Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Len Blavatnik, Kate Middleton and London life

Len Blavatnik, the Russian oligarch and billionaire, has been feted in the media lately.

For one day, he even appeared alongside Kate Middleton on the front pages of the London press.

He has recently completed an extension to his enormous house next door to the Russian Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, which will make it the most expensive and lavishly appointed house in London, apart from the big place at the end of The Mall : Buckingham Palace, where our beloved Queen spends time when she is in London.

The tone of the reporting and commentary revealed much about the values that underpin our society - they were adulatory, gushing, extravagant in their praise and admiration of his achievement in creating such a sumptuous private domain, from which he can look out over Kate and Will’s little pad next door. The standard of the work and the fittings are, according to those educated in these things, exemplary, and will set a new high for the London property market to aim at.

Of particular note is the huge private swimming pool which is both indoors and out. A sliding glass door will allow one to leave the air conditioned atmosphere of the palace and enjoy the ordinary atmosphere outside.

An interesting detail here is that all the glass is armour plated - but who could possibly want to harm a man whose fortune was made in the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union?

A man who has given away a small fortune to the poor of Israel in food parcels, is the largest ever donor to Oxford University and has given large sums to help and encourage the study of science, especially by young people.

I have no idea, but armour plated glass doesn't come cheap and and the sales brochures of palaces don't mention that they come with free added paranoia.

None of our obsequious commentators dared to ask whether this extravagance might be considered a colossal and insulting waste of money, vulgar and crass ostentation reflective of a crude personality determined to impress whatever the price.

Edward Gibbon ( The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ) might have called him a voluptuary, an adjective that can only apply to the slightly corpulent. The men that made Rome were ‘ lean and hungry’ and the men that lost it had a taste for luxury and loose living.

All I know is that history shows that Len's kind of money made rapidly often ends up in jail or disgrace - I hope I’m wrong, but I wish there were more sceptics. Hasn’t anyone read Trollope’s ‘The way we live now’ ?

Have we all forgotten Maxwell, Madoff and Enron?

Mr Blavatnik enjoys spending his money on vanity purchases such as film studios and recording companies,so perhaps, when we see the inevitable collapse in oil prices, he might turn out to be another Augustus Melmotte, the great fraudster, from Trollope’s brilliant satire of the impressionability of Victorian society in the presence of the trappings of wealth.

I wish more of us remembered and admired Diogenes who lived in a barrel and was once
asked by Alexander the Great if there was anything that he, the greatest man in the world, could do to help him.

Yes, replied Diogenes, you are blocking the sun, please move aside.

And perhaps Mr Blavatnik might remember the immortal words of the poet Shelley

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Ah well, he’s probably enjoying himself, draped in his supermodels ( what do they see in podgy old him? - oh, yes, I forgot )

Still, less of this carping, London is lovely in the sunshine and the Porchester Road public swimming pool that Elena and I attend is a good example of municipal public provision, provided at a reasonable price for rich and poor alike, a pleasant place to meet people from all walks of life except oligarchs and bankers, thank goodness.

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