Moi je croix.
What do you take comfort in? I think that most of the things humans take comfort in are – if analysed with that most unfair of scientific tools, honesty – flimsy notions. Impressions. Brands, if you like – ideas of things that fit our view of the world and that we want to buy in to, to reinforce it. Romance, in other words.
Think of places. Caroline and I were contemplating the idea of city brands – every famous place on Earth paints an instant impression in your mind when you say the name – Egypt, Rome, New York, London. And straight away you know how much you identify with that place or not. Have you always been a London type of person? Does Marakech open a door of exotic comfort for you? ..If so, where the hell did that come from – you live in Bournemouth.
Both of us, for example have long taken a strange and well-known comfort in Paris. The idea of Paris. Don’t know why, but we do bang on about it. We were each asked once, separately, what our Favourite Place On Earth was – daft parlour game – and we both said the French capital.
Now, to a flimsy dandy like me, a place as ponsed-up as the city of lights is an obvious choice – a perceived lifestyle of loafing in cafés talking lightweight philosophy as a basically-not-veiled-at-all excuse to watch aloof french birds swing up and down the leafy boulevards. All safe in the knowledge that some of the finest creative names in history came here to do and to champion, even, exactly that.
..But Caroline? Perhaps the least pretentious human alive? She chose this place?
Don’t get me wrong, I doubt either of us would want to live in a world where you could never actually leave your Favourite Place On Earth – Greek inlets, Swiss Mountains and Scandinavian forests are all worth a visit I hear – but our joint admission just goes to show what a strong impression places create – usually despite the facts.
It makes no dent on my romantic daydreams of the Left Bank, for example, to be all-too aware that most Parisians live outside the Periferique and have a fairly unromantic view of the French police and their identity in Gallic society – that much-photographed Haussman-ploughed city centre still gives off an intoxicating vibe. And I don’t mean the dog shite.
But who remembers the city’s attempt to publicise itself – ‘Paris, c’est la Peche’? And, for that matter, how many people remember that The Big Apple was so christened by an ad campaign? At the beginning of the 21st century, at least, these iconic locations appear in our minds as fully formed brands, without an ad man or a local community influencing us either way. Don’t they?
Perhaps. But I’m not sure it’s quite so simple. What’s your view of Berlin? Black and white Nazi propaganda backdrop – or Lily Von Stüpp in fishnets, drawling ‘I’m so tired…’ on a back-turned chair? Or maybe you think of the wall and wonder what all that was about. I’ve not been yet – ‘yet’, note the brand impression already formed in my mind – but I think of a dynamic place of creativity and regeneration – art galleries and forward-thinking music. How right will I turn out to be when I go?
Places can change their brand then – perhaps when they fall out of the world’s consciousness a little and have to make a new statement. But how do they get inspired, these grand new statements? You may be able to – and have to – stump up umpteen million euros to re-imagine the Pottsdammer Platz, or to create La Defence, or Canary Warf, but who inspires creatives to get together and be really inspired somewhere? They probably put the soul, or at least the brand, into a place – but what puts the soul into them when they go there?
I couldn’t answer that without really thinking about it, which I can’t be arsed to now – it’s midnight, for Pete’s sake. But it makes me think of another idle notion that I’ve long taken great comfort in: the idea that British people are united by their use of humour. It’s the one thing that Middle Englanders quietly think they’re still allowed to be collectively proud to be British about – perhaps the one remaining thing.
On Fi Glover’s show last Saturday morning, there was a very nice lady sharing her Inheritance Tracks – pieces of music of personal significance, passed on from parents to children, and children to their children. She was a charmingly unshowy sort, who came out with a pearl I’ve not been able to forget all week. Because it’s something I think I’ve clung to as a very conscious philosophy for very many years.
The track she felt that her father impressed upon her was by Peter Ustinov – Mock Mozart. The gigantically talented Mr Ustinov is a comfort to many people, I think – a brand he would, I suspect, feel bemused at and unworthy of. But the fact that his enormous-seeming humanity expressed itself so often in sheer sillyness is something to make romantic Britons weep for joy. And Mock Mozart is a prime example. It’s what I do in the shower most mornings. On this record, he has basically multi-tracked his own voice as a series of strangely convincing operatic enunciations of random Italian words, to a Mozart-like score. It’s a piece of class daftness.
But what this lady, Anna, said it made her think of was her father’s strongly-held philosophy – if nothing is sacred, then everything is sacred.
If nothing is sacred, everything is sacred.
That’s it. That’s why it’s so bloody important to be funny. It’s defiant. It’s victorious even, when you’ve little other reason to feel so. And it shows what true value every little moment has.
Call me a daft romantic, but this is something I believe. And I find it a great comfort indeed.