Palm trees. Browsing flea markets. Rum’n’Raisin ice cream (especially in South of France, seriously alcohol-soaked). Waves. Working away quietly with someone sleeping in the room. Chalky old-school mineral (Vichy) water. Collecting things. Collections. Traditional shops. Fresh sheets. Beautifully designed playing cards. Harbours. Breasts. Siestas. Playing backgammon in the shade after lunch. Strolling the city at sundown. Teaching your children stuff. Deep sleep.
I’ve decided to revisit the original intention of Simple Pleasures and on a fairly regular basis simply publish some of the simple pleasures which occur to me or cross my path…
The smell of cut grass. The dappled shade of a eucalyptus. Reading in a deckchair. Coffee with cardamom. Lunches as a family. The satisfaction of tidying a drawer. Running in the cemetery (St Pancras & Islington). Being the first one up while the whole house sleeps. Picking out a word for the day. The Robert Elms Show (on BBC Radio London). Reconnecting with old friends. Working out which book(s) to take on a trip. Travelling with one or other son. Baths. Shorts. Taking photos. Pencils. Comic books.
Example thumbnails for Channel 4 shorts
There are good victories and there are bad victories. Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the day my fellow citizens danced in the fountains of Trafalgar Square to celebrate the fall of Hitler and the Nazis and the triumph of Democracy.
Yesterday was also the day I woke up from not much sleep, having listened most of the night to the results of the General Election as they came in, to the prospect of a majority Tory government and 5 more years of a very different austerity to what faced the victorious nation in the aftermath of the war. Instead of bold visions of the future like the National Health Service this is a prospect of the NHS being sold off to rapacious corporations who actually don’t perform any better than the incumbents and cream off cash for shareholders at the expense of the service-users. The last 18 months has seen not only an obvious deterioration of the NHS, in particular A&E, but also a blossoming unfairness. We’re not all it it together and never have been. The Conservatives aren’t capable of doing One Nation, it’s not in their nature.
Last week Richard Rogers, the architect of 124 Horseferry Road, Channel 4’s HQ just round the corner from the Houses of Parliament, came in to his building to talk to us, the staff of C4, about his work and life and the building we work in. He was interviewed by Channel 4 News’ Cathy Newman in our cinema and among the most interesting revelations was that he hadn’t intentionally created the Channel 4 penis. It’s long been an urban myth that when you look down on the two revolving doors and the see-through entrance canopy it was deliberately designed to look like a todger.
Rogers was genuinely surprised at the revelation so the urban myth was officially put to bed. At the amusement no doubt of the lowly member of Richard Rogers’ draughting team who probably snuck it in.
Rogers also spoke about how, when he comes home to his self-designed Georgian conversion in Chelsea, most of the buildings he walks by at night have next to no lights on since they are not homes but investments of the rich and foreign, they are laundered cash and expressions of no faith in their own nations. They are emblems of the last 5 years of Tory-driven government, empty, an insult to the sufferers of the nationwide housing crisis, dark, undermining of this great city, my native London. For the first time in my life it is deteriorating before my eyes – as I discussed here in Blitzed Again.
So I woke up from the kind of sleep you’d get in an Underground tunnel at night with German bombs falling above, shell-shocked by the unexpected result of a majority Tory government in the face of weeks of polls and punditry to the contrary. Not only that but the excellent Labour candidate in my constituency (and I’m not a Labour supporter) also failed to get elected in spite of a truly exemplary campaign – well organised, committed, personal and with heart. Sarah Sackman is a talented local candidate, young and with energy, not cynical but engaged and hopeful. Instead we got 5 more years of a tired party hack who can’t even be relied on to protect the Grade 2 listed library at the cultural heart of our community. After writing this I’m off on a march to call for the saving of easyCouncil Barnet’s library service – another aspect of public life the last Cameron regime failed hopelessly to safeguard right across the country.
I actually voted for Sarah but it was the result of a vote-swop facilitated by Swap My Vote www.swapmyvote.uk through which I had my Liberal vote cast in the West Country where a slim LibDem majority was being defended. In return I voted for Labour on behalf of a total stranger who I met through the site and exchanged a few messages through Facebook to get a sense of his bona fides. His vote, which would have had no impact where he lives, got to contribute to a very tight Conservative-Labour race here. It was an uplifting contact through new technology and for me was the only silver lining of the horrendousness of this drawn-out election. Apart from the unelection of the horrendous George Galloway of course (if only Scotland would take that son of theirs back). It represents the upside of the internet age in that this clever application of web technology means that if we don’t get given Electoral Reform (4M UKIP votes gave them 1 seat, 1M Green votes gave them 1 seat, while 1.4M SNP votes yielded 56 seats) we the people can take it for ourselves. Those numbers should leave a lot of frustrated and disempowered and angry people in their wake. I have never voted tactically before in the whole of my adult life but I just couldn’t face 5 more years of being all in it together with the complacent, hypocritical, greedy and out of touch.
Swap My Vote was set up in typical internet start-up MVP style by a Channel 4 colleague, Tom de Grunwald, and a PhD scientist, James Allen. It is a ray of light in the looming darkness.
So I got up with effort and went off to work. I felt the need to talk to people so on my way in to the Richard Rogers penis-less edifice (will this lot of Tories sell off this bit of the family silver?) I went to a meeting at the media cliché that is the Groucho Club in Dean Street, Soho where I had the privilege of watching Nick Clegg’s dignified and masterful resignation speech, truly historic, with the historian Simon Schama. I recently saw him deliver his own masterful speech at Names Not Numbers in Aldeburgh where he spoke without notes for over an hour in a fluent and inspirational way which was the quintessence of what a university lecturer/professor should be. We also watched Ed Miliband’s resignation speech, an interesting contrast, not because it was poor or unfelt, but because it lacked the same insight and historical scope.
From there I walked towards the office in the company of a Cambridge mathematician I had also befriended at Names Not Numbers. We picked over the ashes together. We took our leave at the new 4th plinth, Gift Horse, a sculptural statement by German-American artist Hans Haacke about austerity in contrast to City excess.
I walked across the square to look again at the fountain captured in the VE Day photo which opens this, enjoying the joining across seven decades through photography:
The VE Day 70 display boards, courtesy of the Mayor of London who re-entered the House of Commons yesterday as a potential rival to Cameron, Dougal to Cameron’s Ermintrude, afforded an opportunity to link then and now:
I then headed straight down Whitehall an hour ahead of the wreath-laying commemoration for this special VE Day at the Cenotaph. I didn’t have the heart to glimpse over at 10 Downing Street.
There are bad victories and there are good victories. I did my best to drown the bad in the good, like empty cans in a fountain.
Today is Record Shop Day. I’ve been frequenting mine (Alan’s in East Finchley) plenty recently so I’m just making an internal nod to indy record shops and I’ve just played a classic record Spiral Scratch by (the) Buzzcocks (albeit not on vinyl, I’m in the wrong room) – the track I played is Boredom because I’ve been thinking about it a lot yesterday and today.
I’m living in this movie
But it doesn’t move me
I’m the man that’s waiting for the phone to ring
Hear it ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding
You know me, I’m acting dumb
You know the scene, very humdrum
Boredom, boredom, boredom
I was just out jogging, listening to a podcast with Irish writer John Banville talking about Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. Banville, under his low-brow pen-name Benjamin Black (which I don’t much like – as fake as they come, a bit like Julian Barnes’ Dan Kavanagh), recently wrote a Marlowe book at the request of Chandler’s estate, The Black-Eyed Blonde. Marlowe stories usually start with the gumshoe sitting bored in his down-at-heel office waiting for something to happen, usually a dame walking through the door to give him a knight-errant mission.
Then late last night I was listening to a radio programme from BBC Radio 4 called The Buchan Tradition about John Buchan, marking the centenary year of The 39 Steps. Richard Hannay is bored in London at the start of that ripping yarn when lo and behold a spy dies on his living room carpet and the adventure begins.
That’s also often the case with Sherlock Holmes – he’s bored out of his brain, coked off his face, ennui has well and truly set in when a character shows up at 221b with a juicy mystery to solve.
One of my favourites, a resident of The Shelf of Honour, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, opens with the protagonist bored in the “dead and fermenting city”, London in the dog-days of late summer. When the opportunity crops up to sail around the Baltic and North Sea coasts, in spitting distance of imperial Germany, with an English eccentric in an Aran jumper, it’s the perfect cure not just to boredom, but also to the complacency and materialism of modern life. One of my favourite scenes is when Carruthers, the narrator, can’t fit his trunk through the opening into the Dulcibella, the boat he is due to go off for a trip in and he has to dump most of his stuff (which he never really needed).
Recently I watched again one of my all-time favourite movies, Apocalypse Now, with Enfant Terrible No. 1 (a convert to The Godfather movies). Damn it’s good. Great. Nearly perfect. It opens with Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) bored to near-death in a hotel room in Saigon. Waiting for a mission.
Saigon…shit. I’m only in Saigon.
Every time, I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle.
I’m here a week now. Waiting for a mission. Getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker. And every minute Charlie squats in the bush…he gets stronger. Each time I looked around…the walls moved in a little tighter.
There’s boredom as debilitating ennui as in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. But there’s also boredom as a motivator, a prompt into adventure. The question is whether in real life the blonde walks through the door or the spy expires on your carpet? Does the ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding really come?
I’m standing on the terrace of the Château Grimaldi in Vieil Antibes (aka le Musee Picasso). Below is an expanse of azure sea punctuated with dozens of white sails travelling in various incomprehensible lines as they race from whoknowswhere to somewhereelse. I couldn’t be happier being back in Antibes/Juan Les Pins. I’m here for the MIP TV market/Digital Emmys, my usual reason for being in this neck of the woods, but as a veteran of such things, I know to stay in Juan rather than Cannes.
Juan-les-Pins has two particular resonances for me – my European grandparents and jazz. The former, a Germano-Polish alliance, used to come here in the 50s and 60s as it was à la mode, the In place. They both enjoyed gambling so I expect the casino was a significant attraction. The latter I suspect was not unrelated to this modishness as it was the golden age of modal jazz and other such modern experimentation. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen stuff about Miles and Coltrane playing here. This hotel (I’m now on the balcony of my room at Le Grand Pavois as my phone ran out of juice at the end of the first paragraph) has a Sidney Bechet room. Somewhere near the patch of sea I can see through the pines is a commemoration of the international jazz festival they used to hold in town.
A quick bit of Googling shows that Trane played at the festival in 1965 and a live LP was recorded, and Miles played here in July 1969. That probably makes the Trane performance within 6 months of the release of ‘A Love Supreme’.
A bit more Googling reveals that Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison & Jones (the recorders/creators of ‘A Love Supreme’) were the band who played in Juan on 26/27 July 1965 and they played A Love Supreme, Impressions and Naima, which makes it I believe the one and only live performance of ‘A Love Supreme’, one of my favourite records, the opening track of which I’ve left a request to have played at my funeral (on the way in).
Back in the land very much of the living, today has been a pretty blessed one. The taxi driver who picked me up in Nice had a PhD in history of art from the Sorbonne and taught there. Cue interesting conversation about Fragonard, Boucher, etc. The hotel room they put me in is a corner room and because of its odd shape is big enough to play football in and has this huge sweeping balcony hugging the curved corner of the building where I’m now sitting in the golden rays of the evening sun in just a clean white towel (refreshing after the London winter).
So I dumped my coat and baggage, changed into shorts and my Save Ferris T-shirt and headed over the hill to Old Antibes. Steak frites for lunch with a glass of rosé. Crêpe citrone and café crême. Reading The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell), my book club choice. Then into the back streets by the marché provençale to the Musée Picasso, like an annual pilgrimage. It’s one of my favourite places.
I delighted in revisiting the fabulously Mediterranean ‘Joie de Vivre” (1946) which Picasso painted in the building after the war and about which I’ve written at length. This time the work that really stood out for me was ‘Nu Assis sur font vert’ (1946) which is a good example of Picasso capturing the human body in geometric, sculptural forms.
From there I passed a happy hour reading, snoozing, listening on the small harbour beach beside the marina. A walk over to Jaume Plensa’s Nomade sculpture (2010) on the harbour wall. Pleasant memories of one of my best days at Channel 4, rounding the corner of a wood to see for the first time ‘Dream’, which Plensa made as part of the ‘Big Art Project’ series. I met him that day.
On the late afternoon walk home I had one of the best ice-creams I’ve ever had (rum & raisin and coffee if you want to know).
The feeling that came to me walking over that hill on the way out at noon was that for all the crap going on in the world (and there’s no end of it) we need to stay in touch with the joys of living and appreciate them each and every day. That’s the only way to live. Otherwise it’s a road to madness.
Yesterday Christies in New York sold the manuscript and notes for Don McLean’s 1971 mega-hit ‘American Pie’ for $1.2M. It’s a view back from the perspective of 1971 over the 60s and 50s to an age of innocence represented by Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The lyrics have a reputation for being impenetrable and rich in sub-text, though it is easy to spot Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds, Janis Joplin et al as he takes us through from his 12 year old self mourning the loss of Buddy Holly and co. in a tragic plane crash in 1959 through to a jaded, nostalgic 24 year old surveying the wreckage of the Hippy era. When asked what it means McLean’s favourite answer is: “It means I never have to work again.”
I went back this evening to check whether the song is as irritating as I remember. It is. The description of “bubblegum Dylan” is not far off (I think the phrase is Alexis Petridis’s). But the song’s sale and the fact it is trying to capture the meaning of a particular point in music history makes it a good springboard for a project that’s been brewing up in me for quite some time.
Over a couple of years I kept noticing that a number of classic records were recorded in 1971. After a while it seemed more than just coincidence. And as the 1971 records gathered I noticed that in many ways they seemed to represent the essence of the 60s/Hippy era even though they were a couple of years late numerically. How come the 60s seemed to climax in 1971? What was special about that year?
I went back to look and picked out 10 records that seem crucial to that year, and then one track on each that gets to the heart of the record. I’m planning to do a post about each of them in the wake of this intro. So first up will be ‘Natural Woman’ by Carole King from ‘Tapestry’…
A message from
James Rhodes, pianist & campaigner for music education
19 Mar 2015
We have had our first campaign success with Don’t Stop the Music – and it couldn’t have been done without your tireless campaigning.
Ofsted have agreed to include a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ in their inspections of schools.
This is great news! It is the first step in helping ensure that children have access to a proper music education. It could not have been done without your support.
And on Tuesday night, I got to speak in parliament to members of the House of Lords and House of Commons about our concerns and what we need to do to protect music for future generations.
I had the opportunity to discuss our findings from the initial stages of Don’t Stop the Music; findings that gave me sleepless nights. Music education is in desperate need of support from the Government, and with May’s election fast approaching I need your help to make sure music education is not forgotten in the next Parliament.
We need consistent funding, not a post code lottery, opportunities for children to progress beyond their first musical experiences, more action from Ofsted, a trained teacher in every school, and school accountability measures (league tables and the like) which value music properly.
What I am asking your help with now, is making our voice as strong as possible.
If we have 100,000 people signed up to this campaign by the start of May, we will be able to make sure music education is not side-lined by a future Government.
So I am asking for your help, once again, to ensure more children have the opportunity to play musical instruments – please forward this message to your friends, put the petition link on Twitter and Facebook and get as many people as possible to sign up to the campaign
Thank you, thank you and thank you again.
Sign the petition here (it takes literally a minute)