I blame Bridget Jones

Bridget got me into this mess, and I’ve been waiting 14 years for her to get me out of it, writes Clémence Sebag.

This is what thirty-something looks like: a father ploughing through business contacts for an “eligible bachelor”, a grandmother muttering “you young people do it all later, dear”, and a younger sibling telling you to get a grip. Someone did this to me: I blame Bridget Jones.

Bridget got me into this mess. And I’ve been waiting 14 years for her to get me out of it. None too soon, the third book in the Bridget saga is coming out just in time for Christmas. And if anyone can "bridge" the generation gap (read: lower my family’s expectations), forty-something Bridget should do it. I’m getting the lot of them a copy. I’m not just buying a book, I’m buying myself another decade.

This is what Bridget did: she ignored Mr Right, fell for Mr Now, and somehow ended up with both of them fighting over her. Naturally, after the last “emotional fuckwit/commitment phobic” I fully expect his unpopular friend Mr Good Guy to be along any minute. I blame Bridget.

Like Bridget I wanted to write when I grew up. Like Bridget I am still waiting for one of these two things to happen. Could it be because channelling our writing self involves finding the perfect writer’s outfit – fishing out that nude bra from the dirty laundry to go under that sheer top, doing the laundry, ironing said sheer top, until, well, it’s “Chardonnay time”? I brame Blidget.

Teetering on The Edge of Reason, terrified to topple over into the age of reason, I wonder: is it time to grow out of shared houses where my first thought in the morning is “who stole my milk?” All the while laughing at those trying to suck me into the ‘breast milk vs. powdered milk’ debate. I blame Bridget.

As an entitled twenty-something I never considered the possibility that I’d still be drunk-falling out of taxis Bridget-style in my thirties. Or that I would feel the sting of “jellyfishers” who take the party out of dinner, “smug marrieds” who bring Oscar Wilde’s “True friends stab you in the front” axiom to mind as they pat pregnant bumps and aim a sententious “tick-tock” in the general direction of the only “singleton” left at the table – who, me?

Even Helen Fielding blames Bridget: “Bridget has allowed [...] women to think it's all right just to be all right [...] and sort of muddle through the complicated, overstuffed world that we live in”.  

Bridget works in insidious ways: the thirty-something landscape is here and it seems ageing gracefully will have to be left for another decade. But want to know a secret? Being a creative wannabe/adult-in-the-making/“singleton” is fun. Messy is fun. I choose Bridget’s brand of trying really hard and failing even harder.

Want to know another secret? When Fielding says Bridget, c’est moi, it’s all an elaborate cover-up. Bridget is future me. And now I want my intellectual property and my merchandising rights. Besides, I am curious to find out how life pans out as a forty-something. With Bridget still Mad About The Boy I’m preparing for another decade of “How’s your love life?” So am I a single mum? Do I make it as a journalist? Have I quit smoking? Am I fat? Either way, I know we still have Chardonnay.

Renée Zellweger in the 2001 film version of "Bridget Jones's Diary".
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On the trail of Keith Jarrett's melodies

Lose focus for a second and you can quickly drop the thread of Jarrett's complex improvisational techniques.

“So, this is a piano,” said Keith Jarrett, sitting down at the one that had been placed centre stage for him in the Royal Festival Hall on 20 November. Blowing on his hands to warm them, he acted as if he had never encountered such an instrument before, raising a chuckle from the hundreds of fans who had turned out to see the man in the flesh. For 40 years, Jarrett has been giving concerts like this – alone with the piano, playing his improvised music to a room full of rapt devotees. Notoriously grumpy – and now as well known for his tirades against cameras and coughing audience members as for his early days playing with Miles Davis – he has an almost eerie focus onstage, relieving the tension only very occasionally with his barbed observations about the excellence of the instrument, or the shuffling in the auditorium.

Jarrett gave us a series of short pieces, each rendering separate and distinctive musical ideas. He began with an intricately woven flash of notes in both hands, criss-crossing the melodies that were by turns dark and haunting, or light and dancing. At particularly complex moments, when his arms were crossed over and the notes were flowing from his fingers faster than anyone could imagine them into existence, he leaned his ear down towards the keys, as if physical closeness could help his ideas more swiftly become sound.

A couple of folk-inflected ballads followed; heart-achingly sweet melodies picked out above rumbling, sour arpeggios. Like Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist best known for his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Jarrett can’t help adding vocalisations as he plays, which are all the more evident in his quieter compositions. He rose and fell from his stool; we heard his guiding hum along with the melody, as well as the odd strangled shout, yelp and grunt. He might insist on absolute silence from the audience but his own noises seem completely uninhibited as the music spins around him.

Although notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude to his fans, Jarrett was mostly restrained in this outing, allowing himself just one short, sweary outburst about killing a “f***ing camera”. At the age of 70 and with the power to sell out his concerts in just a few hours, you do wonder how much of the persona is genuine and how much of it is just giving the audience what it expects. A case in point came near the end, when he yielded to clamouring and gave a surprisingly simple and straightforward rendition of “Danny Boy”, an encore that long-time fans know well.

Given that this recital was under the auspices of the London Jazz Festival, there was surprisingly little in Jarrett’s programme that could easily be identified as jazz. One piece, full of brisk rhythms and chunky chords, gradually revealed itself to be based on a modified 12-bar blues structure and another had haunting overtones surely pulled from the classic American songs of the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, this musical ghosting becomes a major preoccupation when you see Jarrett live. It is too easy to distract yourself in trying to follow the auditory trail he has laid for you – was that a bit of Debussy, or Bach, or Glass just then? – and lose the thread of what he plays next. The improvisational technique might have more in common with jazz but now, 40 years on from his bestselling live recording The Köln Concert, it’s difficult to characterise Jarrett’s output as anything other than contemporary classical music.

If it needs a classification, that is. At one point, I became convinced that a particular piece was a Jarrett riff on Beethoven’s Bagatelle No 25 in A Minor – or Für Elise, as it is more commonly known. I was sure it was all there: the extended opening trill, the rising arpeggios in the left hand, the melody cascading from treble to bass and back again. Except, by the time I surfaced from my musing, there was no trace of Beethoven to be heard. A clashing, almost violent melody was dangling over a long drone in the bass. If you try too hard to pin down Jarrett’s music, it moves on without you.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State