The Sarah Millican Television Program – a little bit of what you fancy

The Sarah Millican Television Program Audience shotThe Sarah Millican Television Program is TV about TV – yes Meta TV – and so this blog post to be a TV appraisal about TV appraisal – the Meta-Meter is going off the dial here! – as if said critic hoisted up their big fat lardy tv-watching ass from their oh so comfortable armchair and stepped through the screen to chance their thoughts with both a studio and TV watching audience at large.

A potential infinite loop of the Sarah Millican Television Program reviewing the Sarah Millican Television Program reviewing the Sarah M…

It is not quite as if Caitlin Moran or Grace Dent took their TV critic routines from their respective newspapers to the Telly Box as Sarah Millican is already a star of sorts of the TV screen – she has been a regular guest on comedy panel shows popping up on Frank Skinner’s Opinionated, Jimmy Carr’s 8 out of 10 Cats… in fact it would be quicker to list the British comedy shows over the last five odd years that she has not appeared on. She even appeared regularly for a while on Loose Women which really is no laughing matter. Some relief from its cheery banality I guess. But this show is her first where she is as they say stage-centre.

This is a Telly show about Telly but one that is not embarrassed to admit that affection and that it is a near-all-consuming one. For many a TV critic it seems TV itself  is far too low-brow and a temporary gig where they will be calling themselves a Culture Critic whilst waiting to be taken more seriously reviewing Art or even Film. Not Sarah Millican.

She begins this show by commenting

I love TV, it has taught me everything I know. I spend so much time with my TV it is like family. Take Eastenders. Eastenders has taught me many things. Turn off the baby-monitor before shagging your neighbour. And at some point we are all going to have to marry Ian Beale!

The Sarah Millican Television Program Opening Couch sequenceWhen Eastenders is not being the most watched TV show in Britain it is only because Coronation Street is being the most watched TV show in Britain  – we Brits like our Soap Operas. Perhaps this is true of all Countries – that we all love our Soap Operas more than any other format whilst at the same time all of those said shows being incomprehensible outside the country they were made in – and not just because of their native language! I understand that Coronation Street for example never took off in the USA – and indeed had to be subtitled! – last time I checked Mancunian was English! Of course I know we don’t all love our soap operas, there are likely far more that never watch them than do, but we can take that as a given that when we mean most watched what we really mean is least unwatched. Clear?!

She then comments how she uses the TV schedule to plan her day, like the One Show.

When you hear the music for the One Show you know that technically it’s okay to start drinking!

For those of you not familiar with the One Show, which is as likely to apply to those living in Britain as outside of it, it kicks off at One in the afternoon not the morning! And for those of you outside of Britain she is not meaning drinking tea! I will let Sarah Millican explain what it is about

It is a magazine show. You know, those magazines you can get that are about spiders, different types of ham and what JLS think of dry-stone walling!

In each episode of her show she will be looking at different aspects of TV viewing – previous episodes have looked at wildlife and dating programs, and yet another  costume dramas with special reference to zombies. Alas I missed that one! This episode will be looking at food and survival programs – another natural coupling!

And so on to the aforementioned main courses. Though as she explains the closest she gets to both is

Eating chips outside

She describes cookery shows as like ‘food porn’ saying that she is not really interested in the making of it just ‘the money shot at the end’! Next in her sights is Nigella Lawson where the TV camera often seems more interested in how she is shot than any meal she might happen to be preparing. Or has she more pithily describes –

Nigella is shot like an episode of CSI. Only shot from the waist up! I love those bits when she comes out in the night for a snack, like a sexy badger!

A sure sign that I watch too much TV is her next joke about Gordon Ramsay’s corrugated forehead ‘from constantly looking under the grill’ reminding me of another  joke about the Scot Chef’s washboard forehead  from Sean Lock’s  Lockipedia Live show ‘the shit that must have gone on with Gordon in his past’! Yes it is quite a specialized hinterland of comedy the comedy about Gordon Ramsay’s creased forehead that I have found myself in!

On meals for one she commented that she did not like them

Not because they make me feel lonely. I just don’t think they are big enough!

As with a lot of comedians ‘it is the way they tell’em’. I am writing her jokes down but that may not really do justice to them. Or be the point. These jokes have to be heard not read, you cannot hear the vocal inflections nor see the facial ticks, when the words are rendered cold on the page or screen. Perhaps too you need to hear her accent, its jaunty Geordie (North East England) melody. Likewise the interaction with the TV audience – the laughter, and whether uproarious or embarrassed or hesitant and the pauses in the jokes to allow for all of that too.

The Sarah Millican Television Program Olly Smith

Olly Smith

As well as her stand up comedy routine she also has guests. Her first is a Wine Expert – Olly Smith from Saturday Kitchen and Iron Chef UK who she describes as having ‘a firm body, nutty top notes and a lovely nose’!

Her opening question sets the tone for what is to follow

Olly, do you ever worry that you’re encouraging people to drink wine a bit early in the day?

A few questions later she asks him whether he prefers

To spit or to swallow

The questions in between did not depart too much from that Graham Norton vein. Despite Olly ostensibly being invited on to talk about wine she had told him early on that she did not actually like wine – unless it was sparkly – heathen!

Her humour being a playful white wine rather than the dark underbelly of a red wine.

A Sarah Millican interview is not really a dialogue rather a comedy monologue with her guest as much a victim as an equal partner but as ways to die being tickled toward it is not a bad way to go!

She ended with a joke about her being a boozing lightweight

The last time I had a pint of Shandy I went to Tescos afterwards and I was a little big giggly and I bought furniture polish and I don’t even have furniture to polish!

She then moves on to Survival programs

My phone died last week and I had to use a Pay Phone, I felt like Bear Grylls

On advice from her father following passing her driving test.

You should always have in the boot of your car at all times, a blanket, a shovel and a flask. And he’s right because whenever I’ve killed a man I’m always parched!

The Sarah Millican Television Program Charley Boorman

With Charley Boorman

Her guest for this survival part of her show is Charley Boorman as much it seems for his motorcycle adventures  in Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor. He talks about one episode in Mongolia where desperate for something to eat they got themselves invited into the home of a Mongolian family and were presented with 200 testicles – we learn that they pop when you eat them! Mmm – I would have to be very hungry.

It is during this section that we also meet Sarah Millican’s dad which is also another regular part of this show. They hook up via Skype. I am not sure that this section works – it feels a bit folksy and the genial family banter not really translating out of their family home to our homes, family or otherwise.

His relevance in this section however revolves around the survival skills he taught her when she was a young child such as how to escape a burning building! Charlie Boorman when asked whether he has given any such advise to his children answers only ‘that they should get marshmallows’!

She then moves on to another comedy routine about food commercials. Commenting on the (upmarket) Marks and Spencer TV advert with sexy female voice-over ‘It’s not just chicken’ she compares to (downmarket) Aldi and suggests that they should have their own version ‘It’s not quite chicken’!

We then move on to the Great British Bake Off and her final guest Celebrity Baker Paul Hollywood which culminates in them preparing a scone-mix which leads inexorably it seems to a recreation of the Demi Moore Patrick Swayze Ghost scene not forgetting the Righteous Brothers crooning over it all – only bread-dough filling in for clay! Finding out more about Paul Hollywood (is that name for real, really?!) and by that I mean looking him up on Wikipedia I discover that before studying as a baker he studied as a sculptor. Spooky?!  Or more likely the show’s researchers also use Wikipedia! And apropos of nothing the other key fact about him it seems is that he was responsible for creating the most expensive bread in Britain, Almond and Roquefort SourDough, selling for £15 a loaf at Harrods – now you know, whether you wanted to or not!

The Sarah Millican Television Program with Paul Hollywood

With Paul Hollywood

Sarah Millican asks him if he were a bread what kind would he be. She states that his fellow baker on the show Mary Berry would be a sour-dough. He replies a Baguette. I mentioned Graham Norton earlier but this really is just another strain of Oo-er humour running back through Julian Clary and Les Dawson all the way back to the Carry On movies – perhaps it is Protestant humour – that necessary mix of risque and repression…she adds that she thinks she would be a Crusty Bloomer. After a while of this sort of humour every household object in eye-shot becomes a symbol of some sexual adventuring. He adds that he prefers the dough wet to dry, if it is too dry it does not work – your mind is now working over I am sure – innuendo is insidious!

The episode ends with some closing jokes.

How Soufflés are like boyfriends – you can always try again but it is annoying thinking about the time – and eggs! – you wasted on the last one!

It now seems a near pointless detail to include what time TV shows are broadcast, even on which channel they are broadcast, such are the endless ways they can be subsequently seen. But if you want to catch it when it is first broadcast, or indeed are able to, The Sarah Millican Television Program is a BBC Two broadcast, of a Thursday evening, of about thirty minutes and for a six week run.

The Sarah Millican Television Program Logo

Fragments of an Arbitrary Encyclopaedia – Jonathan Meades on France

Jonathan Meades on France BBC 4 Web page imageEveryman has two countries – his own and France.

So proclaims Jonathan Meades in the opening of the opening episode of his new series.

The BBC web-page for this program describes this series as

Jonathan Meades scrutinizes the 95 per cent of France that Brits drive through and don’t notice en route to the 5 per cent that conforms to their expectation

Its opening episode ‘Fragments of an Arbitrary Encyclopaedia’ explore one of France’s regions, Lorraine, where the episode page advises

Jonathan Meades travels through Lorraine and explains why, although close to its eastern border, it has become the symbolic, or even mystical, heart of France and a stronghold of a romantic nationalism that is also expressed by such diverse means as typography, music, engineering, exquisite urbanism and, above all, a sensitivity to Germany’s proximity.

Jonathan Meades on FranceThis program was broadcast without fanfare or farewell in January and February of this year.

Jonathan Meades is not well known, even in his home country of England, even in his own home county of Wiltshire. He is an unphotographed entry in the Internet Movie Database, but perhaps that just means he is barely known to North Americans. But he does at least have an entry, so he can be said at least to exist.

They describe him as a

Caustic journalist who writes on food and several other subjects, as well as presenting television documentaries

Though oddly despite this information being pride of place in his entry it comes under the section of trivia! Most of his listed TVCV is Television that broadcasts without much ado – fame is not going to seek out someone so little interested in it.

His most recent work prior to this ‘On France’ was Off Kilter which title describes his work well. His longest and perhaps most known or I should say least unknown series was Jonathan Meades Abroad in Britain exploring Britain from the outside looking in – its stop-offs were not usually the usual ones and whose episodic titles may give you an inkling of their content – The Case of the Disappearing Architect, On the Brandwagon and Heaven: Folkwoven In England – then again perhaps they give you no inkling of the content and Mr Meades might be disappointed if they did.

Meades is a literary presenter who is more writer than presenter. It is his words that make him telegenic.

And in this first episode Meades begins by listing what this episode is not about. It is not about

springs of onions, no Dourdogne, Boules, Piaf, ooh la la, Gallic shrugs, street markets, nor check-table cloths

And before I begin this review I own that my knowledge of France does not venture too much beyond the realm of cliché. Sadly France remains unvisited to me despite country-wise being on our Eastern borders save a Channel of water and if I did visit her it would probably be with those 95% seeking Paris though not at least to confirm any expectations I may have of it. I have at least got to know Serge Gainsbourg a little deeper than his carnal duet Je t’aime – though whether Gainsbourg is quintessentially French, or quintessentially Parisian or quintessentially anything I am not sure.

And what this opening episode will be about will be established and knitted via an alphabet soup but not starting at A ending at Z but beginning and finishing with V. Perhaps because we are going on a vacation, if of sorts. Or because we will be veering via his vertiginous vocabulary V to V. Well, you figure it out!

And so to the first V. Valise. To the strains of La Marselliase – some comforting familiarity. For now.

Valise as marker in his words for War and Death and for Statehood – a suitcase both literal and symbolic then – declaiming

Everyman has two countries – his own and France

Quoting a line put into the mouth of Charlemagne from a late 19th Century play La fille de Roland, by Henri De Beugnier, who has Meades note was French himself, so a predictably chauvinistic boast. And perhaps an unpredictably chauvinistic comment about chauvinism from Meades.

Jonathan Meades on France OASExcept Jonathan Meades tell us that in his case (that really was a very subconscious pun!) it is true, sharing with us that his childhood visits to France were many and various including ‘weird sojourns with his granddad’s elderly business friends’ and that he was forever hauling a giant suitcase. That 1962 (half-a-century old as of time of broadcast) in particular was the year that France became his second country, when he arrived in a war-zone – France being in the throes of a terrorist bombing campaign led by the OAS (Organisation de l’armée secrète), a secret military organization committed to keeping Algeria French. This being the year Algeria was to be granted its independence. Algeria was to become free from France if its people not free from its subsequent authoritarian government. The Arab Spring has only blown a little over this country…

When reviewing Meades it is very easy to just bask in his luxurious language and to merely repeat its mazey lines verbatim without comment save the occasional sigh of inhalation, sigh of exhalation. And perhaps that at times should be enough.

For him though the politics of Algerian Independence was of little import to his adolescent mind rather it was in his words the shameful thrill of its awful randomness…next V.

Jonathan Meades on France VallinVallin, Eugene – he was a furniture maker turned architect.

Nancy was we are advised a celebrated arts and crafts centre – Art Nouveau was favoured of Vallin’s time which genre depending on your disposition is at best reverentially revivalist at worst plagiarist.

Nancy though had its own version and took the English Arts and Craft movement as its model if a little less averse to utilizing emerging industrial technologies. This movement we are told is the  preferred style of the Caviar Left, translation Champagne Socialism.

By coincidence BBC 4 have a new series recently commenced Sex and Sensibility: The Art of  Nouveau presented by Stephen Smith who goes into much more detail, three one-hour episodes, as oppose to the several minutes that Meades passes over the subject. But Meades though voluble is nearly always concise. And has a lot of V’s to get through, here comes the next. And on to the next V.

Vaulan, Marquis de – economist and military engineer building battlements on Frances borders at a time when France was rapidly expanding – this V is not dwelt on long.

Jonathan Meades on France VaudemontOn to another V. Vaudémont – a small area of Lorraine and a place of worship or in his words

it has a tower that has a Mary on top of it!

He elaborates or continues in similar vein

A hill south of Lorraine is holy, or spiritual or mystical, one of those superstitious things anyway

He ends that it is the only hilly area for miles around which topographical prodigiousness is routinely claimed for God when in fact it actually belongs to the marvels of geological happenstance.

We spend some time with Maurice Barres one of Vaudémont’s inhabitants and politicians and described by Meades as ‘a clubbable bigot, a xenophobe steeped perhaps paradoxically in German literature’ and has ‘a Lorraine supremacist’

I am not free to think as I wish. I can live only in relation to the dead of my race. They, and my country’s soil, tell me how I should live

Meades thinks that much that he wrote was absolute tosh, but captivatingly written tosh. He notes that Barres influenced not just the gullible but an entire generation – and in him the hill was proclaimed the sacred hill of the nation.

We are advised that Joan of Arc also came from Lorraine, in nearby Domremy. And that Charles De Gaulles was a disciple of Barres too and chose to live on the border of Lorraine though on the other side of that border! Like loving the ideal of someone yet sensing even the briefest time in their presence would disappoint if not appall. Describing then from his border-vantage it has having

a melancholic emptiness where nothing changes, not the spirit, not the place

eulogizing a vapour…

Like Barres De Gaule was described as a solitary being who sought solace in the signals of nature leading Meades to conclude therefore that destiny here was a delusion prompted by

birds chatter, leaves gusting through forests naves, dappled, shafts of sunlight, raucous twigs, sprinting clouds and a multitude of furry animals scurrying nowhere in particular…

And then we look at the Lorraine Cross – a Christian Cross variant which we are reminded the Swastika was too. This Cross was a symbol for the Free French precisely because it defied this German Nationalist Imperialistic Invasion. This neighbourly violation.

This V comes to a close and next Vaugeois. Founder of ‘LAction Francais newspaper Meades lists that he is

anti-Semitic, anti-Corporatist, anti-Republican, anti-democratic, anti-Protestant, anti-Masonic, (pauses to add) goes without saying – it was Catholic and Monarchist

Meades muses on identity has a perennial concern of the far right

whose enemies are rootlessness, cosmopolitanism. A form of communitarianism which defines people by their race and inherited cultured rather than by their individuality, their aspirations, and their talents. It’s a kind of prison.

One of its street-hawkers Meades tell us was Jean Marie Le Pen subsequent leader of the French National Front and youngest ever member of the French Parliament who in turn was inspired by rabble-rouser Pierre Poujade – the deafening voice of the silent majority.

Meades proposes this eternal stance of victim is always with us, always impotent – like Philoctetes its wounds will never heal. Even those merely imagined, especially those merely imagined.

Jonathan Meades on France VedetteAnd on to Vedette –  that is the Simca Vedette – as any lover of mid 1950’s French cars needs no further explanation! Here used as a symbol of Les Trentes Glorieuses (Thirty Glorious Years)  – today an everyday phrase it was originally coined in the book of that name by economist Jean Fourastié from the late 1970’s – and described approximately the period from the liberation of France in the World War II through to the Liberation of French Women in the early 1970’s  – decades that experienced exponential industrial growth amid the rush towards modernization and va-va voom (had to get those V’s in – not a crowbar in sight!) both public and private.

We then see Meades statue-like in a French supermarket or hypermarket or megamarket you get the picture – as My Way in French or perhaps the French song it was based on Comme d’habitude, no matter, plays on its sound-system

For this economist glory relates to the spread of affluence, the triumph of consumerism, medical advances, education, improved working conditions, improved public services and so on.

I own, therefore I am.

Though ownership at least that includes and acknowledges taxation – a visceral verbal volley usually hissed from the individualists, the delusional individualists against taxes – there is no such thing as individuals – we are all social beings, inescapably so, and all the stronger and more diverse and, perhaps paradoxically, the freer for our endless interdependence.

I am happier and healthier now that I drive a Simca Vedette and have plenty of plenty, the state is no longer solely an ideal to which I bear quasi-religious fealty and adolescent resentment. It is also a supplier with which I enjoy a near commercial relationship in exchange for my taxes. My heavy taxes.

Glory then in an economic ideal not a nationalistic one of soil and pomp with vaunting exhortations to patriotism

Just as well Meades notes as this was a quite inglorious time for France.

Though as an side is this not the way of history? – it is that nostalgia thing again – we experience always our national life has anxious and disappointing and inglorious, it is only when it becomes past with the increasing distance of space and time that its ingloriousness sheds its first syllable –  embellished by unreliable memory and variously motivated cherry picking.

Back to Meades. France, both at home and its (colonial) abroad, specifically its military forays which as Meade succinctly calls it

France played 4 lost 4.

Surrender becoming habit forming and we are now given another language lesson this time a list of German words that have invaded and or been integrated into the French language.

Jonathan Meades on France VerdunAnd on to Verdun

Starting with  a song Verdun by Michel Sordou over footage of this World War One battle.

A battle in 1916 that claimed 300,000 lives. It is to France as to what the Somme is to Britain. But whereas the Edwin Lutyens Monument  to the Missing of the Battle of Somme remembers it in an architecturally appropriate way the architecture commemorating Verdun Meades thinks does not . This being the Douaumont ossuary. Not that it is frivolous but that it lacks solemnity, lacks gravity. It is the architecture of pleasure placed in a cemetery, inimical to meditative remembrance – the architects lacked the nerve to address the awful purpose of the monument , they made light of it, a 140 metre long betrayal of the dead.

They were also victims of the Modernist Century’s incapacity to devise a commemorative mode Meades adds and that no century ever needed one more.

Verlaine – Paul not Tom.  And his ode to Metz. Site of an earlier military surrender from 1870 – the invader again Germany and as before we looked at how language was invaded too this time we look at architectural invasion. Such as the Metz station – described by one critic memorably as an immense squat meat-pie!.

Further time is spend looking at renovations of existing buildings to rewrite history and render them Teutonic.

Jonathan Meades on France Metz VerlaineVersailles – and back to 1962 and Jean Bastien-Thiry who attempted to assassinate French President Charles De Gaulle and which spawned a book The Day of The Jackal  in 1971 by Frederick Forsyth and a few years later a film by Fred Zinneman starring Edward Fox and we are going off track. Back again then to 1962 and the failed assassination attempt and as much of note was his trial (also for treason) was that the General to preside over it killed himself rather than sit in judgement and the firing squad tried to miss the target, that is Bastien-Thiry!, taking half an hour to eventually kill him – because perhaps he used to be one of them, the French Military Establishment that is, having served in their air-force. He was the last person to be killed by firing squad in France. And why Versailles? This was the location of the cemetery he was buried in which tombstone now has an annual ceremony and remembrance of sorts as attended by his fellow surviving outcasts and which routinely prompts protests. As heroes and villains are often the same person.

Jonathan Meades on France StrasbourgVexatious litigants – and Strasbourg  and the location of the European Court of Human Rights – its building is disparaged for its architecture and then for its purpose.

The latter explained away has a Court of Special Pleading and that we are showered at birth with the promise of potential entitlements and should those entitlements not be fulfilled we can come here and complain and so line the pockets of the pious shysters of the Human Rights Industry!

And the architecture is described as being indistinguishable from buildings on the Polish-Lithuanian border, a comment only helpful if you are familiar with the architecture of the Polish-Lithuanian border!

Multiculturalism in the name of diversity is the next to find itself under the sun-glassed gaze of Jonathan Meades – and this one is a vituperative verbal volley – brace yourselves!

the constant injunction to celebrate vibrant diversity is moronic. It is shared qualities that should be appreciated. To emphasize differences merely consigns people to their background, to where they’ve come from, to their tribe, their caste, their religion. It creates ghettos.

France’s regionalism is then addressed. He notes that it is exacerbated by its absorption of its many bordered countries – Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

What is noticeable he then observes is the absence of reciprocity – these countries do not absorb France as France absorbs them. Universalism in his words does not travel!

By way of example and a dig at German cuisine – what do you call good German cooking? You call it Alsacian cooking. Alsace enjoys a reputation as the most gastronomic region of France, arguably the most gastronomic country on earth. But noting the dishes themselves are all originally German but Francofied… Alsace though a border region with perhaps inevitable ambiguous loyalties to both France and its border boarder Germany.

And another French region, another V – Vichy.

Cue old British Empire-style war footage with a plummy English accent voiceover describing Pierre Laval, French Prime Minister during wartime, second world wartime, and who had to negotiate with Germany whilst his nation vanquished by them, and being described by said plummy voice as being in the habit of eating Frogs and thus making him technically a cannibal – casual cringing racist diplomatic humour!

Most French Meades advise were neither collaborator or resistance  rather at varying degrees between those two outer poles but the extremes having greater story value to history prevail. He notes though how its war criminals stealthily changed sides and suits and rose through the peacetime political ranks. And that though subsequent generations of Germans have expressed much shame for the culpability of their ancestors subsequent generations of France’s citizens have expressed no such shame for their collaborative role. Rather it was but another episode in France’s interminable civil war – right against left, monarchism against republicanism, catholic against an alliance of masons, protestants and secularists – the aforementioned AOS we are advised included both former collaborators and resistance fighters – men who had been deported to Dachau, men who had deported them.

Vienna! – the baguette is not French! You may have guessed then that it was introduced to Paris from Vienna in 1830.

Vietminh – not to be confused with Vietnam – though they were of that country and set up to establish independence from France – and during World War 2 against Japan too. And this Meades tale is about Georges Boudarel, a French teacher in Saigon who in 1950 defected to the Vietminh soon to become a war-criminal being responsible for the death of 300 or so of his compatriots. Reminding that the heart of darkness is not a geographical place but the darkness of the heart. He was sentenced to death in-absentia. And later recognized in Paris by one of his surviving victims was tried non absentia – in the interim he had been living in France having embarked on a university career as an  historian, revising his own history too, put on trials for crimes against humanity and now defended by his academic colleagues in the name of colonial revisionism. He was freed under the terms of an amnesty. This was a common French fate for colonial misadventurers. And veer off again to another v.

Visionary Visionaries – we see a ticker-tape pictorial parade of those so selected – Andre Godin, Le Corbusier,  Pascal Hausermann and Claude Nicolas Ledoux, to the sound of I Close the Door Upon Myself by Susumu Yokota.

He then elaborates a little or a lot as his fancy takes on each.

We first cut to Ledoux and his salt-works – a utopian salt works! Described memorably by Meades – though Meades has so much that is memorable that by virtue of its quantity it becomes unmemorable! – as exhilaratingly sullen.

He talks of the talking architecture – Architecure Parlante – giving Meades play to riff on model examples such as

a public toilet in the form of a syringe, a new house of commons in the form of a suitcase of money or cash dispenser, ‘that sort of thing’!

Jonathan Meades on France Le CorbusierOn to Le Corbusier described as a Swiss peasant who according to Meades wanted to be a French genius, a cultural colonialist and these the more flattering terms he has for him!. His works are treated more favorably – buildings that use machines but do not worship them. Described as

plastic, expressive with deliberately rough edges. Purity of form is suppressed, impurity of form is more interesting.  The meeting point of France and the Future.

In his second country Meade declares the future had already arrived. Or rather a future had already arrived. One that looked like it had suffered multiple amputations! But one at least that the French had a share in, not imposed from without. The future existed in the present.

Jonathan Meades on France HausermannOn to Hausermann – also Swiss – and Meades then reminds that many from Switzerland are mistaken for being French listing Rousseau, Godin and others before deliberately trailing off as a long list. Like many Scots who are thought by non-Brits as English but I veer. And what did Hausermann do? It was he that created the architecture of that French future now!

On to the next V.

Vitrine – the arrival of white Goods to France and seemingly endless household gadgets or rather appliances.

Jonathan Meades on France VitrineCar colours expanded – there was a time when every other colour was Cobalt Blue

somewhere between the colour of Gitanes and the colour of Gauloises! Two of the country’s predominant scents!, along with urine, sewers, two-stroke fuel!

Jonathan Meades on France MistralMeades then veers to typefaces and that they are as much logos charged with political regionalistic significance as functional fonts and we arrive at Roger Excoffon and Script Fonts. Script fonts are based on hand-writing and Excoffon devised a script font based  on his own handwriting – Mistral – the real inspiration being that each letter alongside any other letter appears joined up – any word comprising them appears legible yet any letter detached from the word can appear illegible – the letters work as words not as letters! Each part of each letter has a universal joint.

We then look at the Choc typeface which takes this legibility to the very limits of almost-scrawl!

Mistral is now a common place on shop-fronts and menus.

Voltaire – finally a V I have more than passing familiarity with! And back to Nancy – the city that most physically embodies the enlightenment.  Meades first reminds of Stanislovas Leščinskis, King of Poland, amongst other royal titles, and patron of many of these enlightenment figures such as Voltaire and also Montesquieu and Emile du Châtelet.

This king was described by Meadesas an epicurean philosopher and counseled happiness, optimism, virtuous hedonism, philanthropy, good fellowship, and self-regard.

Nancy was described as his greatest work – a Versailles for the people.

Jonathan Meades on France Voltaire

This statue of the Polish king is improved by the long-distance view. Up close you'll see a pigeon-poo tear-stain running down his cheek!

We spend time looking at his main commissioning architect Emmanuel Héré de Corny and his various creations described by Meades as ‘vectors of happiness’.

He notes his architecture was dated even before the final stone was laid – by at least half a century indeed – and, ‘so what’ – the worth of art he contends is not about novelty and being ahead of the game.

To the penultimate V – Vosges – a  vineyard rural area – this one included not so much for its place in French life and its history but in Meade’s own memory, charged childhood nostalgia – such as Nonagenarian great-grandmother and her seventy year old daughter who cooked a dinner of him of hare

telling him that this was the house that she had been born, and from which she had never moved, yet she had changed nationality four times, French, German, French, German, French. She told it to him without rancor it was merely what had happened to her. She hoped to die French. She did.

La Valise ou le cerceuil and we are back to that suitcase again.

This time, to the statement everyman has two countries, his own and France he answers ‘Wrong’.

Some men have no country – has in the aforesaid displaced Algerians – as this v fully translates as ‘The suitcase or the coffin, expatriation or death – hundreds of thousands left Algeria, hundreds of thousands were murdered. The authors of this overlooked genocide he advises were the terrorists of the FLN (National Liberation Front) and their new friend Charles De Galle.

The program now vanishes. This post vaporizes too.

Nostalgia for an age yet to come…rage, rage against the dying of the light

So I look up to the sky
And I wonder what it’ll be like in days gone by
As I sit and bathe in the wave of nostalgia
For an age yet to come.

So wrote Shelley – that is Peter Campbell McNeish, not Percy Bysshe – in his 1978 song Nostalgia.

As opposed to, nostalgia not being what it used to be.

Never Mind the Wrinkles DadRecently looking for a birthday card for my niece on online greetings card website Moonpig I came upon this one – Nevermind the Wrinkles Dad You Still Rock. Nevermind the indignities and infirmities of your great age Dad we know that you were once cool, you tell us often enough anyway, it might as well imply.

The album it was spoofing if you do not know was English punk rock album Never Mind The Bollocks…Here’s The Sex Pistols from 1977. Such is the march of time it could have been aimed at Granddads too.

What should we call this? Mainstreaming? Wait long enough and no matter how shocking or ‘out there’ something once was, given enough time it eventually becomes part of the conventional furniture, the very weave of the social fabric

The album title courted controversy itself, (nevermind the contents, twelve songs spitting filth and fury) being prosecuted for indecent display of the word ‘bollocks’ – yes just the word itself! – the prosecution was not successful, the publicity in their favour was. Now we have TV cooking programs with far less quaint names like The F Word and none of us save some self-important hack from a conservative rag masquerading as a newspaper with more time than sense at their disposal would bat an eyelid about it.

Notable too that though the title was the subject of a court case, the name of the band, the Sex Pistols, did not meet the same level of controversy. But we like innuendo in Britain – nudge-nudge wink-wink – we will imply something within an inch of its life but we won’t actually call the spade a spade unless we really must as where is the fun in being explicit! This was still the time of the Carry On films though we were at the fag-end by this time with Carry On Dick and Carry On Behind hardly leaving much to the titillated imagination.

A couple of the songs on the album did court controversy namely God Save The Queen and Anarchy in the UK. Perhaps other songs like Bodies (about abortion but it was so lacking in nuance and coherence it was not clear whether they were pro-choice or pro-life or perhaps both) and Holidays in the Sun caused scandal too but I was too young and even more innocent than my age implied to know let alone care. I was barely a teenager and the only music I knew before punk came into my life was by Abba, the Wombles and I can barely write it G-a-r-y G-l-i-t-t-e-r – he asked us if we wanted to be in his gang and where he would be leader – shudders! – who would have thought that a forty-something man in a shiny golden lame all-in-one-suit seeking out the teenage market was something for those said teens to be wary of! – until one day a fellow school-boy coolly announced from his dormitory bed a new group he had heard called the Sex Pistols. You see I was a boarder at an all-boys Grammar school, cloistered as we thus were in a simmering pubescence of imminently threatening destabilizing testosterone and which thirteen year old boys shared our bedroom term-time with seven other boys.

He went on that they had a song called Problems. How did it go we asked. Blah blah, blah blah – he replied. No literally that’s what he replied! (Actually what was being intoned was not like Ke$ha (the spiritual grand-daughter of Joey Ramone) clearly enunciating, if with bubblegum drawl, Blah Blah Blah, but in another grand tradition of misheard song-lyrics Johnny Rotten drawling out the word Problem hyphenating Prob-lem as if he were saying Blah Blah – like seeing a face in a curtain pattern if you listen hard enough you will hear it too. If you dare to listen. Or even care to listen.

But anyway I was piously aghast and resolute that I would not be giving up Abba for this. They had songs you could sing along to with seriously profound and profoundly serious words like Fernando

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, Fernando

But call it peer pressure, call it the drip-drip exposure of punk songs every waking non-rote-studying minute, I soon succumbed to the Sex Pistols and the Clash and the Buzzcocks ad punkinitum – what sounds for young barely formed minds! – we were already rebels without a cause most of us, this was legitimizing this wordless feeling in song, gloriously noisy nasty song.

Never Mind the BollocksWhilst God Save The Queen and Anarchy in the UK could and did seriously irk and trouble the British establishment to our young and easily impressed minds Problems just as well hit home as intoning ‘blah blah’ was reveling in its own dumbness and was thus irresistible and we knew it would be if not shocking then at least as irritating as hell to our parents, teachers and any other adults in eye and ear shot nevermind the far more significant but distant nameless and faceless adults of the aforesaid British Establishment. There was coherent rage in punk but the incoherent rage would do us just as well.

And it was Punk’s way or the highway of course. Year Zero – any music made before 1975 was suddenly redundant and had nothing to say to us. I could no longer like Abba. Liking both SOS and London’s Burning – unthinkable! Well at least unsharable.

What is interesting to me now about this was how ‘the year above us’ (as our one year senior peers were dismissively referred too) were completely unmoved by punk. We were pretty much as spotty and indistinguishable a group of seething teenage boyhood as each other to any passing adult stranger and for that matter most of our teachers. Yet they were not going to be swayed from the Seventies Rock music of the time – some of them may have been to the heavier side with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple others the more gentler faux-cerebral musings and noodlings of Prog Rock in the guises of Yes and ELP – this they chided us was proper music where band members could not just play their instruments but aspired to play them very well and for the most part did. We on the other hand admired groups where bandmembers could barely hold their instruments let alone make music from them and could care less either (best summed up in One Chord Wonders by The Adverts) – did they not understand it was all about attitude not technical competence. Our condemning sneering scorn for them was only matched by their deep derision for us. The tribalism of teenagerhood. We were right and they were wrong and that’s all there was to it.

The Clash The Clash

 

But like breakaway religions there were tribes within our tribes too. Whether you really got punk really depended on whether you preferred the Sex Pistols or the Clash – the former courted controversy purely for the sake of it, they did not really believe it, they were just manager Malcolm McClaren’s art-stooges whereas the Clash were political and had a serious world-changing agenda, or so the wannabe Clash City Rockers would have it. And to the Pistol Heads, Clash fans were just a few birthdays away from becoming card-carrying member of the Labour Party – pub-rock aspirants at best.

Though what really mattered was not the bands lyrics and rhetoric but who had the best tunes, the most glorious racket…

The ‘year above us’ were not the only ones in the school baffled by us. So too of course were our teachers. They hoped it was just a phase and that we would grow out of it. Well the more measured calmer ones did anyway. There were the few who feared not just for us but the future of our once great country and the very pillars of civilization itself – that just made us feel even more (self) important of course.

Punk itself did pretty much implode by 1978 – there was its politer well-mannered cousin New Wave who was interested in alien concepts like melodies and careers. Or another uglier idiot cousin who went by the name of Oi and who I think you can guess the rest.

But though Punk as a genre had expired its best-by date by 1978 we teenage grammar school punks were not so easily vanquished of it. It had got into our bloodstream after-all, and a hormonal surging one at that. I said that I was a boarder but most in my year were not – about a third of us were and it was us third that the were the most resolute – we lived, ate and slept punk, and we did so together, encouraging or egging each other on to greater acts of punkishness – the rest of our class alas had given up on Punk for Pink Floyd or at best 10CC.

The initial self-indulgence of our teachers toward us was now giving way to some serious concern towards us, or at least to our professional futures. In particular our careers adviser was very troubled.

Our careers adviser was also our Geography Teacher and in retrospect it is not really clear how qualified he was to offer such specific counsel for our young futures.

The future he had settled on for me if I applied myself to my studies with greater dedication than hitherto was that of a merchant banker. All these years later I am still none the clearer as to what a merchant banker is, what it is they do with their working hours! Except now it might be a euphemism – we are back to the Carry On up the Sex Pistols again!

In the questionnaire where I was asked for my interests I had put simply ‘Punk’! It was who I was. End of! My careers adviser commented that I might need to widen my interests. He himself offered that unlike most of his colleagues he did know a bit about punk and could discuss it with me for at least five minutes but did not think it would be enough to satisfy prospective employers that I was long-term career-material.

We both agreed to paraphrase another Rotten lyric that I had ‘No Future’. But as I was still fifteen I had as little interest in my future as I had in my past. I was all present. All present and incorrect.

And so back to the future and this Nevermind the Wrinkles birthday card for Dads, for your old increasingly dysfunctional dad. This is what memories do to events, they soften the edges, obscure the lines, make a gentle mocking joke of our yester-passions, fears and cares.

And don’t get me wrong. I get nostalgia. The longer we live the more good times and experiences we have to look back with pleasure on if also the more painful times to coax us back to the present.

As we get older indeed we have ever more past and ever less future, until one day we will be all past and no future. Literally. And on that intimations-of-oblivion note I can only leave you with this.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Looking life in its face …

Edith WhartonWhy do we do what we do? Or rather why do we do the work that we do? Because we have to or because we want to? The jobbing or careering means to the (material) end or the (vocational) end in itself…

I am currently reading Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence. It was written in 1920 and the decade the subject of its interest was the 1870’s, but since this post is not a review of this novel I am not going to elaborate too much more. The subject of this post is a more timeless one.

Not a review then but a reflection on one of its passages, a mere paragraph too, but a lingering, impressing one.

Between one of its main characters Newland Archer and – so far at least – a minor character Rivière. Archer is American, a New Yorker, a product of the then new world of the 1870’s, where Rivière is French, a product of the European and old world therefore – but that is not the distance and difference between them which leaves an impression on Newland Archer. Or on me.

Nor is it even their different professional and marital circumstances.

Newland Archer is married with an appearance of domestic bliss but there is trouble in paradise between him and his wife May Welland. He works a leisurely professional pace and life as a Lawyer. His life is a clear map ahead as far as his heart can see.

Rivière on the other hand is unattached – to a partner and to a professional practice. With struggle and without safety. Not even that his map is unclear but that there is no map at all. Or need for one. Grounded as he is in the here and now.

No the divide between them that impresses and lingers in both the mind of Archer and this reader is that Newland Archer is dreaming of the life he wants whilst living another one, a safer, easier, more comfortable one. Whilst Rivière, for all his lesser wealth and circumstance, is not dreaming of any other life than the one he is living, he is living his dreaming where Archer is dreaming his living.

Rivière is at liberty. From the enslaving effect of personal wealth, if that is not getting too Buddhist on your ass. Endless material possessions and endless material distractions. From ourselves. From each other.

You see Monsieur, it’s worth everything, isn’t it, to keep one’s intellectual liberty, not to enslave one’s powers of appreciation, one’s critical independence?

Ah! To do what we love and to get paid for this too. But what if what we love to do does not pay or not enough anyway, not enough to feed and shelter us and to deal with the other demanding utilities of everyday life?

We take other employment. Hopefully temporary but it can stealthily blossom into permanence, its end ever just beyond the tantalizing horizon, the ever elusive rainbow of our desires… we continue to toil so as to continue to do what we love most in our unpaid time.

We have less of this time it is true, but better than no time at all and fading memories of a life once lived, once dreamed.

It was because of that that I abandoned journalism, and took to so much duller work, tutoring and private secretaryship. There is a good deal of drudgery, of course, but one preserves one’s moral freedom, what we call in French one’s quant-à-soi

When we can continue to enjoy the company that we keep, whether it be our own or other kindred spirits.

And when one hears good talk one can join in without compromising any opinions but one’s own; or one can listen, and answer it inwardly.

Professional platitudes and civil banalities. Or words and ideas that mean something. To us.

Ah, good conversation – there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing…And so I have never regretted giving up either diplomacy or journalism – two different forms of the same self-abdication.

To never give up on yourself. On your dreams. To live life without compromise, or at least as little as possible, to ration out the ever-accumulating small surrenders that chip away at your self, your spirit – to live life on your own terms and that others will live their lives on their terms too…

He fixed his vivid eyes on Archer as he lit another cigarette. “Voyes-vous, Monsieur, to be able to look life in the face: that’s worth living in a garret for, isn’t it?”

And what of fame, it passes too. And may also be visited upon you not in your life-time but a posthumous discovery and approval. And what of that too? – mere plaudits from the pundits of the ever-changing ages.

Instead that we lived our lives and lacking only one thing at our last breath, regret.