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St. Martin’s College of Art and Design – part I

   Working this week at St. Martin’s College of Art and Design, not far from Farringdon tube. Around the corner is the Bourne Estate, a warren-like structure of Victorian brick and great half moon entranceways, with a church in the middle ringing it’s bell on the hour and the Leather Lane market which comes to life at dawn and runs through most of the day.

   My friend X squatted there in the mid-80’s with a guy named Bill who came to hate Canadians (‘fucking Canadian vegetables’) after some Canadian girl dumped him for another Canadian. They had a two room flat and she had to pass through Bill’s room to get to hers and kept chamber pots in her room so she wouldn’t wake him up going to the toilet in the middle of the night – such was squatting in the 80’s. She claimed it was a rough estate and we were wary of some of the local pubs where the estate boys, drunk and disorderly, would smash bottles and get into fights – such too was London in the 80’s when that half hour after last call was the most dangerous time to be out in the city.

   The area is all cleaned up now, totally dominated by that other City – get out at Farringdon Road and all you see are people on their mobiles, striding purposefully ahead with that inward-looking gaze that Londoners on their mobiles get. The Back Hill campus is one of twenty, each with their own specialization. Back Hall is art and drama. The students start pouring in around eight-thirty and reach full capacity by ten-fifteen or so when they come in waves of several dozen, with each arrival of the tube. At reception, we have to check their passes and it is overwhelming when they all start coming in at once. Like art students anywhere, they favour dyed hair, piercings, baggy clothes on the girls and stovepipe jeans for the boys. All those pretty art school girls – fifteen, twenty years ago I would have dated girls just like them – art school girls willing to put up with crazy drunk boys like me. These are the faces of so many of my friends, taken back almost a generation – the naivety and basic optimism showing through the surface cyncism, the carefully maintained air of indifference. Like Ross, the guy I’m working with who is himself an artist, said, these kids dress pretty much like the art school kids did in our day.

   I haven’t made it anywhere upstairs, but apparently the rooms are in pretty bad shape – leaks, plaster falling from the celing, cracks in the walls. The college bosses are saving their pennies for the big new campus building at King’s Cross – like so much else in London, St. Martin’s is looking forward to 2012. In the meantime, the college rests on it’s reputation and brings in the foreign students, particularly Asians, who pay big money to study at the infamous St. Martin’s, while the school lets it’s campus fall to pieces and is looking to get rid of all it’s permanent and even contract staff and outsource the whole damn thing. Yet even at a glance, I can see how badly the place is run. No one tells anyone anything, and morale is low yet when the maintenance crew show up to take care of the voluminous repairs, they end up spending all their time in the crew room asleep or watching TV because no one is around to show them what to do and they aren’t allowed to do anything on their own.

   I don’t mind it, I guess, at least for a week or two. No one tells me anything so when people come up to the enquiries desk I have no idea what to tell them. I don’t like the way some students barge through without showing their passes because no one has bothered to check them, while others have to search through their bags and find their passes and even hang around the admin desk and pay five pounds because they’d been honest enough to admit they’ve lost theirs. I don’t like the absence of standards, which puts all the responsibility on beleagured temps like me.