The joys of the book tour begin to pall somewhere between the fourth and fifth consecutive interview in a bare-walled room in Brussels. Or perhaps a couple of hours later before a sun-numbed audience at the Bozarts that fails to laugh at my jokes. Or maybe in that first earnest interview in Berlin when, barely off the plane, I lose all my German at the sight of a radio mike.
These, though, are inevitable lows. The best moments are the bookstore events – debating the state of the arts with Greg Sandow at the Strand in Manhattan and, an ocean apart, with Sir John Tusa at Daunts in Marylebone. Amazing how many turn out to hear about the nuts and bolts of what’s going right and wrong in our culture – more than 80 at each talk, and very few of them working in the arts industry. When Greg quotes Karl Marx and I counter-quote, heads nod sagely: a New York bookstore audience knows its Marx and Freud.
In London I mention that I used to be Tusa’s copy taster when he presented Newsnight on BBC2, back in 1979. John says he could never figure out what I was doing there, my head always in a book or score, scribbling notes. I reckoned he was pretty unusual, too. Not many TV presenters spent their nights off at the Wigmore Hall, soaking up chamber music.
His recent book, Engaged with the Arts, does exactly what it says on the wrapping – it gets to grips with a lot of the pusillanimous euphemisms of arts management and delivers some home truths to a fumbling industry mired in fudge. He retires as head of the Barbican Centre this summer. We need more of his ilk. And soon.