Television review: From Ben to Jerry to Joe and all the way to Paddy
* Ben Building (BBC4)
* Podge Collins: My Toughest Year (UTV Ireland)
Jonathan Meades must be one of the few people left in television who is not afraid to use big words, often in sentences which are quite complex and which strive for some original insight.
He is only allowed to do this on BBC4 these days, probably because he's been doing it so well for years, and because his many programmes on matters of architectural and cultural history have become items of cultural interest in themselves - long after today's big winners in the TV ratings have been obliterated, people will be checking out excerpts from Meades' series on Scotland, in which he described places such as Cowdenbeath as "merely names on football pools coupons". And which also contained a fine essay on Donald Trump trying to build a golf course in Aberdeen, a piece that is already looking like a warning from history.
The dictators in general have long fascinated Meades, and his latest documentary had Mussolini as the central figure. Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments and Modernism could be considered a follow-up to Jerry Building, on the architecture of Nazi Germany, and Joe Building, which looked at Stalinist themes. Such small names, Ben and Jerry and Joe - who would think they had it in them?
But these programmes are monuments in themselves, the style of which is best conveyed in Meades' own words, like the following passage which he delivered in Ben Building, on some of Italy's massive war monuments: "A hundred or so kilometres away from Redipuglia stands anther massive sacrarium. Monte Grappa is equally magnificent, in another register. It is indebted to several disparate eras. It blends its thefts with sombre brio. The very core of this structure is founded in anachronism, the repetitive niches are blind Diocletian windows... It is unambiguously architectural, and it alludes to forms of inhumation that belong to a variety of epochs, places, religions and cultures."
So there's something for everybody there.
There are pictures of these "forms of inhumation", one of which turns out to be the "Celtic Tumuli" from 3200 BC, in Co Meath, Ireland. So we're in there somewhere, everything is in there somewhere.
And I sometimes think of Meades when I am watching a Gaelic football match on Sky, and outside the ground we can see some part of an Irish town, which doesn't look very nice, seeing it in a different light as we imagine what the Sky multitudes are thinking. Indeed inside the ground we see things which might be of interest to Meades, disturbing things such as the singing of the Irish national anthem before games in the Ulster Championship - "the very core of this structure is founded in anachronism"?
And as the chronicler of "Ben" and "Jerry" and "Joe" moves on to Paddy, his greatest challenge yet, his journey would take him to the ultimate symbol of the GAA style of architecture, the great barns which are otherwise known as "the clubhouse".
I was watching Podge Collins: My Toughest Year, the excellent documentary by Marie Crowe on UTV Ireland, which followed the Clare hurler through his long rehabilitation from a cruciate ligament injury, when I was joined in the room by a design expert who started to offer her comments on various features of the interior of the clubhouse which she found disconcerting.
Personally I had not noticed any of these features, and did not care about them, concentrating as I was on Podge doing his exercises. Yet on closer examination I had to acknowledge that there was much in what she was saying, as she spoke sadly of the weird combinations of colours, the sense that someone had found a few tins of paint in their shed that had been left over from something else, the "doors that don't match the architraving", whatever that is.
She could not understand the sort of mind which could make such strange design choices - perhaps on reflection not even Jonathan Meades could get his head around this one. But I'd like to see him try.
Sunday Indo Living