“Heroes” by David Bowie, is one of my favourite songs. But I’m not sure I’d want to meet it’s maker. Getting up close and personal with one’s heroes can be a sad affair. There’s no etiquette for the hero encounter, there’s no way of knowing how to behave, what to say, where to look, whether to kiss or shake the hand (gender dependent, kids; careful), or whether to stand in the shadows.
Should one engineer a meeting with one’s heroes? When you work on a magazine and you present a radio show, you have access to things (not just the relentless Monocle cellar) and people (not just Japanese retailers and Hawaiian surfboard manufacturers and Lebanese barmen) that might wow you, stir a stutter, break you out in a blush. I’m not boasting, I’m just saying. I’ve gotten into having my picture taken with people. Maybe a bit naff. But I’ve stopped asking them where they live, including postcode. A definite positive.
This is all by way of prefacing the fact that I was honoured to host Jonathan Meades here at Monocle Towers this week. I say “host”, when I mean “interview” about his new book. I say “host” because I think I wish that that was what it was that I was doing. Having a glass of Meursault before blinis (his choice, I expect, not mine), then herring with vodka, something porcine and earthy form Carcassonne with something red-brick-yet-fruity from Fitou and then hazelnut crème brûlée. And cheese and more Meursault. It’s only lunch, anyway, that’s why we’re chilling our greedy boots. But, no, it was an interview.
Jonathan Meades is a writer, critic, columnist and novelist, and a film-maker and the reason – you can blame him – I wanted to write anything down at all in the first place, years ago, in Sussex, ripping his restaurant columns from my parents’ copies of the Saturday edition of The Times, decorated, as then they were by the oils of the illustrator Paul Slater and restaurants beaten into shape, loved, lauded, loathed, just done by Meades. I looked words up in the dictionary, I scanned my mother’s thousand cookbooks for culinary terminology, I aped the easier suburbs of Meades’s style in school essays on Henry V, the history actual and the history Shakespearean and on anything that came my way. It was never beans on toast, but it was far from Paul Bocuse and la cuisine Lyonnaise.
And the TV films of Jonathan Meades that offer the ultimate didactic, straight-to-camera role-play turn of the TV natural, the RADA grad, the only man with a great brain who realises that the TV is a performative medium, a thing for acts to be on, whether they’re juggling or telling jokes or telling history or nailing, and hitting that nail on the head of, the present and of place. All done in dark glasses, a nice suit, suede shoes. And dripping in moody knowledge, the imparting of an iota of which, he’d indulge you with.
And then I met the man after years and was reminded of what Martin Amis wrote about hanging out with Tony Blair on the back seat of the prime ministerial Jag a few years back: that you end up flirting with people that you feel have power over you, that impress you, that you know more about than they know about you. And you flirt with them.
And this is the danger in meeting your heroes. Anyway, we went for lunch. But there was no drink involved (we both had big afternoons). I had to present a show. He had to catch a train. Heroic encounters are the best, perhaps, when they’re brief encounters. But hey, thanks Meades, in many ways, in fact (perhaps), for sitting here today.