Yesterday I took a slight detour on the way from my mother's house to Bristol to visit my friend Dru, now resident in a narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon canal near Devizes. Though I've been roaming that landscape for about half a century, and probably feel more at home in it than in any other, it happened that I spent much of the journey on roads that were new to me. The resulting mixture of strangeness and familiarity was unsettling, as if I were remembering a place last seen in very early childhood. The feeling was accentuated by the magical effect of putting on my sunglasses - they're new ones with some kind of polarizing filter, and apparently have the power to give even some unarresting dribs of cloud bulk and depth and bloom them into Turner skies. The weather was changeable, but the scene was attractive in all lights.
Dru at the helm
Looking along the Eve towards an insanely green field
The flight of locks at Caen Hill
Meanwhile, I've been wondering about the tradition of support acts. In rock, pop, folk and stand-up comedy support acts seem pretty standard, and potentially it's a great system for everybody concerned. The audience gets to see two performances, the main act gets the audience warmed up, and the support act get exposure to a much larger audience than they could have mustered on their own account. Many careers have been launched that way.
Thinking about it, I'm surprised that more branches of artistic activity don't use a similar system. What about classical music, for example? If a virtuoso cellist gives a concert, how common is it for the first couple of pieces to be played by someone else? If the Royal Ballet is putting on Swan Lake, how about mixing it up with an anti-masque of Morris Dancers?
It doesn't apply to live performance only. Wouldn't it be great if publishers included support acts in novels, too? So you're buying the latest Lee Child or Ian McEwan - well, here's a short story by another practitioner in the same genre as an amuse-bouche. I'm not saying this has never happened, but it's certainly not the norm. Wouldn't it be to everyone's advantage?