THERE ARE various fallacies that govern British life, such as the belief that the weather forecast is roughly accurate, that nothing much happens outside London, that you can't get beef on the bone any more, and that things in supermarkets are cheaper than elsewhere.
Well, last week the forecast kept saying that the end of the week would be wet, windy and wintry. It turned out to be a succession of warm blue days. Then the other day, in a butcher's shop in a small country town not from Bristol, I bought some oxtail, openly for sale, and was told, with a wink, that ribs of beef were generally available to friendly customers.
As for nothing happening outside London, and supermarkets being cheap, I can cast doubt on both those ideas by referring you to farmers' markets, a new version of an old idea which seems to have returned to the West Country. Twice a month in Bath any farmers who care to set up stall congregate in the old Green Park Station to sell their own meat, cheese, vegetables, cream, sausages, pates, whatever they produce on their own farms. The Bath market is OK, but I actually much prefer the monthly farmer's market in the old Cheese and Grain Hall in Frome, some 20 miles away, as the variety of stuff seems to be better there, and there is a stall selling smoked sausages, not to mention the locally brewed Ash Vine beer from Trudoxhill. And they have live music. Fiddle and guitar. Never get that at Tesbury or Waitco.
The last time I went to the Frome farmers' market (the next time it happens, if you're around that way, is this very day, Thursday) I took a pencil and notebook and jotted down as many prices as I could. The next time I was in a supermarket in Bath I compared the prices of all comparable things such as minced lamb, free range chickens and fresh ham. There was not a single instance in which the supermarket was cheaper.
As we are constantly being told that our British food industry is the most efficient in the world, it seems surprising that a bunch of Wiltshire and Somerset farmers can, without a great deal of effort, provide far better produce at cheaper prices than the combined might of Asco and Waitsbury. Perhaps it's true, after all, that the true efficiency of our great supermarkets lies in making profits and forcing British apple varieties into extinction, not in providing the best service...
One of the few things that make me regret having left London is being so far from Ronnie Scott's Club, whose opening day I can remember, and which is now amazingly celebrating its 40th birthday. But jazz pops up in the most unlikely places out of London. There is a new concert venue in Bradford-on-Avon called the Wiltshire Music Centre, a glittering place bang next to the highly thought-of St Laurence Comprehensive. The headteacher, Nick Sorensen, who is a jazz enthusiast (and a fluent saxophonist to boot), recently organised a jazz evening which brilliantly recreated the spirit of the pre-war Spirituals to Swing concerts in Carnegie Hall, using all local musicians - even the one star name, pianist Jason Rebello, is a local resident.
There was another fine pianist on show, of whom I had never heard, with an even more unjazzlike name than Jason Rebello, one Keith Harrison-Broninski.
"You should check him out," Nick Sorensen told me. "He lives in Nunney, and is starting a monthly Jazz Cafe there, on the first Sunday in every month."
This sounded so unlikely that I bestirred myself on the first Sunday in March and went to Nunney, a charming village notable hitherto only for a great ruined castle and a grand old author, Anthony Powell.
The village seemed empty, which turned out to be because the village hall was jam-packed, not with jazz fans particularly, mostly with locals just sitting reading the Sunday papers, chinwagging, eating, drinking and listening to the fine trio led by Harrison-Broninski, and the able musicians and singers who took it in turns to sit in with the band, including the very same Nick Sorensen. There was an art exhibition round the wall. There was a record dealer from Frome with a stall selling old and rare jazz LPs, from whom I bought too many. There were little girls skating between the tables and falling over. There was a bar. It was Sunday afternoon in the depths of the country. I couldn't quite believe it. It was quite one of the most magically congenial settings I have ever sunk back into, and for a moment it made it seem as if this was how jazz was meant to be.
Yes, there are times when it's possible to reconcile yourself to being out of London.
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