Project Manager at the gates of dawn
January 20 2016
It is too cold to swim in the Lido so I’m early for the 9.30 meeting at our Project Managers’ office on Tottenham Court Road. For someone who is congenitally late, being early is bewildering. What do you do? I begin to add up a total of Everyone I Have Ever Been Late For, as if half-an-hour in this atrium will begin to pay off a debt to society. At the point I reach the New York Museum Director who jumped to his feet in the Greenwich Village restaurant and exclaimed ‘It’s been an ho-ur!’ (ouch) I give up.
Outside the sky is so frosty, so pure, that it is like a white gauze shimmering over the city. The light is so white that architectural details never noticed glint on your eye. In the gable of the pub on the opposite side of the road, The Rising Sun, is a figure of God Pan: goats-legs crossed, malevolent face leering at the workers in the street below. Why Pan, here?
In the 18th-century you would see statues in gardens which re-imagined classical Arcadia, the land of ancient Greece where the God of wildness, mischief, and creation was first worshipped. Benjamin Hyett dedicated the garden he made at Painswick, Gloucestershire, to Pan, and each spring – for he is also the God of fertility – led a raucous, tumbling procession in his honour.
‘1897’ is carved into Pan’s niche. The pub was built in a decade in which Pan was revived as an anarchic cult of art and literature: to Aubrey Beardsley, for example, he was ‘the repudiation of authority’. Pan was the reaction to bureaucracy and machines, numbers and systems, and a city making itself impervious to the weather.
The most famous glimpse of Pan is in ‘The Wind in the Willows’ when he is discovered on an island in the Thames, playing his flute in the naked sun. It’s a chapter entitled 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn', often abridged in modern versions of the story, and fair enough: read aloud to a child and they look at you very oddly. What has this odd, exotic figure got to do with Ratty and Mole? But it was Pan who was on the cover of the first edition.
People remember that Kenneth Grahame had a job at the Bank of England. In fact, he was the Secretary: one of three senior administrators of the most influential bank in the world. There’s a picture of Mark Carney chairing a Committee on the front page of the FT, which lies on the table in the atrium of the offices. Grahame would have been at his equivalent’s elbow… dreaming of the river-bankers. For Grahame was a deeply divided man, as Peter Green showed in his 1959 biography. He believed that modern life was a struggle between the industrial and the pastoral, between the monotony of machines and the surges of the body, as symbolised by the intersection of the ancient Ridgeway path with the modern railway at his beloved valley of the Thames at Goring – and, also, by that figure of Pan. Man, he declared, is still half-animal. Let’s not delude ourselves in believing that we are purely rational beings.
What did Grahame do all day at the Bank? What do people do in offices all day? What do I do, now that the Museum is closed? Jason Waddy, our Project Manager, walks me through an office at which dozens of people work intently and silently at computer screens. ‘When a project goes well’ he laughs ‘people say “Why do we need a Project Manager?” If it goes badly, they blame the Project Manager’.
The value of a good Project Manager has been one of the lessons of this project. We’re about to sign a contract for £4.3 million, and are spending a hundred thousand pounds a week. There are twenty consultants, from architect to AV expert, and thirty sub-contractors, from carpenters to solar panel installers. There are thousands and thousands of drawings. And it is Jason’s job to prepare us for all the decisions which need to be made. It is a staggering amount of information which must be made lucid, numerical, and manageable, and, gently, put in the light of experience.
That figure of Pan looks across the street into the meeting room, and I turn the back of my chair to him. At this point in the project ideas are trouble. Changing your mind costs money. The Project Manager is the enemy of Pan – from whom, of course, we derive the word for ‘panic’. For now we want to be in Jason's world, not Pan's.
Leaving, I wink up at the statue. Pan can be let back into the Museum as soon as the project is finished. Pan is spring, music, creative coupling, and impulse. Whatever the Microsoft software which divides our working lives into unchanging grids thinks, we are different people in July to in January, on Mondays and on Fridays.
At the zebra crossing a cyclist whizzes past without stopping, his lower half fat in lycra, bickering his way to some highly paid office job every analytical minute of which he hates. Pan, at least, had style.