In the era of vinyl, lost in one of Bruckner’s longueurs, it could be hard to tell what was stuck, the record or the composer. Sir Jim Gastropodi would make regular appearances in the Peter Simple column, conducting the Soup Hales Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Bruckner’s interminable symphony.
Despite Boris Johnson’s attempts to enliven it, this is the interminable election campaign. In effect, it has been going on since 2016, but the end may be in sight. Barring a 2017-scale upset (which is unlikely — though Boris has faults, he is not Theresa May mark two), he will return to No. 10 with a majority. He will also enjoy some fiscal laxity, and he may turn out to be a lucky prime minister. These are a triple crown of assets which no Tory PM has possessed for 30 years.
There will be the odd problem. The West has never been more deficient in leadership. Could Boris be the man to provide that? We still have to deal with the details of Brexit. Will the EU agree to negotiate in everyone’s interests, or will they allow themselves to be led by M. Macron’s neo-Gaullist determination to punish Britain for D-Day? There is also the small matter of the global economy. Have the crises of 2008 been resolved, or merely covered with a sticking plaster? At home, Premier Boris will face a concerted attempt from the left to claim that his government is illegitimate. Does he have the political, intellectual and moral courage to stand up to all that?
In many respects, he is an elusive character. Few politicians have been as consistent, even ruthless, in using their persona to conceal their personality. Harold Macmillan is one example, Harold Wilson another. Macmillan used his public image to conceal moral doubts and religious depth. In Wilson’s case, it was meretriciousness. As for Boris…? But we can reach one conclusion about the man of the hour. It is foolish to underestimate him. A second conclusion follows. It will be interesting to observe him.
For the moment, it is time to sail to Byzantium, or at least divert oneself with serious writings and bottles. I have recently read two books which are complementary and profound. Tom Holland’s Dominion places Christianity and above all the Crucifixion at the heart of western civilisation, always caught up in ‘the flood-tide of Christ’. The author uses his awesome erudition to sustain a great deal of coat-trailing. He also describes the varieties of religious experience and the way that Christianity has always been mediated through different temperaments and intellects, whose message was far removed from the sacrifice of the Cross.
Iain Pears’s The Dream of Scipio, not a new book, also addresses civilisation and religion. I think it is one of the best novels published in English for many years. It is a bleaker work than Dominion. Mr Pears does not share Mr Holland’s Rosicrucianism. For him, there is no escape from the need for stoicism (let us hope that we will not all agree on 13 December).
There was nothing stoical about my vinous accompaniments. The Barruol family are the finest wine-makers in Gigondas, and the most eccentric in all France. I have recently tasted a number of their wines, from Cotes du Rhone to the heights of Cote Rotie: all excellent in their class. But the palm went to another southern Rhone grower, famille Perrin. Their Chateau de Beaucastel 2008 was outstanding. It had every attribute one would wish for from a red, and is fit to be sent into combat against the paladins of Bordeaux and Burgundy (well, almost).
So monuments of unageing intellect, wine paying tribute to the long-matured skills of great vignerons: it all helps to put politics in its place. Even so, we must rely on Boris — the candidate who will keep the world safe for those who enjoy wine and books.