"The mind of a cad and the pen of an angel"
Simon Raven is one of my favourite writers. His work, especially the two novel sequences Alms for Oblivion and The First-Born of Egypt are remarkable social chronicles, as interesting, relevant and better written than those of Anthony Powell, with whom he is not sufficiently often compared.
Robert Nye famously observed that Raven possessed “the mind of a cad and the pen of an angel”, which is both a fine line in its own right and accurate. It is these two attributes which underpin my admiration for him, and endears him to me. Despite my socialist leanings, I have always had a sneaking respect for the upper-class cad if he (and it is of course always he) combined caddishness with wit and style.
Raven did. Alan Clarke did not, although I enjoyed his description of Lord Michael Haseltine as the kind of man “who had to buy his own furniture”. These days, of course, Haseltine is the grandest of grandees and his son, now living in his own estates in the middle of the proposed route of HS2, has no need to buy his own furniture, even though he can doubtless afford to.
It is, of course, this kind of attitude which has provoked John Major’s recent outburst about the class nature of the modern Conservative party. “In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class” he said.
He finds this truly shocking, not least because of his own background. But he cannot find it surprising. After the grouse-shooting first earl of Stockton, Harold Macmillan, and the 14th earl of Home, Alec Douglas-Home, the Tories flirted for a couple of decades with the likes of Heath, Thatcher and then Brixton-born Major, before reverting to public school type in the current manifestation.
As I write, we are living in a public school fiefdom.
The Prime Minister, the Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury are all Etonians. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, went to Westminster School and the Chancellor, George Osborne, went to St Paul’s in London; but Osborne’s chief economics adviser, Rupert Harrison, is a former head boy at Eton. Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, is an Etonian. The Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin is an Etonian. The Chief Whip, George Young, is an Etonian.
Equally importantly, many of the journalists who claim to monitor and bring to book these politicians are also Etonians: James Landale of the BBC, for example, Tom Newton Dunn of the Sun, Patrick Hennessy of the Telegraph, and Roland Watson of the Times.
Major is clearly right. There is what has been termed a ‘chumocracy’ at work here. It is an educational apartheid and it brings to the top not those with wit and style or the pens of angels, but those who are merely cads. They have no big ideas. They have few convictions – well, not the sort I mean, anyway. And they have no political passions beyond power.
The contrast with Raven and a predecessor at King’s, Guy Burgess, cannot be more marked. Noel Annan, who taught both Raven and Burgess, wrote that "they were both scamps who by their example liberated their more timid contemporaries".
One yearns for that kind of example. (And it is, in passing, an aspect of Raven’s fellow classicist Boris Johnson which appeals to every class.)
As Raven pointed out, "Whereas the gentleman always seeks to deserve his position, the aristocrat, disdainful and insouciant, is quite happy just to exploit it."
More gentlemen, please.
Today from the everysmith vault: I have been listening to an old Mojo compilation entitled Dylan's Greenwich Village which includes John Lee Hooker, Dave van Ronk, Mimi & Richard Farina, Lightnin' Hopkins and - wonderfully - Allen Ginsberg reciting Auto Poesy to Nebraska.
My friend Parn Taimsalu, an Estonian who lives in our village in France in the company of his wife and an unspecified number of pedigree dogs, has sent me a link to a piece in The Spectator, a magazine in which the right wing play at being intellectuals. The Spectator was first published in 1628, making it the oldest continuously published magazine in the UK and thus, probably, the world. Its editors are usually previous Tory grandees – Ian Gilmour, too-clever-by-half Iain McCleod; or those about to be Tory grandees – Nigel Lawson, Boris Johnson.
I have been reading it this last week because the link from Parn referred me to an article by one Alex Massie, and its title read as follows: ‘Ed Miliband supports the Boston Red Sox. This is all anyone need know about him.’
I didn’t know this. I know that the Sox are followed by the likes of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Simon Sharma, pretty much all of the Kennedys and some designer guy who lives in New York – there is no shortage of slebs and famous people who are part of the Nation. But it had never occurred to me that a senior British politician might also be found with me, in the early hours of the morning last week, punching the air and singing “Let’s go Red Sox’.
As you would expect, the article by Alex Massie included a whole load of shit about the Sox. It made comparisons between the Sox and Labour: “Each defeat, each disaster, each betrayal remained raw, just as the Labour Party never really forgives, or gets over, its own defeats.” He went further, quoting the Berkeley linguist and political theorist George Lakoff (I commend him to you, he’s a sort of West Coast Chomsky) who came up with the idea of mummy Democrats and and daddy Republicans, extending the thought to mummy Sox and daddy Yankees.
It’s pretty simplistic stuff, to be honest. Daddy has the money and the power. Mummy loves you and forgives your failings. Er, that’s it, really.
So is it an appropriate analogy after the Sox take the Series for the third time in a less than a decade? Perhaps it is true that many of us have assumed an air of moral superiority over the Yankees and the insufferably smug Cardinals and the nouveau Dodgers and ...the rest of those who have looked down on us for nearly a 100 years. And it is certainly true that we all embraced Lucchino’s epithet for the Yankees, the Evil Empire. But then so did the Yankees. To the extent that they patented it and sued T-shirt makers who dared to use the words.
That sounds like the Tories to me. Who cares what anyone says so long as I can make money out of it.
But unlike The Spectator, I’m not here to make political points today. I’m here to celebrate, with a great city, a great team. A team in which a wonderfully diverse group of guys came together and fought together in a common cause. And had fun while they did it. And never gave up. And always believed. And attracted the hearts and minds of the masses in so doing.
It occurs to me now that that may sound just a tad socialist, but it wasn’t my purpose. Worth thinking about though, isn’t it?
Today from the everysmith vault: Pink Floyd, from Meadowlands in 1987. Jill and I watched a documentary about them last night and realised that we have ignored them for too long. Have we? I’ll let you know.
P.S. Just seen this and felt I had to share. It's Mike Napoli heading for home plate in the early hours ...
Illingworth: so good he voted twice
More than 300 residents of Leamington South Town wrote to oppose the granting of a sexual entertainment licence for Shades Gentleman's Club. One wrote in support.
But the Warwick District council Regulatory Committee granted the licence anyway.
Admittedly, it took a casting vote by the chair, George Illingworth, after an initial five-five split.
But given the opposition, given the fact that an identical application had been refused on two previous occasions, what prompted these five councillors to vote in favour of this kind of activity?
Well, only they know for sure. But they do have a couple of things in common.
All five are conservatives.
And none of them live in Leamington.
Now, we can argue the case for a strip club or lap-dancing club or whatever this place is. (And whatever this place is, you might think that it is in no sense a Gentleman's Club!)
And you can also argue the fact that, with all the investment of time and money and effort which is going into South Town, this is the last thing that's wanted or needed.
But my concern is with the way in which non-resident Conservatives are able to dictate the kind of town Leamington should become.
We saw it with the original vote for the Clarendon Arcade, which fortunately and marginally failed to gain a majority.
And my fear is that we shall see it again if and when the next planning application is made, after the consultation process obviously!
I urge you to write, call or otherwise contact these out-of-towners who have such power over us and our town.
The approvers of Shades are, in addition to George Illingworth, Conservative of Kenilworth:
Felicity Bunker, Conservative, Kenilworth;
David Shilton, Conservative, Kenilworth;
Elizabeth Higgins, Conservative, Warwick;
Sue Gallagher, Conservative, Leek Wootton.
In the words of Alan Wilkinson, former mayor of Leamington Spa, who lives in South Town:
"The decision - made by Tory councillors who do not even live in Leamington - totally disrespects the feelings of people living in the area."
Today from the everysmith vault: Thanks to James Knight, I now have a copy of the latest Swaps CD. It was worth the wait. It plays again as I type.
Unlike Ed Miliband, I did not have a Marxist father.
But my children do.
Actually, I think I am currently, to borrow a phrase from Alexander Cockburn, more accurately described as Marx-ish rather than Marxist.
There was a time, I confess, when I adopted a more strictly reductionist point of view; when I really did believe that “it is not the consciousness of man that determines his existence; but, rather, his social existence that determines his being”.
I was not alone is taking this literally and as a single sentence out of context. And we therefore presented an easy target. It is not difficult to argue against, as did Russell and Popper amongst others, that class interest, greed and hidden motives are the sole driving forces of history. This is vulgar Marxism – simple, and simplistic.
Marx was less obvious, subtler and more nuanced than this. (Forgive me if I read as if I am describing a modern Australian Shiraz.) And it is the subtleties and nuances of Marx which make him good reading and increasingly relevant today.
He wasn’t merely an economist. In fact, he wasn’t strictly an economist at all. Although, of course, he was sufficiently prescient to predict that capitalism naturally progresses towards monopoly and thus to globalisation, and also to predict that the profits taken by those who control the means of production (we call them company directors today) would increasingly exceed the wages of those who create the wealth (we call them employees today).
This is why one occasionally reads that a hedge fund manager in the City or New York has paid tribute to and thanked Marx the economist for his insights into the markets. Whether they know it or not, it is to Marx that they owe their analyses and their huge bonuses.
For me, Marx was first and foremost an historical materialist. Or maybe, a materialist historian. And as even Popper said, Marxist historical materialism is “a most valuable suggestion to us to consider things in their relation to their economic background”. Marx, of course, would have gone further. He never made judgements about capitalism ( word, incidentally, he never used); he praised it (political economy) for its enterprise and innovation.
So why is Marxism so denigrated? Why are Marxists portrayed as people “who hate our country”. What’s the problem here?
Well, much of it is the equation of Marxism with communism. Or to be precise, with Leninism and Stalinism. It’s difficult to attribute this to anything other than ignorance or malice. It’s akin to equating our present society with Burke or Hume or Hobbes or Adam Smith or Locke or Mill.
But as we recently seen, this kind of nonsense is standard practice for the likes of Paul Dacre. I speak as someone who, proudly and for many years, has owned a lapel badge which reads “Hated by the Daily Mail”. They don’t know me from Adam Smith, but if they did they would hate Max Smith. Because I have read Marx and think that some – even much – of it is accurate and sensible and helpful in understanding the way in which our society works.
And one of the ways in which Marx is helpful to me in his moral and social analysis. True, he railed against the impotence of morality in his day and criticised those who would seek to mitigate the worst excesses of capitalism with the introduction of charity.
But he also claimed that “although an individual cannot become free in isolation from others, nonetheless it is only individuals who are free”.
There is such a thing as society. It is the nature of that society which determines whether or not each of us is free.
Right now, some are, some aren’t. We are not in this together. Some are, some (many of whom are in the Government and used to be in the Bullingdon) aren’t.
As John Lanchester has reminded us, “If you take the Jubilee Line from Westminster towards the east, male life expectancy goes down a year every stop for the next eight stops”.
I find this unacceptable. I don’t know whether this makes me a Marxist or not. But it’s certainly, as the publishers of the Zinoviev Letter would claim, Marx-ish.
And I am happy to accept this.
The opening salvo of the next stage of the campaign to build yet another shopping arcade in Leamington was fired last Friday in a bizarre news article in the Courier.
The article purported to be a report of a meeting on the previous Thursday evening at which 'small business owners learned more' about the new plans of council and developers 'to build a £90 million shopping centre in Leamington town centre' (sic).
Except, of course, the Courier goes to press before the meeting took place, so the use of the past tense is just a tad disingenuous. The reporter confirmed to me that he was not at the meeting, and so couldn't actually report it. My guess is that he merely changed the tense of the press release from the council or the Federation of Small Businesses, under the aegis of which the meeting was held. But I could be wrong.
According to my sources, attendance was about 10 or 12; probably the first time such a small gathering has received such prominent coverage.
But that is not the point. The point is that this is one of ways in which the illusion of 'consultation' is projected to the town. This ’report’ will be quoted in months to come by the advocates of the scheme as evidence of the ways in which the council engaged with major stakeholders.
We've been here before, of course, when letters inviting those businesses which would be affected to meetings were not actually delivered. We’ve watched Powerpoint presentations which made statements but never showed evidence. We listened to developers promise to get back to us but they never did.
We rallied and we argued and the proposals were defeated at the planning stage.
Clearly, we had won a battle but not a war. Because here we go again, with the council using their vast resources - how do they justify using our own business rates to destroy us? - to relaunch the whole thing, this time using an 'independent report' as its starting point.
This report, which is neither Portus nor Grimsey, is the third such report commissioned by the council in the last ten years. According to the Courier, it "highlights a need for a new shopping centre the size of the Clarendon Arcade to draw shoppers back into Leamington”.
What a surprise?! A report commissioned by the council coming up with a conclusion devoutly wished by the council. “The size of the Clarendon Arcade”? Really? How fortuitous.
Philip Clarke, the senior projects co-ordinator for WDC, last seen in 2012 taking credit for the fact that Leamington was doing better in attracting shoppers than any of its neighbouring competition and therefore, you might think, not requiring anything “to draw shoppers back into Leamington”, is quoted as saying: “this was part of our programme to engage with some of the main stakeholder groups which also include BID and the Chamber of Trade.”
When I spoke to BID on Friday afternoon, they had no idea what I was talking about and rushed off to buy a copy of the paper!
It is in fact part of a long-term battle by the planning department to develop the Chandos Street car park, which it owns.
In their determination to create this new arcade, they are destroying what remains of the heart of a Regency town, ignoring the evidence of their own eyes - the masses of empty stores - and once again sentencing those residents, retailers and restaurants in the area to another long period of uncertainty.
But what do they care?
These are the guys who also make it virtually impossible to park in Leamington in order to use the High Street attractions. They haven't read the Grimsey Report, which recommends that there should be a 'free two hour high street and town centre car parking system'.
Actually, they probably have read it. But they've ignored it. Because they want to play at being builders. Free parking would transform local business. We all know that.
Existing businesses, independent businesses, local residents, you just keep paying your rates while we spend the money paying consultants and offering deals to 'anchor stores’.
(And just wait for the rumours about John Lewis coming to town to start again as they did last time.)
As the Grimsey Report says, a necessary precondition of re-establishing our high streets is that we accept that “there is already too much retail space in the UK and that bricks and mortar retailing can no longer be the anchor to create thriving high streets and town centres”.
This is of course an ’independent report’. But it’s not the independent report that Mr Clarke and developers Wilson Bowden want. It’s the report that rate-payers and townspeople want, because it addresses real, day-to-day concerns.
We know that there are empty retail premises all over this town and probably more to come. More bricks and mortar means more empty premises that we, in the end, have to pay for.
Unfortunately, empiricism and common sense have seldom been relevant in this town and it sure as hell isn’t in this debate.
The Courier piece showed, first, that the council officers and the developers are already starting their campaign to influence the councillors; and second, that the Courier is complicit.
We need to get moving. This time, unless we respond quickly, they might actually succeed in building - at huge cost - a white elephant which will destroy our town.
(The Strategic Perspectives report is available here: http://www.warwickdc.gov.uk/WDC/Planning/
Geoff Renshaw in the Leamington Society's newsletter http://leamingtonsociety.org.uk/Newsletters/
August%202013%20Newsletter.pdf provides a reasoned, informed and compelling response which I commend to you.
Also, you can download the Grimsey Report at http://towns.org.uk/files/
In the last month, two more chain restaurants have opened in the centre of Leamington Spa. Meanwhile, a much-loved, family-run independent restaurant has closed. On the window of the empty premises is this poignant message.
Âme Sœur was a lovely little restaurant, run by lovely people. Jill and I visited a couple of times and found it homely, friendly, welcoming and infinitely superior to any of the local representatives of the national chains.
But, like so many independent operations in a town which used to be famous for its independents, Àme Sœur has fallen foul of the big chains and their massive buying power, their microwaves, their systems and their special offers.
Carluccio's and Nando's have moved in to join Prezzo and Strada and Wagamama and Pizza Hut and Pizza Express and a host of others, all attracted by a wining and dining culture which was created from scratch by small independent bars and bistros over the last thirty years or so.
Now, they are setting about destroying the very establishments which created their marketplace.
This appears to be a matter of supreme indifference to a council which remains committed to yet another mall, despite public opposition. After all, as long the rates come in, who cares about the culture of the town? And if they can raise the tax base by knocking down a few Regency frontages and building five storey brick walls within a few feet of independent restaurants, what the hell?, let's do it.
Independents, you see, don't have the resources to fight the bureaucracies. They are devoting their limited resources to the struggle to stay alive in an environment in which their chain gang competition is offering 40% off here and free bottles of wine there, two meals for the price of one here and pints for halves there.
You can't blame the consumer. In a recession, especially in a recession, the consumer takes any and every deal going. Which is why, to paraphrase Marx, 'man is born free but is everywhere in chain restaurants'.
It won't last of course. In a year or two, what's fashionable now will become unfashionable. And some hedge fund which cares little for quality and customer service, except as items on a balance sheet, will rebrand them and sign up some other celebrity to lend their name, and the process will begin again.
I've majored on the hospitality industry because that is the area of activity in which I have a (vested) interest. But of course the same principle applies up and down our High Streets.
The big names get the prime sites and set the rent levels. Every throw of every dice is loaded in their favour.
Almost everyone I know is sad about the closure of Àme Sœur. But did they patronise it? Or did they sneak off to Strada because they'd just got some free meal deal from Vouchercloud on their iPhone?
Of course they did. But that's the nub: "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone".
Our best wishes to Jason and Sarah. Good luck!
Today from the everysmith vault: still listening to - and still loving - Another Self Portrait.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In St Quentin la Poterie, the fourth of July dawned at 06.04 with the news that a military coup in Egypt has taken place in the name of democracy, that President Evo Morales’ jet had been denied airspace by France, Italy, Spain and Portugal in the search for Edward Snowden, and that a listening device has been discovered in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
There is other important news this morning of course – notably the walk-off win by the Sox and Duke Robillard leaving Dylan’s band after apparently receiving a message from God; but the army intervention in Egypt, the quasi-kidnapping of Morales and the latest revelation in the surveillance story seem somehow to be particularly appropriate on a day when we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
I say ‘we’ because the 4th of July 1776 is as important a date in the history of the world as the 14th of July 1789: it is an occasion which should be marked by all people of all nations. And the second sentence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal
, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
” – predates the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France.
The three events of this morning’s news throw the fine prose and aspirations of Jefferson and Adams into sharp focus. To what extent do these actions reflect the moral philosophy which underpinned the Declaration? In what sense are the various governments involved acting in accordance with the ‘constitution’?
One has to say, not at all.
While I have no time for any government which bases its actions on religious rather than secular premises, I have no time for any military overthrow of freely and fairly elected representatives.
I understand the call by President Morales for Europe “to free itself from the US Empire”.
And I share the anger of Ecuador at the bugging of its embassy which, if it was carried out by the British intelligence services, must have – or do I mean should
have? - been approved by the Home Secretary.
Today of course is a very particular and important anniversary, but it is merely one day of many on which similar actions have taken place. Our constitutions, written or otherwise, are ignored as a matter of course by those who, in their public pronouncements, pay lip service to the ideals which lie at their heart.
But perhaps today is the day when those of us who aspire to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness might question those who use force to negate the democratic process, who throw the full weight of global power at a single person who has got in the way, or who invade the privacy of states and individuals for … what?
Hey, we might do more than question. We could and should protest.
A very happy fourth of July to everyone, but especially to our American friends in Leamington Spa (enjoy this evening!) and in Boston MA. Today’s listening:
The Bob Phillips Rhythm Band’s tribute concert on the occasion of Dylan’s 60th birthday. A great show which deserves a wider audience.
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.
Lord Acton: "the magistrate of history"
I heard on the radio yesterday morning that the Queen’s speech is read from sheets of goats’ vellum, and that the ink with which the speech is written takes three days to dry. And I remembered that the conclusions of Vatican II, the modernising ‘reforms’ of the Church under Pope John XXIII, were published in Latin.
If the medium is the message, we’re in serious trouble.
Which is not to say that I believe tradition and modernity to be polar opposites. I can understand why some may believe that tradition is a catch-all word for all that they despise, that a reference to tradition is a means of bestowing an illusion of permanence on a policy, an ideology, or anything which is transient or contingent.
But if I believe in anything, I believe in history. And, as Henry James pointed out, “it takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition”.
It is difficult to mention even a little tradition without prefixing the word with the qualifying phrase, ‘time-honoured’.
Is it so? Is tradition time-honoured? Or is it merely ‘time-worn’?
There is some truth in the statement that tradition only becomes tradition when it is, effectively, dead; when it is finished as a progressive force. But I am not clear (as my friend Rick Gekoski would say) whether this is useful when comparing it with modernity, or its cousins modernism and post-modernism.
Bob Dylan, for example, was and is an exemplar of modernity and modernism. But as Michael Gray has pointed out, he works most successfully within the tradition of the pre-war blues. He recreates, re-interprets, re-invents the genre for us. In approach and attitude, tonality and structure, our greatest modern poets – Eliot and Auden - have worked within a tradition, the Metaphysical, which was established centuries before. And Wordsworth and Coleridge, revolutionary in politics and poetry at the time they composed Lyrical Ballads as both of book of verse and a manifesto, were working within a long-established tradition of the ballad. I will leave it to my commentators - Geoff, Chris, Charlotte and Ken - to point with accuracy to parallels in the world of art.
We are not dealing with opposites at each end of some linear progression. Modernity, in reacting against a tradition, continues that tradition, re-forming it and thus creating a new tradition against which a new generation can respond, react and renew.
It is a continual and continuing process, and is thus – in my view – time-honoured. If the tradition is worthy, it gains new life. Otherwise, it has no validity, no attraction, and it dies.
So why is the Queen still reading from goats’ vellum? Come to that, why is the Queen still reading a speech at all? And why is all this arcane Black Rod nonsense still going on?
Well, there may perhaps be some truth in another of Lord Acton’s aphorisms: that the authority of tradition serves as a restraint on absolute power.
If only …
Today's listening: correspondence between Rick Gekoski and Kazuo Ishiguro as to whether Dylan's 'lost' song I'm Not There (1956) should qualify for inclusion in Rick's book Lost, Stolen or Shredded has prompted me to return to the complete Basement Tapes and that sublime song in its original, one take version.
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
We were reminded of the truth of Hartley’s aphorism yesterday when six of us took a cab into the deep south of Warwickshire to eat in the 1970s. Our destination was a restaurant called The Butcher’s Arms, a quite beautiful building in a small hamlet, which has an iconic reputation amongst a certain class in that part of the county.
It was an illuminating experience, in which we appeared to be playing minor roles in a comedy of town and country manners, a latter-day re-write of She Stoops To Conquer.
This is not intended to be a restaurant review, although for the record I note that the wine was excellent and not unreasonably priced, and that the food was not excellent and not reasonably priced.
What was interesting was the atmosphere, the culture, of the establishment. If we had on the journey engaged in flippant thoughts that we may perhaps épate le bourgeois, it was clear from the moment we entered the bar that we were as much on display as the expensive, sports and vintage cars in the car park.
The restaurant is unashamedly, even proudly, a throwback to the ‘70s. When it opened, it was the height of fashion, a destination for Coventry captains of industry, the lawyers and accountants, the masons and landowners, the councillors and aldermen of the county. Today, it is a refuge for a class whose time has come and gone. The conversation is of trips to Spain or Antigua. The service, if one is admitted to the inner circle, is fawning. The menu is reassuringly familiar.
The only things that are even slightly risqué are the Pirelli calendars which adorn the walls of the lavatories.
Yet it was yesterday and is regularly full, even over-full.
I suspect this is because there is no alternative. No other establishment caters for this clientele. And so, regularly and frequently, the rich but not famous gather together to celebrate themselves and their lives and their way of life. Importantly, they can do it away from the hoi polloi, from those who – like the six of us – do not share their values.
It would be unfair to say that we were unwelcome, but we were not welcomed. We watched the fawning service on the other tables, but did not experience it. Wine was not offered to us to try, but merely deposited on the table. The waiting staff, so ubiquitous for others, failed to make eye contact or acknowledge that, as later arrivals were presented with their main courses, we had yet to order our starters.
It was a salutary experience for all of us. Accustomed to a milieu which is multi-racial, multi-cultural and all-embracing, this exclusiveness was alien to us. We did feel as if we had stepped into a foreign country. We did feel that they do things differently. We did feel excluded.
This was not a class issue. It was not even about some Weberian complication regarding status.
What we had done was stumble into a cult.
We were watching a form of ritual, a kind of Masonic practice which only adepts are able to appreciate.
Today's listening: Rick Gekoski on Radio 4. I intend to review his new book Lost, Stolen or Shredded when I have given it due consideration. Watch this space.