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Baker's Dozen

Tour De France: Jonathan Meades Selects 13 Exercise Bike Classics
John Doran , March 6th, 2019 09:44

After a recent serious illness, writer and documentarian Jonathan Meades was prescribed 30 minutes a day on an exercise bike. He tells John Doran about his 13 favourite pieces of classical music to accompany his regimen

"My health in general had been good up until 2016. But in January of that year I had an agonisingly sharp intercostal pain which I self diagnosed as pleurisy having had the same thing in 1988 when a nervous locum doctor had mistakenly diagnosed a heart attack and I spent three days in UCL. The 2016 attack was over within 24 hours which I spent in La Timone hospital in Marseille. After a course of drugs I was given the all clear. The generaliste - GP - I go to said I ought to have a scan but I put it off because I was travelling back and forth to London preparing an exhibition.

"When I did get round to it the hospital receptionist said I might as well not hang around and that I could collect the results after the weekend. But as I was leaving a doctor emerged from a door, ordered me to follow him and said, “You could die at any moment… but if you do exactly what I say you won't.” He was grinning. I had a blood clot which could readily have lead to deep vein thrombosis.

"A heart specialist prescribed more medication, this time to thin my blood - to correct its density from a thick jus to a mere bouillon. (I should point out that medicine in France is rigorously demarcated. The person who does the diagnosis is not the person who will operate and so on.) But I continued to go back and forth to London where I was having problems with a publisher.

"In September of that year I more or less collapsed. I could hardly walk, was gasping for breath and so on. The specialist booked me into Clairval Clinic in Marseille for investigations because my heart was arrhythmic. One valve was blocked and another was leaking, so a date was set for an operation: October 13. It was a five hour epic. When I came round from the anaesthetic I told a nurse that I didn't want to go through with it because the catheter was painful. “Too bad”, he replied. “It's all done. You've had the op.”

"My recovery was quick. I was out after two days which I spent rereading Libra. The level of care I received was beyond all expectation.

"I was told to exercise for 30 minutes every day on a bike, un velo d'appartment. Which I do without fail. I have absolute confidence in the heart specialist I see, Vincent Pelet. And indeed in French doctors in general. Many have worked in the UK - they have the measure of the NHS's failings. What Napoleon Macron will bring to healthcare in France is something that worries the medical establishment and the populace at large.

"I probably work slightly slower now than I did, but the difference is marginal. I have always written in fits and starts. The two films I have made since - Jargon: Matrix Hubbing Performative Pain Badgers and Mass Tourism (on architecture in Franco's Spain) - were mostly done in a studio, which is both less exhausting than being on the road and a better use of time given the insultingly low budgets we get.

"Did I think I was going to die? I have always thought that I might die at any moment. Since I was a child I have pondered death on a daily basis. It is always with me. How… where… when... These questions have been a lifetime's preoccupation and, I guess, they form part of my very being. You try to grasp the only inevitable mystery and it always slips away.

"Then, a little more than a year after my operation, I had a minor heart attack at the very end of November 2017. This was quite independent of my previous problem. Plumbing as opposed to electricity is the way it was put it to me. The jolly nursing staff welcomed me back to Clairval: “Coming here on holiday again... you know how to give yourself a treat.” This time the operation was swift, just 45 minutes, and I now have a metal stent which prevents an artery from closing up. Which reminds me, I once met the Brummie comedian Malcolm Stent. He was that rare thing a comedian who is actually funny. A friend of mine thinks the most depressing words in the English language are 'new comedy series'.

"The exercise bike I use every day is in a corner of my office in our apartment in Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse. It looks out onto a balcony which is proof that I am no gardener. Cacti do ok because they require little care. Beyond - a couple of blocks of flats which do not mar the view of the Marseilleveyre, the high limestone hills above the Calanques. Under them are the half dozen towers of a 1970s development called Roi d'Espagne. They are a human intervention which enhances rather degrades nature.

"I absolutely do exercise every day. I did it for 38 minutes this morning. That’s why I listen to so much music but rock and pop don’t work with exercise. And I hate symphonic music so it’s basically quartets, quintets and sextets. And in the case of Mendelssohn, octets. I did wonder if I was wrong about this so I listened to Brahms Fourth symphony yesterday and I hated it. The problem with symphonies is everyone has to have a turn. You get the strings. Then the horns have to have a go. Then the drums have to make some noise. I think it’s a very inferior medium compared to strings. I often have a synaesthetic reaction to strings - it tends to make me see something completely unrelated to the music.

"I did once actually sit all the way through the entire Beethovian symphonic oeuvre at the Albert Hall in 1976 over two and a half weeks and I went every day. I didn’t enjoy it but having paid for the ticket I felt like I ought to go. Equally I can’t stand opera. And in popular music, there’s very little I like. I like the Stones when they were good, ELO and Velvet Underground and very little else. Well, Neil Hannon and Saint Leonard are good. But I speak from a position of ignorance...

"I’m currently crowdfunding a new book, Pedro & Ricky Come Again with Unbound. They have published Museum Without Walls, Pidgin Snaps, The Plagiarist In The Kitchen and have done a new edition of Pompey. Peter Knows What Dick Likes was a collection of journalism, reportage, reviews and fictions I published in 1989. Pedro & Ricky Come Again is essentially more of the same but the contents have yet to be finalised. There is a lot to choose from. The Peter Knows title originally came from a piece about transexuals in Paris - the very phrase is an explicit boast that gay men give better head than women. A boast that I gallantly challenged. So Pedro and Ricky refers to Peter and Dick and, equally, to Derek And Clive Come Again, the sort of record from which my wife and servants must be protected. It suggests that Peter and Dick have changed their name, possibly their sexual orientation and are keen to give offence wherever offence may be taken."

For more details on Pedro And Ricky Come Again, including how to subscribe at Unbound, click here

To read Jonathan Meades’ Bakers Dozen click on the photograph below. Thanks for assistance are due to Phil Hebblethwaite

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