masterpieces? How many cement grey subways would be commandeered for the artistic free-play of our alienated youth? How many toxic advertising billboards could be replaced with actual paintings? And I don’t mean the commissioned monstrosities knocked up by the Oxbridge turtleneck brigade for their boyhood friends in local government… or the cold pretentious oddities offered up (with sneering indifference) by your average urban architect hoping to surf his way to fame and notoriety on a wave of controversial reportage – I mean real art, and real city planning, and real building design by real people of the community. Fuck it. Why can’t the old fisherman from number 7 be given somewhere to memorialize the memory of his dead wife in sea shells? Why can’t the kids from the local junior school bedazzle the pavements around the local park with a hundred thousand painted sunflowers? Why can’t we draw smiley faces on the roundabouts… and grow strawberries up the railings of municipal buildings… and have stenciled processions of black and white doves for zebra crossings?

Why so drab?

Why so grey?

Why so serious?

Can there be any cultural crime as heinous as a societies loss of its own sense of humour?

Where in the name of God will we find ourselves if we start taking things too seriously?

Let’s face it – histories back-catalogue of particularly serious societies doesn’t exactly make for comfortable reading…

At the end of Jacques Tati’s seminal cinematic masterpiece “Playtime”, a sterile modernist Paris of glass, and steel, and right-angles is transformed into a giant fairground, where roundabouts become carousels and the world dances happily along to the sound of a circus organ. It was a desperate and brilliant plea for a more human version of reality – and as I endure my morning commute, crawling across the belly of a dead cement giant in my miserable little space-pod, I can’t help thinking that tati’s passionate plea is more relevant today than ever before.

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