Journeys with a Camera: Jonathan Meades Is Irritating, but This Is a Ravishing, Quirky Travel Documentary

By Cooke, Rachel | New Statesman (1996), May 14, 2007 | Go to article overview

Journeys with a Camera: Jonathan Meades Is Irritating, but This Is a Ravishing, Quirky Travel Documentary


Cooke, Rachel, New Statesman (1996)


Jonathan Meades: abroad again

BBC2

Gavin Stamp's Orient Express

Channel 5

People either love the writer Jonathan Meades, or they hate him. I ... Oh no! The thought now occurs that I'm not in either camp. I suppose my relationship with him is best described as love-hate. His meaty, porcine face inspires in me a kind of dread; I suspect him of a particularly horrible kind of snobbery, and contrarians of his ilk--"Caravan parks! Fantastic in their way!"--are always annoying. Then again, most of the time, I find myself agreeing with him. Like him, I have a special interest, bordering on the weird, in the stuff that surrounds us: I, too, am as fascinated by ginnels, nettled railway sidings and run-down sheds as I am by Gothic cathedrals.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

His latest series, Jonathan Meades: abroad again (Wednesdays, 7pm), revisits his fondness for these little pieces of the vernacular via some clever, insinuating film-making. I watched part one (9 May) and, once my ear had become accustomed to his android delivery (his sentences might be baroque, but he delivers them in a voice like a yawn), I was captivated--though the real source of wonder, of course, is that this kind of authored essay still gets commissioned at all. I mean, the viewer is required to concentrate quite hard for an entire 50 minutes.

Abroad Again springs from Meades's boyhood, when he travelled around England with his biscuit salesman father in a Morris Traveller. Once at their destination, Meades was given sixpence and expected to amuse himself till sandwich-and-Thermos hour. The boy passed the time by looking and, because he was so small, he was ignorant of aesthetic hierarchies and "unencumbered by anything save curiosity". He was a "midget autodidact" who could soon distinguish Stockbroker Tudor from Henry Tudor without ever believing one to be superior to the other. This is a sensibility that has endured into adulthood. Meades was only half joking when he denounced "place-ism"--the idea, say, that Ullswater is more admirable than a stagnant pond in Scunthorpe. He sees, if not the beauty, then the charm of places that others despise, and he can bring them wonderfully to life: mossy thatch is "seborrhoeic", industrial cranes like the forms of "extinct birds". Out there on the highways and byways, Meades reveals unexpectedly lyrical, even Wordsworthian, powers of description. …

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Journeys with a Camera: Jonathan Meades Is Irritating, but This Is a Ravishing, Quirky Travel Documentary
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