Mock ’n’ roll

Image of David Tang

Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters.

How do you feel about the storage and display of paperback books? Should they be displayed in public rooms or do you feel (like many interior decorators) that they should be kept behind doors? I am referring to paperback books not of the ilk of Java for Dummies and Harlequin romances but of poetry, classics and prize-winning novels. How can they be kept and displayed nicely without looking like a college student’s bookshelf?

You should not have any hang-ups about displaying paperbacks, especially if they have been well creased on the binding. It would only be embarrassing if your paperbacks were unopened and unread. The idea that bound volumes are better than paperbacks on the shelf arises only from a sense of insecurity. There is surely no difference between reading The Great Gatsby in a Penguin paperback or a beautifully bound first edition – Jay Gatsby would be as suave and Daisy Buchanan as fresh in both. I have kept all of my paperbacks from the days when I first began to learn English at the age of 14, when thrown into a boarding school not speaking a word of it. It took me six attempts at English O-level before I scraped through with a Grade 6 pass. (I remember my English teacher predicting that I would never ever be fluent in English.) And if it weren’t for all the paperbacks I bought, featuring the likes of Biggles and Charlie of the chocolate factory and Hercule Poirot, I might not ever have passed. All those books that I thumbed through laboriously are a reminder of my learning English, a language that I have come to adore. There is something nostalgic about my student days with battered paperbacks – half dropped in water and half curled-up with wine stains. Remember Belloc, who did not distinguish hardbacks from paperbacks: “When I am dead, I hope it may be said: His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”

Is anything mock in architecture really acceptable? What do you think of mock classical, or mock Gothic, or mock Tudor, or mock Elizabethan?

I don’t have any problem with mock as long as it is well done. So half of those mock-Georgian houses in Surrey are probably not acceptable, while Mr Wafic Said’s mock-Palladian palazzo in Oxfordshire is glorious. And I like Mentmore Towers, which, one could argue, is mock Elizabethan. I particularly like the story of its owner, Lord Rosebery, who left all his studs to his wife – not of the gee-gee type, but of the collar kind. I also like all those mock-Tudor mansions built by the rich people in China. I once spent a weekend in the Sassoon mansion near the old Shanghai airport. I felt like I was at Virginia Waters in the UK. In Hong Kong, a Mr Eu built two mock castles: Euston and Eucliff, both hugely amusing, with castellations reminiscent of a Crusader’s stronghold. In Peking, near the airport, a Mr Zhang built a replica of Château Lafitte calling it Château Zhang Lafitte, complete with a mock Versailles garden. I took my friend Tom Parker-Bowles to visit it once. Mr Zhang was very keen for his mother the royal duchess to come and stay for the weekend. But the most fantastic of all is an entire mock-English village called Thames Town recently constructed on the outskirts of Shanghai. It’s Guildford-on-Wheels. It’s mock at its most mocking – and shocking.

What do you think of modern sanitary ware, especially those in rectangular basins and waterfall showers and Japanese lavatories?

Let’s start with the inscrutable Japanese: their automatic lavatory with heated seat and three-speed jet air coming from nowhere inside the lavatory is a genius invention of our modern times. But I dislike them because I am used to being completely relaxed when sitting down, and not having to worry about my under-thighs getting roasted like a chestnut or by water jetting up capriciously. They also look rather inelegant with all their contraptions. As for showers, it is maddening when the pressure of the water is not strong. Even in highly expensive hotels you will find that, while millions of dollars are spent on Italian marble, no attention is paid to providing a shower with a proper pump for robust pressure. There is nothing worse than a flaccid shower. And I absolutely detest shallow basins, which usually come in rectangular shapes. Whenever one is brushing one’s teeth or washing one’s hands, all the water splashes out. The executive loo at Battersea Heliport is particularly irritating as, in this luxurious cubicle, not only is the basin shallow, but the tap is light sensitive and turns on automatically, with the result that as you pass it to get to the lavatory, you get half-soaked – and totally soaked with your same shadow when you egress.

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