Like most cricket-loving Englishmen, I have an ambivalent relationship with Australia and Australians, especially at a time like this, when there is a Test series going on.
Back in the 60s, we had an invasion of Australian intellect and intellectuals. Richard Neville, editor of Oz, Clive James and the incomparable Germaine Greer, were crucial to the movement at the time, and their energy, smartness and engagement, were important - at least to me - in facing up to one or two bourgeois tendencies that I had inherited from my public school.
These days, I love the Australian earthiness, their drinking, their love of sport and what Dame Edna famously referred to as their “total lack of cultural distractions”.
So, on our recent visit to London for Bob's return to the Royal Albert Hall, Jill and I found a couple of hours to see the Australia show at the Royal Academy.
It was a revelation.
Not, of course, for the colonial, imperialist, landscapes of the English painters, although some of the painting is more than competent and the subject matter fascinating.
The wondrousness of the show was all about the exquisite, obsessive, detailed and scale of the work of the native Australians.
Aboriginal art is both style and substance.
The style is decorative, reminding me of Arabian, Iranian, Turkish carpets, in which religious icons are combined with images of heritage, to create something which is greater and more universal than either.
Some contemporary Australians, of European heritage, have attempted to continue this tradition, and they have failed quite spectacularly.
Others, notably Sidney Nolan, have drawn on the landscape to create something as modern and as distinctively Australian as Wolf Blass Shiraz. Some are particularly successful in capturing the banality of Australia in the 50s, against which the three mentioned above rebelled and from which they escaped: Jeffery Smart, in particular, completely new to me, deserves a wider audience.
But, for the Europeans, the native technique is merely and only that, a technique. They seem to me to fail to understand that the medium is as much the message as ... well, the message. This is also the case in the work of the so-called Australian impressionists. It's ok, but it’s not quite there, is it? It may be Australian, but it's not impressionist. And when it is impressionist, it's not Australian.
There is no doubt, however, that it was an afternoon exceptionally well-spent, and well worth the annual cost of our Friends of the RA cards.
With the exception of a load of where-the=hell-do-we-put-this? stuff in the final couple of rooms, it was moving, engaging, challenging and stimulating. We loved it.
And we also loved the new Keeper's House bar and restaurant. Under the aegis of Oliver Peyton and, during the day, open exclusively to Academicians and Friends, it is our very own club in Piccadilly. The Wolseley is just across the road, but, for once, we didn't visit. No need. The Keeper's House will do me very well indeed when I revisit the RA to see the Daumier on Paris exhibition in the new year.
So that's what we did before the Bob concert. Read the preceding blog for a review of the concert itself. My judgement may not be what you expect.
Meanwhile, because this was all happening the day before Thanksgiving, and I needed to be back in Leamington for Michelle's celebrations, I mused on the train about all the things for which I can give thanks this year.
For me, that means a second grandson, a first step-grandson, and the marriage of my second daughter Cassidy to a man I admire and respect and who is good for her.
And then, there was the World Series.
That's a good year by any standards.
Today from the everysmith vault: Wooden Ships from October 1991. Paul Kantner returns to his folk roots in the back room of McCabe's guitar shop in Santa Monica.It was just after the death of Bill Graham, and Paul recounts a conversation he had had earlier with Jerry. Very moving
Bob, Royal Albert Hall, 1966
When Bob chose the Oscar-winning Things Have Changed to open his Royal Albert hall gig, it was in no sense a random decision: he knew what he was doing.
And what he was doing was … well, pretty much what he has been doing 100 nights a year for a quarter of a century.
There was no reference back to those legendary nights in May 1966, apart from a slightly weird version of She Belongs To Me, the only song performed on both occasions. There was little to remind us of those electrifying performances by the band that became The Band; even Charlie Sexton appeared to have been reined in, remaining almost motionless throughout the show. And there was little original in the set list; it was business as usual.
Bob, Royal Albert Hall, 2013
Back in October 1987, Bob toured Europe with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I actually walked out of the show in Birmingham, embarrassed by Bob’s confused performance, both lyrically and musically. This was the show when, as Bob launched into another unidentified and unidentifiable song, one of the Heartbreakers asked Petty what it was. “Don’t know, but it’s in D” he replied. Allegedly.
(This was also the show when the England cricket captain, RDG Willis, and I stood at adjacent urinals and discussed test cricket at length. My conversation with him about Dylan took place outside the pavilion at Lords during a test match a couple of years later. But that’s by the by.)
Wednesday at the Royal Albert Hall was not anything like as poor as October 1987. But it was a show which will remain in the memory only because of Bob’s return to the Royal Albert Hall after so long.
It has been many a year since I have anticipated a Bob show with quite so much enthusiasm and relish as this one. But although Bob seemed happy enough, his mind appeared to be elsewhere. The band, too, seemed lifeless. Professional but passionless. Not sure why Donnie was there at all. Charlie, as I say, was as quiet as I have ever seen him. Stu provided some good basic rhythm guitar, but it was really only the admirable Tony Garnier who seemed to know what was going on and, on at least two occasions, saved the day by bringing a song to a premature but welcome end, as Bob’s piano lost all rhythm and reason.
True, the second set was a major improvement on the first, featuring very tolerable and professional renditions of Scarlet Town and Soon After Midnight from Tempest. It is also true that Long and Wasted Years was a triumph, a considered, thoughtful and profound performance of a great composition. But this was the 17th song of the evening.
There are some, even many, whose opinions I respect, who have recently argued that the never ending tour has run its course, and that Thanksgiving at the Royal Albert Hall would be an appropriate finale.
As Bob sang Blowin' in the Wind for the nth time at 9.30pm on Wednesday evening, it occurred to me, for the first time in my life-long relationship with Bob and his music, that they might be right.
A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, especially friends in Boston and to Michelle, who once again hosted a wonderful evening. Sorry about the Steelers, Mich!
Today from the everysmith vault: I played through Tempest yesterday, but this morning – with thanks to Wolfgang’s Vault – I’m playing a great set from the life force that was Levon Helm (ably assisted by ex-Bob and Dead guitarist Larry Campbell). Newport 2008. I commend it to you for its vitality, vibrancy and life-enhancing joie de vivre.
Michael Gray, Dylan's Diderot.
Dylan's annual visits to these shores are always keenly anticipated, especially in this household. Over the years, we have seen some memorable gigs in this country. Notable recently was the run at Brixton Academy in 2005, when he performed London Calling as an encore, and three terrific nights at Hammersmith in 2011 with that guy from Dire Straits.
But of course the great years for those of us of a certain age were 1965 and 1966. For all the talk recently of Lou Reed ’transforming’ rock music in the early 70s, the 1966 shows by Bob Dylan and the Band were seminal moments in the lives of our generation; genuine turning-points in the history of rock music.
I remember in particular the De Montford Hall in Leicester, when an organised walk-out by the Stalinist folkies meant that there were probably only a couple of hundred of us left at the end. And although I was in Manchester, I have no recollection of the infamous Judas! shout. Probably still in the bar.
So the best show, for me, was the second night at the Royal Albert Hall. (And I actually mean the Royal Albert Hall show, not the famously misattributed Manchester Free Trade Hall gig of a few days previously.)
This year, Bob returns to the Royal Albert Hall for the first time since then. Jill has come out of retirement (she announced her intention of maintaining the memory of Dylan at Carcassonne in 2009 as her final show) to be present at this event. I know Bob will be pleased. I am.
We are fortunate to have front row tickets on November 27th. And I will also be as close to the front as possible a couple of weeks earlier at LAMP in Leamington when Michael Gray will give his celebrated lecture, Bob Dylan and the Poetry of the Blues, on Thursday the 14th.
It's something of a coup for the guys at LAMP that a writer of the stature and reputation of Michael Gray is appearing at this venue, in this town. He is the Diderot of Dylan, the encyclopœdist of all things Bob, author of Song and Dance Man, and a highly acclaimed biography of Blind Willie McTell.
Even in a university town such as this, we seldom attract such luminaries. It will be a privilege to welcome him and listen to his talk which is, as he says, “illustrated with loud music and rare video footage”.
I have been lucky enough to hear him on a previous occasion. He speaks as well as he writes. (And he writes exceptionally well.) His talk takes us through the ways in which Bob draws upon those mythical pre-War bluesmen, not merely or not solely as hommage, but as a source of what is important - musically, politically, socially.
From the point of view of a musicologist, this is fascinating stuff and, as we used to say, extremely well related to the text. From the point of view of a sociologist, it identifies the musical threads that reflect the changes in the way we live and act. From the point of view of people like me, your average Dylan fan, it provides an academic framework for our admiration and, alright then, our obsession.
Importantly, however, Michael is not a nerd. Knowledgeable and erudite, yes, but no nerd. In fact, the nerds in the Dylan world dislike him intensely because he will have no truck with that particular form of worship. Rather, he draws the bigger picture, which he illuminates with surprising connections and rewarding insights.
He's very good. And the couple of hours (with a break) makes for a fascinating, enjoyable and highly entertaining evening from which you will emerge wiser, better informed and with a smile on your face.
Michael Gray delivers Bob Dylan and the Poetry of the Blues at LAMP Leamington at 8pm on Thursday 14th. Tickets are a miserly £10. Worth booking your place on 01926 886699.
Today from the everysmith vault: It could have been any Bob show from 1966, but I have clicked on Paris - notable for the fact that the French audience were booing even throughout the acoustic set!
Clayton from the cover of his new album. My pictures of the evening are less than sharp.
The late Tony Wilson once told me about booking some mega-American band for the Haçienda. Actually, he told loads of people, because I think he repeated the story in his book, 24 Hour Party People; but he told me first over a glass of wine (me) and a pint of lager and a joint (him).
Tony was my best man at my first wedding - Chris Dark had turned me down - and his taste in music was still developing in parallel with his self-regard. At this stage, he had moved on from Carol King’s Tapestry, his regular listening while the rest of us were focused on the Dead, and the Airplane, and Bob, and the Velvets; but his obsession with punk and rave was more opportunistic than instinctive. (One would never use the word ‘genuine’ in the same sentence as ‘Tony Wilson’.)
Anyway, the one thing that was constant in Tony's life was his hatred of jazz in all its manifestations. And this mega-American band who were costing Tony (or rather, New Order) “mega-bucks”, took to the stage more stoned than the audience, and played ... jazz! Tony told me he was so disgusted that he pulled the plug on them, though he doesn't mention this in the book.
The point of all this is that we had an analogous situation in Wilde's on Sunday night, the occasion being the 37th birthday of the bar. Several months ago, my wonderfully generous friend John Myers had arranged for “Mick n Keef” from the cover band Stones to perform a greatest hits set appropriate for the Wilde's demographic. It his birthday present to Wilde's - and it was keenly anticipated, to say the least.
Except that ten minutes before we were due to open, John called to say that they were not coming. No reason. They had just decided not to come.
Shanade Morrow, singer, song-writer and waitress extraordinaire, went to work on the phones. Within half an hour, the best and the brightest of the Leamington music scene, including Clayton Denwood who played with The Band in Woodstock and Thom Kirkpatrick, who has played with everyone else, were on their way.
Meanwhile, Geof, the embarrassed manager of the Stones, had also been on the phone. And, unbeknown to us and at short notice, he managed to acquire the services of a crooner of a certain age who marketed himself as a Billy Fury sound-alike. What's more, Billy Fury arrived first and set up his karaoke machine of backing tracks and proceeded to belt out a Herman's Hermits song. Which was kinda fun. Until the next one and the next one and the next one.
With a dozen musicians (defined for these purposes as people who play their own instruments and write original material) hanging around having given up their evening to help us, it rapidly became something of an issue. Some people left, many complained, and others, including myself, took to drink and, for the first time in months, tobacco. It took Jill - who is less timid than am I – to take action and request that he cut his act short to give others a chance.
The others took their chance. They jammed, sang and played a series of excellent sets which kept a hundred of us on the dance floor and in awe.
This is not musical snobbery. ’Billy Fury’ knows what he is doing and does it well. But it is not what Wilde's is about. It is the very antithesis of the live music which Wilde's wishes to promote.
Fortunately, the last few hours of the evening developed in the right spirit with some superb acoustic guitar work from Jason and Clayton, plus some great vocals, some great sax from Ono, and - at the end - some brilliant Stones covers from Thom Kirkpatrick, the 21st century one-man-band.
So us oldies eventually got our Stones. As well as our Dead, our Dylan, and our Herman's Hermits!
You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.
Our thanks to all the musicians, to Myers, to Geof, to Shanade, to Ollie and Rachel, and to Richard for his canapés. And to all those who came out on a school night to help us celebrate, especially Pinky and James for their great card.
Today from the everysmith vault: Clayton's new album, To Whom It May Concern. It's new to the vault and, on first listening, it's more than worthy of its place in it.
This is serious shit.
Unlike some, I did not ‘hate’ Self Portrait when it was first released in 1970. I bought it, of course. I listened maybe twice, and that was it. I remember playing it again after reading Michael Gray’s interesting chapter in Song & Dance Man in 1972, disagreed with Michael’s response (his word, as I recall, in a piece devoted to how one should respond to the album) and put the discs back on the shelves for forty years or more.
And now, on the fourth play of 'another' self portrait, I know that I love almost all of these stripped down versions, no longer saturated in strings and soaked in satin back-up vocals, but succinct and to the point, with Bob singing softly and sublimely, crooning comfortable country.
Another Self Portrait is, amongst other things, the way that Self Portrait may have started life in Bob’s head. I have no idea what possessed him to add those overdubs; but, in retrospect, it was not the material but the overdubs to which we took exception at the time and which provoked the famous opening line of Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone: “What is this shit?”
Now we know. This is serious shit.
It is serious in the sense that it is a portrait of the artist as a young man – and as a more mature man.
Here we have his odds-and-ends musical heritage – his folk and blues and pop and rock ‘n’ roll. It looks back (although we shouldn’t) to his first albums, and shows us much of the raw material for that extraordinary outpouring of 1964, 1965 and 1966.
Importantly, it also points the way towards those under-rated masterpieces, New Morning and Planet Waves.
In fact, New Morning is well represented here, but the assemblage of outtakes and re-mixes from that album (a favourite, as I recall, of those who didn’t like Bob) add little to our understanding of what was going on in Bob’s head at the time. It is the fact that he was doing country at all which was significant.
Think back, those of my contemporaries, to that time: country music was redneck music. Country fans supported Nixon and supported the war.
The embracing of this music by Bob was on a different level to that of Gram Parsons and the Byrds, for example.
This was Bob delving into Americanarama, as he is doing on his current tour. This was Bob doing what Bob does best – reinventing, restructuring, recreating what makes American music American. I mean specifically so. If the themes of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde were universal, his sojourn in Woodstock with The Band took him back to his roots and the roots of every American. “Love that country pie.”
There is a third and, for even more money, a fourth CD in this release. The fourth is the original Self Portrait, so don’t bother. The third is the complete Isle of Wight gig on the day of my 20th birthday (30th August 1969 since you ask), and you probably have this already – I certainly do. As Lennon said subsequently, Bob was “a bit flat”, but that didn’t matter.
It was about Bob, three years after we had last seen him, being there, with us, in the UK.
And I feel the same now. In 12 months, we’ve had Tempest and now Another Self Portrait. "If not for you", it certainly is for me.
It is very serious shit.
Today from the everysmith vault: Guess ...
Alexander Pope, contemplating the nature of criticism
It has been suggested recently that I am, in these blogs, thinking of myself as a critic. I am not.
I am, on occasion, critical - of a wine, a book, a painting, a piece of music, a restaurant, a ball player. But that is not the same thing at all. The role of the critic is to be, not negative, but positive: to evaluate, to provide deep context, to establish relationships, to elucidate and enhance. In this sense, I suppose that from time to time I write within a critical tradition, but that is not my intention.
This is a blog, not an academic treatise. I allow myself half an hour and plus-or-minus 500 words for each post. The prompts are my reading and listening, my eating and drinking, my obsessions, my social activities. But as some of my excellent correspondents have pointed out, there is a theme developing from these disparate activities, of which – to be honest – I was not consciously aware.
This theme, it would appear, is the appreciation of all activities as a totality, as part of ‘life’ – a word which Leavis substituted for tradition and continuity.
My subjects, whether they be a new Dylan album, a fine claret, an exhibition or a baseball game, are part of life and contribute to the fundamental ‘vitality’ which is ‘crucial’ to developing an individual ‘meaning of life’, the making of valid choices not through evasion but single-minded commitment.
If I had to categorise what a friend flatteringly characterised as ‘these essays’, I would use the word explorations, which is itself an important Leavis word, and as he said in another context, ‘all important words are dangerous’.
In this case, the danger comes from imposing an importance on my observations which they are incapable of bearing. And often, I confess, they are gut reactions rather than considered judgements.
In the tutored tastings at the Foire aux Vins, for example, I hated the sweetness of the whites, the oakiness of the reds. The maligned wine critics of my previous blog could doubtless explain and maybe even justify. For me, it is simply not to my taste.
Does this mean, therefore, that when you read this blog, you are merely the recipients of some undigested prejudices?
I promise you, you are not. Because more often than not, I start only with a topic. Over the course of the 500 words, I develop my approach and attitude and finally a judgement, a valuation.
So in the average blog what you are reading is the record of a process of internal debate and argument, backed by Wordsworthian spots of time, structured in the form of Judt’s Memory Chalet, supported by quotes from better writers, and concluding with … well, a sort of conclusion.
Bit like this one, really.
Today from the everysmith vault: Yesterday, of course, was the wonderful music of the test match commentary. Today, it’s the New Riders of the Purple Sage from July 1971. A 10 minute version of Dirty Business, with Jerry on pedal steel, is the highlight.
Marseille is tout feu, tout flamme about its independence, internationalism and sense of identity; its architecture, art and artisans; its radical past and its cultural present, its freedom-loving life and life-style.
After our first visit this week, so are we.
Marseille is the oldest city in France. It’s the second city of France. And it’s the home of pastis and bouillabaisse. It elected the first socialist maire in France in 1890. It was a refuge for Jews and a centre of resistance against the Nazis in the war.
Oh, and it is also, in 2013, the European capital of culture.
It is, in fact, a méli-mélo of stereotypes. So Jill and I thought we’d check it out, using as our excuse and opportunity, the exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts, part of the Grand Atelier du Midi show, which focuses on works of artists from Van Gogh to Bonnard.
We took the TGV from Avignon, paused briefly in Aix-en-Provence, and arrived in Marseille in plenty of time for our pre-booked slot at the gallery. So much time, in fact, that we had checked in to our hotel, drank a half bottle of chilled rosé, eaten a small plate of charcuterie and courgettes, walked to the Palais Longchamps and enjoyed (most of) the paintings, even before our allocated time was scheduled to begin.
For the record, loved the Van Goghs, the Renoirs (always associated him exclusively with Paris), the Duffys, the Picasso, the Matisses, the Bacon, and some of the Bonnards; loathed the Manguins, the Marquets and the Massons; quite enjoyed the Paul Signac.
So by half three in the afternoon, we were free to explore Marseille. And we made a startling discovery: le vrai Grand Atelier du Midi is not the gallery and its contents, but the city of Marseille itself.
Picture credit: Foster + Partners
Like everyone, we headed first to the Vieux Port by jumping on a tram which took us silently and smoothly down the boulevard to the sea, where we were greeted by l’Ombrière, Norman Foster’s wonderfully simple, stylish and sleek sun shade.
It’s both use and ornament (as my grandmother used to say): a shady events pavilion, a beautiful structure, and a place for reflection - literally and figuratively.
Two views are better than one.
But there was another view which was already haunting us and it is ubiquitous wherever one walks. It is Notre dame de la Garde, which looks down on the city, and is regarded as a guardian and protector of the city. It's known by the Marseillaise as la bonne mère for this reason.
We took the advice of the guide-book and, rather than attempt the walk, squeezed ourselves aboard a tourist train, which took us along the Corniche (longest in the world apparently), gave us half an hour to admire the neo-Byzantine basilica and crypt, and delivered us back to the plethora of restaurants and bars which line the Vieux Port.
La Bonne Mère: guardian and protector
But we weren't quite ready for a drink yet. We wanted to plan the next day, ensuring that we could make the most of our visit.
So we walked through Le Panier, the oldest part, where The French Connection was filmed, where the Jews hid, where the communists and resistance were based, and where the Nazis - together with a huge contingent of French police from Paris - evacuated 30,000 people, sent 2000 of them to concentration camps and dynamited 1500 houses. All in a single day in January 1943.
Picture credit: Wolfgang Vennemann for the German Federal Archive
We returned the following morning, walking through the tiny streets which remain, finding the poignant tributes to those who had died or disappeared, mourning the way in which this area is becoming embourgeoisified. There is even a brand new InterContinental Hotel here now. But enough remains to remind us of the feisty, Bohemian, freedom-loving community which had to be destroyed by the Nazis and the Vichy government.
At the far side of Le Panier is the Fort St Jean. This, and the Fort St Nicolas, were built by French kings not so much to protect the city as to dominate it and ensure that its people knew their place.
Today, the Fort St Jean is linked by an elegant walkway across the sea to a wonderful new structure, designed and built as part of the Capital of Culture celebrations.
This is the Museum of Civilisations in Europe and the Mediterranean, or MuCEM, and it is beautiful. It links the land with the sea and it links France with North Africa. It captures the essence of Marseille: its trading, its Phoenician origins, its role as an entry point and a conduit for other cultures.
MuCEM, the fort, and (in the background) the Cathedral Le Mayor which we also visited that morning.
It is a beautifully designed atelier of Marseille's history, heritage, myth and contemporary life.
But the grand atelier is not MuCEM. Nor is it the Musée at Palais Longchamps.
It is Marseille itself: the city and its people.
* You wouldn't expect me to write about a city without a reference to food. So:
Where to eat: La Part des Anges, a bar à vin on rue Sainte, with 300 different wines and no wine list. Tell the waiters what you like and what you are going to eat, and they will bring you a glass of something wondrous - or maybe two or three or more. Brilliant place. Love it.
Where not to eat: Pretty much anywhere in the tourist bit of the Vieux Port, but especially not at La Cuisine au Beurre.
Today's listening: Coupo Santo, the national anthem of Provence, which we heard sung at the end of a communal dinner in an adjoining village on Friday evening. A beautiful song, rendered tout feu, tout flamme, by many of those present.
I told you so.
Back in March, the Nation seemed pretty much resigned to another indifferent season. Not, perhaps, as bad as the paltry 69 Ws of the Valentine hegemony, but the consensus – from Baseball Prospectus and ESPN to the most insignificant contributions to the blogosphere – was a season in which the Sox would be fortunate to raise itself out of the basement of the American League East.
My view was the opposite. I predicted (Season’s Greetings 28.03) that we would make the play-offs, although it would take some luck and maybe a couple of trades to take the Series.
At the All-Star break, 97 games into the season, we sit at .598 – the best record in the American League. What’s more, we have emerged from a tough road trip to the West Coast with a 5-5 record which could easily have been a winning trip had it not been for a couple of unfortunate events in Anaheim (about as bizarre a 9th inning loss as I’ve ever seen) and Oakland.
These things happen. That’s why we play 162 games in each regular season. Over the stretch, the cream rises to the top.
And right now, we’re top. With the Yankees 6 games back and Toronto, a majority choice for the ALE, 11.5 games back.
Collectively and individually, these Sox have confounded the critics and the pundits. How?
There are individual performances which are noteworthy: the new look Lackey, for example, the offence of Iglesias, the clutch performances of Gomes, the extraordinary work of Pedroia, the day-in-day-out work of the self-made Nava, the closing of Koji Uehara, and many others. These have compensated for the problems of Lester, the implosion of Bailey, the injuries to Drew, Ross, Buckholz and Miller – the latter just when he was looking assured in his role.
And there you have it. This Sox team is not a collection of individuals. It is a team. They work for each other. They give the impression of liking each other as much as we like them. There is a chemistry here which is reminiscent of the idiots of ’04. This is not a 25 cabs team; these guys eat together, play together.
That’s why it is invidious to single out any individual in this club. But I’m going to, anyway.
And that individual is John Farrell.
I was worried about his appointment. I was concerned about his experience and record at Toronto. And I thought he might be too close to the ancien régime of Tito and Theo.
I was wrong. Totally. Fundamentally.
I believe that he is responsible for the way in which these guys are performing. His calm, professional style of management is the reason why these Sox are genuine contenders this year. If there is chemistry in the park, he is the catalyst.
As we say in France, chapeau!
Today from the everysmith vault: the Dead, jamming with David Crosby and John Cippolina in Mickey Hart's barn in August 1971.
Market days in Uzès are not merely an opportunity to stock up with fresh, local produce: fruit, vegetables, foie gras, goose rillettes and the like. They are also, perhaps even primarily, a social occasion. The one-way system is clogged, Le Parking Gide is complet from early in the morning and the bars and restaurants, diminished in size by market stalls encroaching on their outside space, are full as the inhabitants of the Uzège converge on the town to catch up with the gossip and enjoy an early pastis.
For me, it is an excuse to walk into town from our village, along the ancienne route: past the sewage works and the sunflower fields, over the small stream, up a 70m incline to the cemetery, entering the old town via the cobbled, pedestrianised rue Xavier Sigalon, named after the Romantic painter who was born in Uzès in 1767 and lived and died in a stereotypically Romantic – that is to say, unsuccessfully and unsold – manner. (He deserved more: his painting Locusta, exhibited in the cathedral of Nîmes, is an extraordinarily powerful work.)
From our gates in St Quentin la Poterie to a coffee at Marie’s Le Bengali in Uzès is a distance of just under five kilometres and takes me about 40 minutes, which is – serendipitously – the duration of a single podcast of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time. Schlepping there and back makes me something of an expert on at least two topics each day.
For those unfamiliar with this excellent programme, I should explain that the admirable Melvyn gathers around a microphone a collection of learned academics, each of which is a specialist in the subject of the day. I have downloaded the complete back catalogue and enjoy choosing the educational backdrop to my walk from the huge, eclectic collection of programmes.
Melvyn by Jill
There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the selection of these subjects, beyond the random decisions of Melvyn Bragg himself. In the last couple of months, we’ve had Queen Zenobia and Levi-Strauss, cosmic rays and Icelandic sagas, gnosticism and prophecy, Montaigne and Checkov. Each has been illuminating and fascinating and one arrives at one’s destination if not wiser, certainly far better informed.
Currently, I am able to tell you a great deal about the Putney Debates and Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, the war of 1812 and Bertrand Russell. I can tell you very little, however, about game theory and Fermat’s last theorem, despite listening to each of those programmes twice. I suspect this is because Bragg, representing the intelligent but non-specialist listener, was also struggling to prompt his very smart guests and ask the questions necessary for elucidation. But like him, I did try.
A friend of mine, in his post-graduate days at Nottingham, used to walk to Forest games in the company of fellow academics. To pass the time, they would take turns to deliver a paper on the way. I have always thought what an excellent idea that was.
A walk through the French countryside, with In Our Time on the headphones, is my version of that pastime. And when I arrive at my destination, I have the pleasure of coffee and conversation, pastis and producteurs rather than analyses of the failings of Forest.
Thanks, Melvyn. (And sorry, Martin.)
Today's listening: John Fahey at the Great American Music Hall in 1975, thanks to a free download from Wolfgang's Vault. His Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt is sensational.
One of the problems with a first in PPE from Oxford is that the recipient has no experience of real politics, philosophy or economics. Real politics are not to be found in the party posturings of Parliament. Real philosophy is not to be found in the Bodleian. And real economics takes place in the boardrooms of multi-national companies where very smart people engage in the quotidian activities of the global capitalism to which Cameron, Osborne, Blair, Milliband, Hollande and Merkel pay lip service.
The terminology gives the clue to the nature of these activities: multi-national, global capitalism.
Why would anyone expect these companies to pay their taxes in one country when it is not necessary in another? Why are the press and the various governments so surprised?
I’m not. The likes of Google and Apple, Starbuck’s and Amazon, are, after all, doing what they do. They are in business and by definition must be business-like if they are to continue their success. Paying out millions unnecessarily is not good business. Even I understand that.
But Cameron – educated at Eton, Oxford and Conservative Central Office – doesn’t get it. Nor does Hollande – educated at a private Catholic school, HEC Paris, the Paris Institute of Political Studies, the École National d’Administration and finally by Mitterand himself.
And yet, when Hollande alienated a few of his millionaire countrymen with his taxation proposals, it was Cameron who quickly proclaimed that Britain would roll out the red carpet for any who chose to re-locate across the channel. Now he is struggling to find a way between condemnation of “aggressive tax avoidance” and his natural Conservative instincts, which is to defend whatever is the current reinvention of capitalism.
But something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?
You should, however. It is nearly 50 years since I first read Monopoly Capital by Sweezy and Baran, and I have been reading extensions of their theory – the internationalization of monopoly capital, the globalization of labour and the monopolization of communications – ever since. Some of it in The Economist for Christ’s sake. It is more than 30 years since Maurice Saatchi and ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’ discovered the opportunity and potential of globalization in an article in the Harvard Business Review. The analysis was there. The warnings were there.
Did Mister Jones – and it’s a collective Mister Jones: Cameron, Holland, Blair et al – not read these? Maybe not.
The problem is, Mister Jones, “You’ve been with the professors/ and they all liked your looks./With great lawyers/you discussed lepers and crooks./You’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books;/you’re very well-read it’s well-known.”
But not well enough. Because the way you are stumbling through the current crisis demonstrates no understanding of its global nature.
“And you say, Oh my God, am I here all alone?”
No. But you’re trying to deal with it as if you were. It’s an international problem and it requires international solutions. Little Englander attitudes are only there to be exploited. As are petit Français.
As Eric Schmidt, the boss of Google advised us all,"I don't think companies should decide what tax policies should be. I think governments should.
"All of us are operating in a very, very longstanding tax regime which was set up for various reasons that don't necessarily make sense to me or anyone else.
But they are the way the global tax regime works."
Go on. Google it. It makes sense to me.
I doubt whether there is anyone reading this blog who has not recognised the song from which I have quoted so liberally. It is Dylan’s birthday today, and Jill and I have booked a table in a half-way decent restaurant where we can raise a glass to Bob as he embarks on his 73rd year. May you climb on every rung. P.S. Today’s listening will consist of … Dylan, but to start, the duet of Dark Eyes with Patti Smith from the Paradise Lost tour.