Diary - Alex James
Everyone's gone on holiday to "southoffrance". That's not a holiday, it's showing off. It's not cla
Everyone being on holiday meant that we won at bridge this week. Bridge is a good thing. It's whist played with a partner against two opponents who think they know more about it than you. And then you have supper. It's pretty classy.
Everyone's gone to "southoffrance". That's not a holiday, it's showing off. It's not classy; every ghastly shagnasty in London is down there on some private beach or other. You might as well go to Leicester Square and think that's posh. I'm not impressed.
What is very classy this summer is northern France. You can go absolutely mental there and there's no one being snotty. Ten minutes from Calais are vast beaches, rolling countryside and all kinds of stuff no one knows about. There are marching bands, for example. Most of the marching bands I've seen in Britain feature beery types dressed up as bumble bees or Spiderman, which is pretty cool. But in France they dress snappy. It is quite exhilarating to behold a very cool marching band, 30 strong, strutting their stuff around Deauville, a dozen skinny-ass drummers who know just how good they look playing their natty grooves, as half a dozen girls twirl stuff around and just look good. Wicked.
A bit more down and dirty is the enormous brass band that assembles on the promenade at Le Touquet on Fridays. They play all the classics - but really dirty. There's about 50 of them and they all look like they work in the library, except there's this enormous filthy sound coming out of their souls.
The French are good at being sexy.
I studied French at university, which was great. One day, I was summoned to the head of the department's study. She wanted to talk to me about my essays. I assumed she had found me a publisher: she seemed pretty well connected, must have liked my thoughts on "the emancipation of the female" and passed them on to her people.
I entered her room grinning cheekily and then was subjected to an eloquent diatribe on my inability to construct French sentences or to apply correctly the subjunctive mood. There were one or two really good-sounding words I had never heard before and a fair bit of fixing my eye and shaking her head.
Fortunately, at this point in my life, I was utterly convinced of my genius. I explained to her that what was important about these "works" was the thinking, which I was quite pleased about on the whole. I told her that any language can be learnt and, quite frankly, the language of my thoughts was far beyond the language of French. I was more convinced of my brilliance by her inability to see it. Happily, this optimism has never left me. I've since realised that actually being good at something does not hold a candle to thinking you are good at something. We are all mortified by the prospect of failure - it scares the crap out of us - but there is no such thing as failure. At the worst, we are "not yet up to the required standard", as examiners like to put it these days.
I used to get the number 17 bus to school, myself and one other boy who must have lived near me; we got on at the same stop. He was two years older than me. The 17 was a bastard. It dog-legged around the houses, stopped off at Charminster crossroads for five excruciating minutes, didn't really go very near the school and got you there early. There was another passenger, an old lady, who shared the bus with us, but she is probably dead now. Every weekday for three years, myself, the old lady and the other boy whose name I knew although I never spoke to him (he was two years above me) trawled around Bournemouth's least-glamourous, most-inefficient bus route together. There were breakdowns, snowdrifts, heatwaves, days when the bus was really late. It bothered me a bit that there was always awkwardness. Quite a few years later, I was riding the unglamorous Northern Line and I saw him, my silent travelling partner. Naturally, I didn't say hello - we've never been introduced. I wonder if he saw me?
Farnborough Air Show is ancient history now, but it's taken me this long to wade through all the press releases and general bumf accumulated just by wandering around looking at the bombs and aeroplanes. I found what I was looking for buried in a magazine they were giving away at the Exocet missile stand called Jane's Defence Weekly. There's no sign of Jane in there, but it does have all the latest on anti-gravity. Because Jane's subscribers are already hip to anti-gravity, it's an ongoing thing for them - there is no whiz-bang, "this is guaranteed to amaze you" type fanfare, just a calmly stated and thoroughly researched article about how a research team in Alabama has created an anti-gravity field by spinning super-conductors and are now able to levitate stuff silently and at will. It does go on to say that this will probably change most aspects of our lives, but this is only mentioned at the end of the piece.
It's good to know that the future exists already and we can have our flying carpets soon. The internal combustion engine is a 100-year-old technology, and the wheel was a great idea 5,000 years ago. I think wheels will look pretty old-fashioned in 50 years' time; and that they are making carpets in Alabama and it's not even in the news. Scientists are the new rock stars. They know stuff.
The author is bass player with Blur
More from New Statesman
- Online writers:
- Steven Baxter
- Rowenna Davis
- David Allen Green
- Mehdi Hasan
- Nelson Jones
- Gavin Kelly
- Helen Lewis
- Laurie Penny
- The V Spot
- Alex Hern
- Martha Gill
- Alan White
- Samira Shackle
- Alex Andreou
- Nicky Woolf in America
- Bim Adewunmi
- Kate Mossman on pop
- Ryan Gilbey on Film
- Martin Robbins
- Rafael Behr
- Eleanor Margolis