SIX THINGS I HAVE JUST LEARNED ABOUT (OR FROM) JONATHAN MEADES, PART 2

1. (This is more like it.) He is a first-rate writer. This sounds a little old-fashioned. But that doesn’t stop it being true.
2. Corrugated iron was the material of the future in 1900.
3. Improvisation is no friend of innovation.
4. The British Empire lasted until the afternoon of 31st July, 1956, when Jim Laker took the last of his 19 wickets in the 4th Test against Australia. The Empire, famously, was mortally wounded just after dawn on 1st July 1916 – but it’s worth remembering that that it actually survived another 40 years and 30 days.
Eden was therefore, appropriately enough, the last prime minister of Old England, aka Great Britain. Harold Macmillan was (and don’t believe the hagiographers of Peter Cook who try to convince you otherwise) the first prime minister of New England – and as such was Tony Blair’s political grandad.
5. Meades derives great pleasure from nosing around my old school.
6. Meades is scathing about New England and its apogee under Tony Blair, but he’s more New Labour than he’d have you believe. For instance, I used to think that his apparent inability to understand England’s distrust of cities (and of urbanism in general) was an affectation. Now I’m no longer so sure. This is an unfortunate blindspot.
Similarly, I’d always believed that he had a sophisticated, horses-for-courses take on brutalism in particular and, more generally, on the full gamut of modernist movements in architecture; and, furthermore, that he was genuine in his contempt for the interlocking mesh of vested interests formed by the political classes, the building trade, architects and their trade press. I now suspect that he loves cities, especially a romanticised version of the archetypal European city, rather too much. He’s more in hock to the architecture profession than he’s letting on.
Perversely, I infer some of this from his comments on Lutyens’ masterpiece, Marsh Court, which I’m glad he loves – I just wish he loved it in a slightly different way.
Or am I kidding myself?
If you knew me better, perhaps you’d suspect that my reservations about Meades are simpler and more visceral.
You might point out, in other words, that I find it very difficult to take seriously an Englishman who chooses to live in Marseilles.
I, for my part, couldn’t possibly comment.

Originally posted in response to Museum Without Walls, a Meades miscellany published in 2012

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